Aberdeen City Centre & Peterhead Prison

Another bright sunny day provided another opportunity to explore some new areas and sights.  First we drove through the city centre of Aberdeen up Union Street taking in all of the sights that this city of grey granite has to offer.

The castle looking building in the second picture above on the right is called the Citadel and is the headquarters of the Salvation Army.

Below is what Lindsay called a ‘bendy bus,’ which can bend and turn corners in the city.



Once we drove through downtown Aberdeen we were headed north to Peterhead, where there is an old prison.



As we approach the town of Peterhead we passed a very big harbour with big ships.  The harbour is utilized to ship supplies on transport ships out to the offshore drilling rigs in the North Sea.

We drove into town and walked around a little bit, searching for a coffee shop.  All around the square are openings between the buildings with alleyway type openings to get through the buildings.  An alleyway is called a ‘close.’  Each of the closes had iron artwork on them telling what the name of the close was.  Very artistic and very interesting.

Tolbooth Close led to the local lock-up where 17th and 18th century wrongdoers awaited justice.  Nearby Empress Close was name for the Empress Ballroom on the ground floor of the old Music Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1936.  Smitty Close led to a Blacksmith’s workshop.

In 1805 Clockie’s House was a drinking den of very low repute.  From his home next to the Sun Inn behind the Tower House, George Clackie sold beer and spirits while his two daughters had their own thriving business offering customers more personal services.  The place became known by for drunkenness, violent fights and alleged links to theft and other crimes.  Its reputation was not  replaced by brewing the favourite alehouse of the local militia.  They were recruited from the dregs of society  – men who could  not find honest employment elsewhere – and their vile was to protect the town from the prospect of invading French troops. Discipline was tough and desertion was common.

Clockie was evicted and in time the house became part of the Ship Tavern.  In 1872 the Music Hall was built on the site.  This was a more prestigious venue with a ballroom and was at the heart of respectable social activity and a disastrous fire in 1936.  The gutted building had to be demolished. While clearing the ground, workmen found that bwo bodies in a shallow grave.  Both wore the tattered remnants of militia uniforms.  It appeared that two supposed deserters had come to a freif at. Did they die in a violent brawl or were they robbed and murdered?  Whatever the cause, Chockie had successfully covered  up the terrible deaths and the culprits were beyond the reach of Justice.

Smithy Close: named after a smiddy that was there in the 19th and early 20th century, the canopy depicts a Clydesdale horse and a representation of show harness is inset into the close threshold stone. In the comparatively short period of its ascendancy, between the period of the ox plough and the tractor, the horse had a huge impact on local culture (reaching its apotheosis in the magico/religious elements of the “Horseman’s Word” secret societies) and still exerts an influence although it has gone from most people’s everyday life.

Tolbooth Close: named after the Tolbooth which was nearby on the site of the present Townhouse. The Tolbooth was the centre of administration, justice and ceremonial life, where tolls and customs were collected. It was also used for meetings of the burgh council and court and as a prison for remanded criminal suspects and debtors. The canopy shows a prisoner behind bars and a representation of a James VI eight penny piece is inset into the threshold.

Empress Close: named after the Empress Ballroom which occupied the ground floor of the Music Hall that once stood here, the canopy shows a dancing couple, dance step patterns are inset into the threshold.

Drummer’s Close: named after Drummer’s Corner which was situated at the other side of Marischal Street. Woollen mill worker James Milne was an army drummer in the Crimean War (1853-56) he returned to Peterhead and kept a small shop, at the corner of Marischal Street and Albion Street, as well as being the town drummer, his premises became known as ‘Drummer’s Corner’, the canopy shows a drummer with a series of pipe band drummers inset into the threshold

The close below, “Proclamation Pend,” has an interesting story behind it.

Shortly after the beginning of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal of Scotland, read out a proclamation, at the nearby Peterhead Tolbooth, stating that James Stuart (father of Bonnie Prince Charlie), was the rightful King of Britain. The Earl was accompanied by his younger brother James Keith, later to become a field marshal in Frederick the Great’s Prussian army. James Stuart landed at Peterhead from France on the 22nd of December 1715 and stayed overnight before proceeding South. He returned to France in February 1716 after the failure of the rising. The canopy shows three figures at the reading of the proclamation and the Keith clan crest is inset into the threshold.


Artwork in Proclamation Pend celebrates the events surrounding the first Jacobite rebellion in 1715 when James Stuart was proclaimed King in the town.

The statue of Fisher Jessie, marks the contribution made by local women to the fishing industry from the fish wives who carried creels of fish inland to ‘trade round’ the farms and villages to the Gutting Quines (girls) who followed the herring shoals from Shetland to Varmouth every year to generate the fishermen’s catches to market.

At the present time Peterhead is rather depressed and its residents are having a hard time of it.  The oil business has taken a downturn and fishing is almost non-existent.  You can tell by looking around town that there isn’t even very much tourism – notice there aren’t hanging baskets of flowers and such about town.

Next stop the infamous old Peterhead Prison.  It was used up to just 3 years ago when a new facility was built.  Its not exactly a ‘castle’ and it had a rather sobering effect on Lindsay and I as we toured.  Still, it’s part of life, but boy-oh-boy am I ever thankful this is the closest I’ll ever get to being ‘in prison.’ At the end of the tour I was able to walk out on my own free will!

Above is an exercise yard.  There was one guy in particular that was allowed to create an aviary in this particular enclosure and he tended the birds and fed them etc. and was allowed to have clippers for building perches and the like.  One day however, where the red painted rectangle is, he cut through the wire and escaped!  He was caught sometime in the near future at a train station with the clippers still in his back pocket!

Above are some of the criminals and the guards.

The first cells they had were extremely sparse with just a hammock for a bed and a pipe at the end of the stall that hot water ran through for heat.

The inmates kept demanding better living conditions and when they didn’t get what they wanted they decided to spread feces all over their cells.  The inmates were removed, but the guards had to put on gas masks and protective clothing to get it all cleaned up.

Although attempts were made to improve conditions for the inmates, it still wasn’t to their satisfaction.  That’s when the inmates decided to riot.

October 1987
A riot in Peterhead Prison’s D-wing had resulted in prisoners taking over the building and taking a prison officer, 56 year old Jackie Stuart, hostage. The hostage-takers were lifers, in prison for violent crimes. It was thought that they had nothing to lose and would not hesitate to make good on their threats to kill their hostage, whom they had now taken up to the rafters of the Scottish prison.


(The guy with his his hands up in the picture above is Jackie Stuart, the guard the inmates took as hostage.)

Feeling unable to intervene without putting their colleague’s life at risk, the prison authorities called for help from the SAS.

About 20 men from the on-call anti-terrorist team were flown from RAF Lynham in a C-130 up to Aberdeen, then driven under police escort to Peterhead Prison, where they setup for the assault.

The SAS assault teams were kitted out in body armour, fire-proof coveralls, respirators, plus, as the assault plan called for a stealth approach, they wore trainers instead of the more commonly worn army boots. Their primary weapons were wooden batons but they also carried 9mm Brownings as backups. Each team also carried flashbangs and tear gas canisters.

At 5am, as 4 SAS men snuck across the prison roof. Other prisoners in overlooking cell blocks spotted them and called out to warn the hostage-takers. At that moment, on each of the 3 floors of D-wing, an SAS team blew their way in with explosives, hurling in CS gas and stun grenades, before rushing in to clear the cells.

Above them, the 4-man rescue team, threw stun and CS grenades through the hole in the roof then quickly jumped down into the rafters and secured the hostage, who was shocked. The prisoners had been too stunned by the force and speed of the SAS assault to put up any meaningfully resistance. The hostage was quickly hauled out of the gas-filled prison to safety while the SAS handcuffed the prisoners.




Although the guard, Jackie Stuart had been beaten, stabbed a couple of times by the inmates, dressed in inmate clothing, and was kept hostage on the roof for several days,he still managed to keep his wits about him and lives to tell the story.

He is now retired, but volunteers a couple of days a week for the tours.  It was really nice to meet him and hear his story.

Below shows the one bathroom where inmates had to line up each morning to empty their ‘night pots,’ shave, shower and get ready to eat breakfast.  It also shows the minimum recreation they were given: playing cards, pool, and ping-pong.

The inmates who were on ‘good behavior’ had the luxury of working in the kitchen or the laundry rooms below.

The room below was the first place a new prisoner visited.  Here he was told the rules, fingerprinted, a mugshot was taken, and he had to disrobe and was given inmate clothing to wear.

As conditions improved, cells were equipped much better, more showers and bathing facilities were added.

The next building we entered was for the ‘special’ cases; inmates that were particularly dangerous and had to be kept in solitary confinement.  The photos below show their accommodations.  Their own exercise yards for example.

And then there was the ‘solitary confinement’ in this one room completely separated from everything else.  One room, one window from above (and the only light) and a cement bed to lye upon.  Scary!

This is the building for the ‘special cases’ and where the doctors, dentist, pharmacy, etc., were stationed.

Like a lot of prisons, often inmates are addicted to drugs.  The display boxes below show all of the drugs that they could have been on and went through withdrawals from once they were locked up.

After we got to walk out of that dreary place we headed for the beach and some fresh air to blow out the cobwebs and dreary thoughts going through our heads.  We found our way to Port Erroll harbour.  Lucky for us the wind was up, the seas were roiling and the sun peeked through the clouds.  It did the trick and we were every so grateful we were law-abiding citizens!  That is the first prison I’ve ever visited and it will certainly be the last!



Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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