Peterhead Prison Museum with Kids

img_0164I wasn’t sure about visiting the relatively new Peterhead Prison Museum with children. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to visit. The place used to give me the heebie-jeebies. It only shut its doors to inmates in 2013 and held many of the UK’s most notorious criminals. The glorification of crime or revelling in gruesome deeds doesn’t appeal to me and I didn’t know what approach the museum would take.

img_0162We were warmly welcomed at the entrance of the museum and noticed that lots of other families were also visiting. The reception guard explained that an ex-prison warden was volunteering that day, a Mr Jackie Stuart. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill prison guard, if there is such a thing, but the hostage who was held during the Peterhead prison riot of 1987, stabbed and paraded on the rooftop before being abruptly rescued by the SAS when they stormed the building and took back the jail. It would be an unexpected opportunity to speak directly to this man.

img_0200We soon got our head-sets which our tots, aged 3 and 1, were too small for, both in terms of content and practicality. We entered through the iconic metres high prison gates, under the CCTV cameras, past tiny exercise yards which began to make me feel claustrophobic, and into D wing. From a youngster’s point of view, following the yellow arrows on the tarmac to D-wing and then exploring this vast prison wing provided great excitement. As I listened to the head-set the kids chased each other the length of the wing, played endlessly with the billiard table and shouted ‘Poo, Poo, Poo’ at the cell which demonstrated a dirty protest. It was all going over their heads. They kept warm by charging about, I was meanwhile frozen, this jail has a chill which is atmospheric but I can’t imagine how anyone spent years locked inside here.

early-cell

An early cell

For older children, and from my point of view, I was impressed by the museum’s approach. The focus (via the headsets) was the history of the jail, told through the words of the prison guards who worked here. The crimes and the criminals were not the focus. We learnt that the prison was originally situated in Peterhead in 1888 because a cheap labour force was required to build the local harbour; prisoners weren’t just cheap they were pretty much free and hard labour was a regular sentence. The interiors of the cells are furnished as they would have been at different points in history. Visitors see the laundrette, showers, doctor’s room, kitchen and slopping out area (the prison never did have fully functioning toilets) and you start to piece together a life here. The antagonism between the guards and the prisoners is explained and the atmosphere sounds fraught and toxic. It wasn’t known as the ‘Hate Factory’ for nothing.

jackie-stuart-talking-to-visitors

Jackie Stuart talking to museum visitors

Then we happened upon Jackie Stuart, a gentleman of over 80 years old. He answered questions about his hostage experience with humour and willingness. I can’t begin to understand how the guards, or the prisoners, coped in this notorious jail but it was fascinating to talk with him.

The most challenging areas, for more perceptive children than my toddlers, would be a cell that was the site of a murder (with red paint on the walls to signify the bloodshed), the Silent Cell where prisoners spent time in solitary isolation and a punishment room from the early days of the jail where prisoners were tied to a tripod and whipped with a cat-o-nine-tails or birch rods. We saw lots of families at the prison, and it’s hardly big news that horrible histories are hugely appealing to children. It’s up to each parent to explain the tougher aspects of life in their own way, to their own children.

 

img_0161Personally I think this museum is a fascinating addition to the north east of Scotland’s tourist offering. It’s a site of national interest which taps into social history, crime and punishment, architecture, Scottish history and political history. I would have found it riveting as a child but I’ve always liked my history. It might not be a predictable day out with  children but they’ll certainly learn something.

THE LOWDOWN – We drove from Aberdeen to Peterhead which is about an hour north. The museum was very buggy friendly overall but one reader did recommend bringing a baby carrier for very small children if you wish to visit the upstairs section of the jail. I’d strongly recommend wrapping up warm as the museum is cold. When we visited in January 2017 a cafe was under construction.

If you like what you read then don’t miss a post, enter your email address in the ‘Follow’ box then click ‘Follow’ or join the conversation on Facebooktwitterpinterest and instagram at Tots2Travel. For any queries or opportunities please email tots2travel@hotmail.com. Tots2Travel received complimentary entry to the museum for review purposes. All images copyright of Tots2Travel.

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15 Comments

  1. Reply

    Travel_With_Asif

    February 26, 2017

    This place seems nice

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      February 27, 2017

      Not the adjective I’d run with 🙂 but fascinating for sure.

  2. Reply

    joylovestravel

    February 26, 2017

    This looks and sounds fascinating – I would love to visit. We’ve been to jails in various places and each and every one has given me the heebie jeebies.

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      February 27, 2017

      It’s the kind of trip that stays with you, gives you a lot to think about but it’s enthralling and fascinating in equal measure.

  3. Reply

    Wherejogoes

    March 3, 2017

    It really brings it to life that they had real people involved with the prison and it’s history there. What an unusual and unique experience. Thanks for sharing with #culturedkids

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      March 3, 2017

      I used to drive past the building from time to time so it’s actually really strange to walk into it.

      • Reply

        Wherejogoes

        March 3, 2017

        The only prisons I have been in are Alcatraz and Robben Island and for both of them it was the accounts of the prisoners and guards that made them such an interesting experience.

        • Reply

          tots2travel

          March 5, 2017

          I found Alcatraz interesting too. It felt so remote and I think that’s the most powerful factor.

  4. Reply

    Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)

    March 3, 2017

    The only prison I’ve visited was Robbin Island, where Mandela was held, and like you I felt a chill (despite the south African heat). But Peterhead sounds remarkable for being a working prison until so recently. I can imagine it must have been a brutal place (and I’d definitely take the kids, to warn them off any nonsense in later life!). Thanks for sharing with #CulturedKids

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      March 3, 2017

      It’s such recent history and that’s what’s fascinating and equally unnerving.

  5. Reply

    fifi + hop

    March 3, 2017

    I was curious to read this because my older daughter keeps saying she wants to go to Alcatraz in San Francisco. I kind of chuckle to myself but totally get it – it’s just as fascinating – if not more – to children as much as it is to us. #culturedkids

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      March 3, 2017

      I found Alcatraz really interesting, it’s somewhere that I wouldn’t miss when I was in San Francisco. What’s strange about the Peterhead Prison is that it only closed in 2013, with many inmates simply transferred to the brand new prison nearby so it’s not just recent history it’s ongoing. I would have loved Alcatraz as a child too. The journey to get there is part of it!

  6. Reply

    daisythebus

    March 4, 2017

    Prisons hold a strange fascination for kids – the ultimate “naughty corner”, if you like. This is a wonderful review of a museum that I am sure my (older) kids would learn a lot from. It might even scare them into being on their best behaviour. For an hour or two… 😉 #CulturedKids

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      March 5, 2017

      This did come across as a tough reality, you’d hope it would be a clear deterrent.

  7. Reply

    Josh

    June 13, 2017

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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