When Jailhouses Rock!

14 June 2019

Places to Visit Topical UK Stories UK Travel Worldwide Travel

Two tourists from America recently made the news when they were inadvertently locked inside the thick stone walls of the historic Dunstaffnage Castle , near Oban, Scotland,  after hours, by castle staff. Thankfully they weren’t overly traumatised by the experience, as they managed to video the moment when the fire brigade arrived to rescue them!  Read more about their mis-adventure here.

Although this was seemingly the result of a ‘series of unfortunate events’, many tourists are deliberately making a beeline’ for old prisons and jails, where you can now take tours – or even willingly stay the night!

In fact, when we travelled to Yorkshire, last year, we were incredibly lucky to stay in the bijou but brilliant ‘Old Parish Lock Up’ in Wath upon Dearne , which is now an Airbnb property, but used to be the town gaol from 1801, where local ne’er do wells were imprisoned for the night before being taken to the magistrates for sentencing. The two cells on the ground floor have now been converted into a modern kitchen and luxury bathroom, complete with roll-top bath. This quirky and charming property’s interesting past has been exploited in lots of clever decorative touches, and there was a lovely atmosphere, despite the building’s past!. We loved our stay here, although your mind did occasionally wander to the local unfortunates who wound up spending a presumably much less comfortable night there! Take a look at this amazing property here.


Taking a look at Trip Advisor, I’ve rounded up the Top Ten prison attractions around the world, according to the people who have visited them. As most of us are fortunate enough to never set foot inside one, I guess this makes them fascinating places, and of course, there’s always a macabre interest  with the colourful characters who inhabited them, in both our recent and modern history:

  1. Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam
    This prison was used by the French colonialists for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for US prisoners of war . During this time, it was ironically dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by American POW’s. Most of the prison has been torn down, but a museum occupies the remaining structure.

  2. The Dana Prison – Jailhouse Tours Shrewsbury, Shropshire
    2 hour guided and themed tours, educational events and functions in a former 18th century prison.

  3. Fremantle Prison Western Australia
    Sometimes known as Fremantle Gaol or Jail, it’s a former Australian prison and World Heritage site . The six-hectare site includes the prison cellblocks, gatehouse, perimeter walls, cottages and tunnels. You can now take a Prison Day tour or even explore the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the prison by foot or boat.

  4. Shepton Mallet Prison – Jailhouse Tours Shepton Mallet, Somerset
    When this prison closed in 2013, it was the UK’s oldest operating prison. You can now visit for daily tours, evening ghost tours and escape events.

  5. Prison Island – Changuu Private Island Stone Town , Zanzibar
    Changuu Island is a small island northwest of Stone Town, Zanzibar. The island was used as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 1860’s and also functioned as a coral mine. The island has now been taken over by wildlife, and you can now see giant tortoises roaming the area.

  6. Peterhead prison museum Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
    Teh prison operated from 1888 to 2013, and since June 2016, the former grounds operate as the Peterhead Prison Museum. Visitors can now explore the 6 acre site and listen via headset to the voices of ex-staff who worked within the former Victorian prison.

  7. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park Yuma, Arizona
    The prison opened in 1876, where the first seven inmates were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. Today you can walk through the actual strap iron cells and solitary chamber of Arizona Territory’s first prison. You can also see photographs and colourful exhibits of those who once involuntarily stayed there and the harsh life they had to endure.

  8. Oxford Castle and Prison Oxford, England
    Oxford Castle is a large, partly-ruined Norman medieval castle. You can now explore the 1000-years of the castle with a prison at its heart on a guided tour led by a costumed character.

  9. Dartmoor Prison Museum Princetown, Dartmoor National Park, Devon
    There are now displays on prisoners, restraints and uniforms, revealing the history of a prison dating from 1809.

  10. Folsom Prison Museum Folsom, California
    Prison artefacts and Johnny Cash memorabilia fill this small museum and gift shop in an old home. Johnny Cash famously performed for the prisoners in the actual prison (which you can’t visit as it’s still a working jail).

If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit any of these old prisons, there’s bound to be a wealth of history and personal stories to discover, and there’s no doubt that feeling of relief that washes over you when you set foot back outside, which will no doubt make your holiday all the more sweeter!

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