I’ve been inside many prisons over the years – as a tourist I hasten to add – and there are another two here in Edinburgh Castle near Dury’s Battery.
Firstly, there’s the small Military Prison and then the larger Prisons of War, which I found to be the more interesting of the two.
The Military Prison was built in 1842 for the incarceration of soldiers from the local garrison who would be held in solitary confinement in one of the dozen cells. Later this was extended to sixteen with separate ablution facilities.
In reality this prison was like a cut-down version of civilian prisons elsewhere.
The Prisons of War are somewhat different in as much as that they housed foreign prisoners from a series of different conflicts during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
These large vaults are situated under the Great Hall and Queen Anne Building and had been used for various purposes from stores, military supplies, barracks and even kitchens and a bakery.
They were first used as a prison in 1758 not long after the start of the Seven Years War with France. They obviously did the job that was intended because when the American War of Independence broke out in 1775 it was used again.
Just as the Seven Years War, most of those captured and brought here were sailors. Ironically, some of the inmates were Scots who had emigrated to North America including two sailors under the command of John Paul Jones, another Scot who has been remembered as the ‘Father of the American Navy’.
The prisons were at their busiest during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars between 1793 and 1815, when the cramped and unsavoury conditions became a breeding ground for feuds between the varying different nationalities.
The Prisons of War have successfully imitated the sort of conditions that these prisoners would have had to endure, but I suppose there’s no substitute for the real thing.
It definitely wouldn’t have been a bed of roses for the prisoners that occupied the hammocks here, which is why I suppose there were so many escape attempts.
Some were successful, but others less so, such as the poor soul who thought it was a good idea to hide in a cart under a pile of dung. It could have been worth the ordeal if hadn’t been for the fact that he was emptied along with the dung over the castle wall!
These prisons could be on your list of things to overlook, but I would recommend that you find time for the Prisons of War at least.