The hard cell

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IN a dank vault in Edinburgh Castle, a captured American revolutionary carved a symbol of defiance against Great Britain.

The graffiti version of the Stars and Stripes is one of the earliest known depictions of the American flag in Britain and is to be one of the highlights of a new tourist attraction being created as part of a 3.5 million revamp of the Castle.

A permanent interactive exhibition inside the 16th-century vaults will tell the stories of prisoners held there during the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and other 18th-century conflicts.

Three prison doors from the mid-18th century - which were carved with names and other graffiti including a crude depiction of a ship flying the Stars and Stripes - will feature in the display.

Historic Scotland believes the ship picture was done in 1779 - just two years after the first American flag with 13 stars was adopted. A Historic Scotland spokeswoman said: "We think it is highly significant that this is one of the earliest examples of the American flag, especially because it is in Edinburgh Castle.

"This strengthens the connection between the Castle and the emerging nation which we now know as America. Many of our American visitors will find this very interesting."

It is not known who made the carving but it is believed that at least two crewmen of John Paul Jones, the Scots-born father of the American navy, were imprisoned in the vaults during the war, which ended when Great Britain recognised the United States.

American prisoners captured from the privateer Newfoundland were also held there. Another drawing shows a gallows and noose with the inscription Lord Nord, referring to Lord North, the British Prime Minister during the American War of Independence.

The vaults will be re-created as they were in 1781, when they were crowded with prisoners. In the last week of June that year more than 100 Frenchman who were suffering from scurvy were being held there after being taken during skirmishes in the West Indies.

A shadow play and commentary will tell stories about some of the prisoners. Some of their possessions will also be on display including money, model ships, bone implements and even tools to forge bank notes. An original timber bed frame support already lies in the French section of the vaults.

Work is expected to start next month on the multi-million pound development, which will also see the Queen Anne building transformed into an education and function space. Work is expected to be completed by March 2004.

Deputy Tourism Minister Dr Elaine Murray said: "Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction. More than one million visitors are drawn each year by its spectacular location and history.

"It is a world-class attraction and today’s well-travelled tourists have high expectations.

"By investing in high quality interpretation and facilities such as those planned in the Queen Anne building, Historic Scotland will ensure that Edinburgh Castle remains a must-see destination."

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