January 2023: Peterhead Prison Museum
The former HM Convict Prison Peterhead opened in August 1888 and closed in December 2013 with little changing during its operational service in between.
Following its purchase by a Trust in 2014 the museum opened its doors on the 7 June 2016 and we have since become a 5* multi-award winning attraction in NE Scotland and we continue to grow and evolve as more stories from within these walls are revealed.
Known as “Scotland’s Toughest Jail” and “Scotland’s Alcatraz” it was the home of Scotland’s hardest criminals although its origins were for a totally different reason.
Housed next to what was called “The Admiralty Yard” the home of the Royal Navy in Peterhead during the early 1800’s it was identified as the location to create what was known as the “Harbour of Refuge” due to the large number of ships being lost during gales and rough seas off the coast.
Due to the high cost of the build, it was agreed that the adjacent ground should be the home to Scotland’s only true “convict” prison [ to be sent here meant you had been sentenced to penal servitude] and the convicts were put to work in the quarry 2.5 miles south of the prison breaking huge granite boulders by hand so the stones could be encased in large concrete blocks to support the build of what is known locally as “the breakwater”.
The convicts were transported to and from their daily work in Britain’s first “state owned passenger carrying railway” with civil guards carrying rifles and bayonets accompanying the convicts to their daily chores.
After the last block was laid in 1956 [the build was delayed due to two world wars and a great depression] the prison became the high security prison for Scotland.
The museum is now home to its 125 years of turbulent history and visitors can walk the halls and corridors while listening to former staff recount their personal memories at key locations on our award-winning audio tour.
The prison has many unique aspects such as being Scotland’s only true convict prison, the home of Britain’s first state owned passenger carrying railway and it was the scene of the only time the Special Air Service [SAS] were used to end a domestic siege after an officer was held hostage on the roof tops for four days in October 1987 before being rescued in the early hours of the fifth morning.
As the museum evolves more secrets from within will unfold while the museum continues to safeguard the past for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Further details of the museum can be found via our website www.peterheadprisonmuseum and where you can support our work from February 2023 by signing up to become a “Friend of Peterhead Prison Museum”.