Scotland’s “Alcatraz” - Peterhead Prison - reopens as museum

Peterhead Prison, which closed in 2013,  has now opened as a museum.

Peterhead Prison, which closed in 2013, has now opened as a museum.

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THE FLOORS are scattered with smashed up furniture, a smell of antiseptic fills the air and the walls are smeared brown with the unthinkable.

Welcome to Scotland’s latest tourist attraction – welcome to Peterhead Prison Museum.

Visitors will get to see how prisoners lived throughout the ages at the Victorian stronghold, which opened in 1888.

Visitors will get to see how prisoners lived throughout the ages at the Victorian stronghold, which opened in 1888.

Yesterday, the museum opened its doors for the first time to visitors eager to get inside Scotland’s “hate factory”, which became home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals over its 125 year history.

The sprawling Victorian stronghold, on the wind battered Buchan coast, became fixed in the memory of Scotland after rampaging prisoners, revolting over living conditions, assaulted prison guards and set fire to A wing in 1986.

The following year, two prison guards were taken hostage with one, Jackie Stuart, beaten by prisoners for five day.

He was freed only when four SAS men, armed with smoke bombs and stun guns, stormed in.

People like this sort of thing. People go to Inverary Jail, they go to Alcatraz, why not Peterhead?

Jackie Stuart, former prison officer held captive in 1987

Mr Stuart, now 87, was amongst the first museum visitors.

• READ MORE: Notorious Peterhead Prison closes its doors

“They have done a good job here. I have given them a little bit of help on how it should be, to tell it how it was,” Mr Stuart said.

He added: “Peterhead is pretty well known all around the world and I think people will be interested to come here. People like this sort of thing. People go to Inverary Jail… they go to Alcatraz… why not Peterhead?”

A model SAS officer dressed in the "Black Kit" like that worn during the rescue of Peterhead Prison officer Jackie Stuart in 1987.

A model SAS officer dressed in the "Black Kit" like that worn during the rescue of Peterhead Prison officer Jackie Stuart in 1987.

Alex Geddes now manages the building which was sold by Scottish Prison Service after the last prisoner left in 2013 to local engineering group Score.

The former police officer said the museum aimed to highlight the working conditions for staff at the prison.

“The prison has certainly been notorious over the years and without the brave staff working in these conditions, I dread to think what could have happened here,” he added.

He said some of the feedback to the museum had been “exceptional”.

How a cell would have looked at Peterhead Prison when it first opened in 1888. It measures just 5ft by 7ft.

How a cell would have looked at Peterhead Prison when it first opened in 1888. It measures just 5ft by 7ft.

“People are interested to see what goes on behind the walls here.

“We give people the inside story, without them going through the grief of actually being in prison.”

• READ MORE: Prisoners spend 23 hours-a-day in new ‘superjail’

Peterhead, which counted serial killer and paedophile Robert Black and murderer Peter Tobin amongst inmates, was described as the “prison of no hope” – electricity was not fitted to all cells until 2005 and slopping out continued until 2007. Around half a dozen former prison guards have advised Mr Geddes and his team on how to make the museum as realistic as possible.

Visitors will tour a series of cells as they would have been at Peterhead through the ages.

The first, from 1888, is tiny – just 5ft by 7ft and 7ft high – and hung with a hammock-style bed.

Visitors will be free to wander through the six acre site and see all aspects of prison life.

Visitors will be free to wander through the six acre site and see all aspects of prison life.

Later versions contain a single bed and prisoner’s personal affects – from the pin-ups on the wall to the trainers on the floor.

One of the cells represents the “dirty protest” era of the 1970s and 80s when prisoners would smear their excrement across the walls.

A local film production company helped staff at the museum find the right “substance” to replicate the grim grievance.

This, twinned with an audio commentary from an ex-prison warden, creates a “strong sense” of what staff had to deal with, Mr Geddes said.

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