The people who occupied Inveraray Jail in the mid 19th century, the Governors, warders, matrons and prisoners, are all brought back to life today by costumed characters who roam this historic centre. Basing their characters on factual prisoner records retained by the courthouse after its closure in 1889, the Jail is run by a team of managers, museum guides and actors who are all passionate about keeping the County Prison story alive.
Andrew Boyd, one of the jails longest serving warders, is played today by staff member Rob Irons. Visitors can identify him by his uniform which is, and was, an all black button neck tunic and peaked cap. Rob, a former present day prison officer, likes to regularly lock up inmates (visitors)! After all, it is his job. The warder assisted the Governor who was in total charge of the prison. Boyd’s employment at the jail began in 1880. He lived just over the wall behind the prison in one of the cottages but he was only allowed to go home for just two hours every evening. The warder was expected to sleep in the prison every night and work long hours for very little pay. Today, visitors can have good nosy round his room.
The Jail had a matron, usually the Governor’s wife, whose duty it was to be responsible for the female prisoners. A typical day in the life of the matron is performed by actors at the jail. Her day-to-day routine involved the general up keep of the female prison block (known as the Old Prison) and, along with her husband, she was expected to teach the prisoners how to read and write.
Some Naughty Argyll Ladies
Some prisoner stories are too terrifying to bring back to life, so the characters at Inveraray Jail focus more on the light-hearted, comical stories. In particular, there were some very naughty ladies in Argyll during the 1800s! Take 38 year old thief Helen Mackintosh from Campbeltown. After stealing eight stockings, a petticoat and a series of clothing originally left outside to dry, Helen’s footprints in the snow were traced back to her home.
She refused to walk after she was arrested so they had to wheel her to the courthouse in a wheelbarrow! Helen was jailed for three months whilst waiting to be transported to Australia. Meanwhile, re-offender Elizabeth Henderson, portrayed by Sam Potts, regularly features in today’s prison. Elizabeth stole silverware from the Dunoon Hotel where she worked and sold it for alcohol (gin was her favourite!).
Museum Guide and actor Hanna Nixon explains her role at the jail: “Many times I play the role of female prisoner Eliza Thorpe from London who, according to our records, served a two month sentence in the jail in the late 1800s. Eliza was locked up in the Old Prison which, at that time, was where all female prisoners were held. Whilst on holiday in Oban, Eliza was accused of stealing from a hotel. However, it is thought that the man she was with, who seems to have been a very bad influence, was the actual guilty party.”
She added: “What is so fascinating about Inveraray Jail is that after meeting one of the characters when exploring the prison and courthouse, visitors can go on to the exhibition and find out what happened in the end for the prisoner. It’s a great reminder that these characters actually existed once and makes the experience very real.”
Luckily, visitors won’t come across Peter Campbell in today’s prison. On Thursday 11th January, 1844, according to a report at the time in the Glasgow Herald, Campbell assaulted his aunt and his mother. Using a razor blade, the schoolmaster from Craignish, almost ‘severed the head of his aunt’ and ‘severely cut his mother about the face, neck and arms’ leaving her in a ‘dangerously ill’ state. Campbell was judged ‘insane’ and received a life sentence on 19th April. After spending three years in Inveraray Jail, Campbell was finally moved in March 1847 to the new criminal lunatics section of the General Prison in Perth.
Thousands of male prisoners were tried and locked up at the jail, serving sentences for a range of crimes including assault, theft and murder. Male prisoners occupied the twelve cells in the New Prison when the completed building was opened in 1848.
Many children, some as young as seven years old, served sentences at Inveraray Jail. Juvenile crimes were normally for very minor offences. 13 year old Hector MacNeil from Lochgilphead got 30 days for stealing a turnip whist 11 year old James Muckle was sentenced to eight days for stealing apples. For children without a home, committing a petty crime was usually a purposeful way to get a warm bed, food and clothing. However, in 1852, ‘whipping’, for boys only, was introduced as a punishment and an alternative to sending juvenile offenders to prison. Many children were often sent to reformatory school at the end of their prison sentence.
The Haunted Cells
Though the jail was closed down in 1889, there is a chance that many of its occupants never left. Unexplained sightings and unusual activity recorded by visitors, staff and paranormal investigators suggest that Inveraray Jail is in fact haunted. With its dark history and a haunting reputation, the jail was recently an obvious venue for TV programme Most Haunted in 2009. Overnight Ghost Hunting events open to the public take place throughout the year at the jail.
Mark Turner, Paranormal Investigator at Ghost Events said: “We have carried out investigations for several years now at Inveraray Jail. We are starting to notice several patterns in our findings particularly with the noises and sounds we have recorded. The jail certainly has a high level of paranormal activity in comparison with many other sites we have visited around Scotland. This nation is blessed with such rich history so it’s the ideal place to search old buildings and historic landmarks for evidence of the afterlife amid the countless reports of paranormal activity.”
Back to www.inverarayjail.co.uk