Inveraray Jail – An Unusual Interactive Attraction

Inveraray Jail served as the courthouse and prison for Argyll in Scotland in days gone by. Currently it is an interesting and unique tourist attraction that visitors can explore at their leisure, joining in activities such as facing the judge, joining the jury, hearing the verdict, meeting the prison staff and socializing with the prisoners.

Stories of men, women and children who had been tried in the original courtroom are re-enacted and visitors can take a seat on the public benches to watch the drama unfold. During the days that the jail was active, more than 6,000 people went on trial in the courtroom and records are available for every person who had been imprisoned. In the 1840s the authorities decided that life in prison was too comfortable and introduced wooden beds with wooden pillows that prisoners had to sleep on for the first thirty days of their sentence. In 1843, airing yards were built to allow prisoners to exercise in the open air for an hour a day, under the watchful eye of a guard.

There are a number of hands-on activities for children, such as testing the comfort level of a wooden bed, being locked up in the airing yards and trying their hand at turning the crank machine – a useless piece of equipment designed for the sole purpose of creating “work” for those serving a hard labor sentence. On entering Inveraray Jail children will be given a Parole Certificate and need to search for four separate embossed stamps located in the building. Upon presentation of these stamps, they will be rewarded with an early release for good behavior as well as a free gift.

The exhibitions include “Torture, Death and Damnation” which shows how wrongdoers were treated before the days of imprisonment. For even minor offenses, such as stealing a turnip, offenders would be put through a trial they very often didn’t even understand, due to the fact that most offenders – men, women and children – spoke only Gaelic. One of the methods of punishment was to brand an offender with a hot iron, leaving a scar to identify the convicted felon for the rest of his life. Public whippings were frequently carried out and thumbscrews were often used to extract a confession.

There is no doubt that when visitors leave Scotland’s Inveraray Jail they will have a renewed appreciation for the fact that they are living in the 21st century!