Prison museum attracts an international audience

Peterhead Prison Museum has gone from strength to strength since it opened its doors two years ago and continues to plan for further attractions.
Peterhead Prison Museum has gone from strength to strength since it opened its doors two years ago and continues to plan for further attractions.

Peterhead Prison Museum recently celebrated its second anniversary of opening to the public.

And it did it in style after winning the Innovation in Tourism Award from the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism awards panel and a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.

The museum opened to the public on June 7, 2016 and since then has grown visitor numbers and constantly developed into the award-winning attraction we see today.

Its day-time museum together with special events have seen 168,000 visit, with around 95% coming from outwith the Buchan area.

The museum is now seeing a significant number of international visitors coming to our shores from as far afield as the USA and Canada to Australia and New Zealand and, most recently this season, from the European community with three school coaches arriving from France to see the story “within these walls”.

The museum itself takes visitors through the 130-year history of the only ‘Convict Prison’ in Scotland with the visual effect being prominent throughout.

Its award-winning audio sets allow visitors to walk in the footsteps of the brave staff who worked within and at key locations such as the laundry, shower block, hospital and of course the “dirty protest” cell, their olfactory senses are teased all brought to life with original smells that bring the museum to life.

In addition to the museum, the team also host special events including a rock concert, a now annual Lego exhibition, Hallowe’en night tours, vintage vehicle event and this year sees its first “Murder Mystery” event being staged on August 11 - the latter having limited tickets available.

Key areas in the museum open for this season are the former kitchen and barber’s shop with the latest addition being a former prisoner railway carriage now taking centre stage carrying sound effects as you step on board and a former prisoner’s name etched into one of the wood panels from 1935.

Meantime, work continues to develop areas for 2019 and beyond with the base and frame to house the former lifeboat the Julia Park Barry now underway, following which the lifeboat’s renovation will take place.

In the former B Hall a fishing heritage exhibition will be created showcasing the town’s fishing past.

In addition to these two major attractions there is an area being worked on that will see a model railway on display showing the route the railway took between the former Admiralty Yard to the Stirlinghill Quarry, which was the first state-owned railway in Britain - another unique aspect to the former prison.

This route will also see models of the former village of Burnhaven and distillery on display bringing the whole route alive.

There will also be photographs of the former village and distillery with more detail about the workings of the quarry and the support it provided to the local building force during the development of the Harbour of Refuge.

The museum team is also busy working with Visit Scotland and Visit Aberdeenshire on attracting more visitors to the area from continental Europe and are currently working to retain visitors from the cruise ships set to arrive in 2019 to the local area.

Not only is this promising for the museum, but for the local area generally from an economic standpoint for those ready to open their doors to the tourist market.

Alex Geddes, operations manager at the museum, said: “We are delighted at the response to the museum, our special events and, of course, we are excited about the years ahead as we see significant visitor numbers still to come from across the UK and internationally.

“We appreciate every visitor that comes through our door and are amazed at the number of repeat visitors we get bringing their friends and relatives to our museum.

“In addition, we are seeing a steady increase of school trips and coach parties now arriving in this area and we will do our best to ensure every visitor has a great experience while learning all about the amazing history of not only the former prison, but the surrounding town and burgh.”