HM Prison Peterhead
HMP Peterhead was a notorious Scottish prison known for major unrest, poor conditions, and its origins as the country’s only dedicated convict jail for hardened criminals. Now closed, the site has taken on an unusual new purpose as a museum and popular filming location.
History and Origins
HMP Peterhead first opened in 1888 as Scotland’s first and only dedicated convict prison, used to house prisoners sentenced to “hard labor.” The very design of its castle-like architecture was meant to convey a harsh, imposing atmosphere.
Originally built to hold 208 convicts, HMP Peterhead soon expanded with additional on-site quarries and Admiralty yards worked by inmate labor. Additional cell blocks through 1909, 1960, and 1962 gradually increased capacity to over 360 inmates.
Notorious 1987 Riot
HMP Peterhead’s harsh reputation was cemented in 1987, when a major riot broke out in D Wing. Prisoners took over the entire cell block and took a guard hostage, threatening to kill him if demands weren’t met. With dangerous inmates unwilling to back down, the government approved an armed SAS raid after 3 days to free the hostage and restore control.
Legacy of Poor Conditions
Even after the notorious riot, HMP Peterhead remained plagued by criticism over inmate welfare. Cells lacked basic electricity until 2005 in facilities dubbed “Scotland’s gulag,” a prison of “no hope.” The practice of slopping out buckets of waste continued here for years after being banned in the rest of Scotland.
HMP Peterhead later specialized in housing sex offenders in the years before its closure, provoking more controversy. Mounting political pressure ultimately led to its replacement.
Conversion to Museum and Filming Venue
HMP Peterhead closed for good in 2013, replaced by the modern and upgraded HMP Grampian. However, its iconic architecture and infamous history have given the prison site an unusual new lease on life.
The former grounds now operate as the Peterhead Prison Museum, welcoming visitors on audio tours of preserved cells and courtrooms once condemned for their conditions. This “prison of no hope” also reemerged as an unlikely filming location, with its decrepit cell blocks providing atmosphere for zombie thrillers like Redcon-1 and gritty prison dramas.
While hardly missing its past notoriety, HMP Peterhead remains both a fascinating historical site and modern media star.
For over a century, HMP Peterhead embodied everything notoriously harsh and punishing in Scotland’s prison system. Its closure sparked both controversy and optimism for the future. While hardly missing the unrest of its active prison days, the site continues to intrigue visitors as a museum and cinematic filming hotspot, writing yet another colorful chapter in its dramatic history.
Q1: When did HMP Peterhead first open as a prison? A1: HMP Peterhead opened in 1888 as Scotland’s first dedicated convict prison.
Q2: What happened during the major 1987 prison riot?
A2: Dangerous inmates seized control of a cell block, took a guard hostage, and threatened to kill him during a 3-day standoff until an SAS raid.
Q3: What issues plagued HMP Peterhead’s conditions? A3: Cells lacked basic electricity until 2005. The practice of “slopping out” waste buckets also continued despite bans elsewhere.
Q4: How is the former HMP Peterhead site used today? A4: The old grounds now operate as the Peterhead Prison Museum for tours, as well as a filming location.
Q5: Why did HMP Peterhead ultimately close in 2013? A5: Mounting pressure over dated facilities and inmate welfare led the government to replace it with the modern HMP Grampian.