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Stirling Old Jail


Stirling’s Old Town is situated on high ground that leads up to the castle, in an area that has been inhabited from prehistoric times. This small locale is packed with sites of historical interest and intrigue. A good base is the Youth Hostel right next to the jail which incorporates part of a historical church in its façade.

The Old Jail was constructed in 1847 to replace the old Tollbooth Jail whose squalid conditions had been condemned as “Wretched” and “Fearful” by a visiting judge. The older jail held up to 24 prisoners in small cells which were breeding places for disease.

As part of the new Victorian ideals of reform the new imposing prison was constructed with cells that were meant for individual prisoners, where they could be watched over and made to work in orderly fashion.

Cells were constructed on corridors in several stories, with an exercise yard high on the ramparts overlooking the town. Prisoners were allowed just 30 minutes of fresh air in a tiny courtyard.

Victorian prisons were seen as places of reform although punishment was carried out by the means of Treadmills and the Crank: a pointless machine with no other discernable function than to cause pain and boredom for prisoners.

The Crank could be made more difficult to turn by the means of a screw that was operated by prison warders, this ‘screw’ became slang for a prison warder itself. There is a crank to try out for yourself and plenty of time to explore. There are stunning views over Stirling at the top of the tower, within which is an exhibition about modern prisons.

The prison became a military jail in 1888, and remained in service until 1935.

The guided tour is excellent, the guide acting out various roles relating to historical prison experience in an amusing and entertaining way.


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