Jailhouse rocks!

The Blue Toon's newest tourist attraction opens its doors to the public today (Tuesday).

Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 2:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2016, 3:57 pm

Peterhead Prison Museum will finally reveal its secrets as visitors take a step back in time and delve deep into the history of one of the country’s most notorious jails.

The Buchan Observer was given an exclusive pre-opening tour of the facility on Friday - and we weren’t disappointed!

Armed with a specially produced audio commentary, we headed into the heart of the former jail - a place where few outside the prison service have ventured.

The exercise pen was the first point of interest as the sound of seagulls, footsteps walking around and a man smoking were heard via our headsets.

The pen was build around the inner perimeter of the prison wall late in the 1970s following the IRA murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979. It’s little more than a fenced in backyard, but already you can visualise the daily exercise routine of the inmates who paced up and down its length.

The sound of the pen door closing sends shivers down our spines as we headed inside to see the cells.

A heavy key turning in a lock and the cell door opens. It’s clear that these 7x5ft cells offered prisoners little comfort as we progress from the earliest to the latest - only vacated three years ago when the new HMP Grampian was built.

The view of the stairwell leading to the upper cell levels looks like it has been taken from an episode of Porridge - and here you’re in for a bit of a shock if you’re not paying attention!

It’s at this point the narrator tells of the ‘pressure cooker’ environment of violent, anti-social men confined together for years which often led to an explosion. In 1987, one such explosion resulted in the most dramatic event in the prison’s history - The Siege.

Some of the prison guards who experienced this first hand are heard recounting their view of the events of October that year.

It’s then on to the slopping out room where you hear the sound of water being poured down a toilet bowl, then the prison officers’ station of the 1970s, and again a former prison officer tells his story of working there during the long night-time hours.

The laundry room is extensive and is still fitted with the large washing machines and driers and you can hear the rumble of the large machines as the prisoners worked away at one of the most sought after positions in the jail.

Then we move on to the doctor’s room and interview room. And it’s also here you see one of the most notorious punishment forms in the prison - the tripod, or cat o’ nine tails.

Designed to tear flesh, its use could only be authorised by the governor himself.

The shower block is pretty much self explanatory, and although in regular use right up until the jail closed in 2013, it still looks pretty antiquated.

At particularly busy times inmates were rushed through this block with orders to ‘soap on’ and ‘soap off’, drying themselves while standing on the tiled floor as the next batch of inmates entered.

A quick look in the court room and then it’s on to the segretation block, used to punish inmates who broke prison rules.

These seemed relatively pleasant compared to some of the others, but wait...the silent cell is just around the corner - somewhere you definitely don’t want to be put into.

This is a concrete room within a room - and when my guide closed the door I was plunged into darkness with the stale smell of damp cloying at my nostrils. It’s thick walls meant that no sound could get out - or in - and it’s only furniture was a concrete bed and chamber pot.

The hospital wing is where inmates were attended to by a highly skilled team of medical professionals. One of the nurses tells her story of working there.

The rattle of pills in a bottle signals your arrival at the dispensary where inmates received their medication. Just down the hall is the anti ligature wing. These cells housed inmates who were considered to be at high risk of attempting suicide.

We then visit the individual prisoner wing. This suite of rooms was for the use of just one prisoner - a high profile inmate considered so dangerous and provocative that he was isolated from the rest of the prison for 22 years.

The clang of the gates ends your time within the confines of the prison as you head back the main gates taking a look at the railway carriage - one of several which ferried inmates and officers from the prison to the stone quarry and back.

And so you’re finally back to the present time having had a fascinating insight into the workings of the jail and hearing from some of its former workers.

You can discuss your experience with friends over some light refreshments which are available in the museum cafe, and you can also browse the gift shop where a wealth of memorabilia can be purchased.

It was certainly a fascinating tour and one which I’m sure will be of interest to many, not just locally, but up and down the country who are familiar with the stories surrounding Peterhead Prison.

The museum opens it doors at 10am, with a £9 admission charge for adults, £4.50 for children and £6.50 concession and it is hoped that this tourism venture will once again put Peterhead Prison back on the map - this time for all the right reasons.