Peterhead Prison

                          Peterhead Prison

Peterhead  Prison was built aroundabout 1888. It was originally designed to hold 208 prisoners and to be Scotland’s only  prison for convicted inmates.However occupancy averaged at around 350 , it peaked at 455 in 1911. More buildings were completed in the years 1909, 1960 and 1962, bringing capacity up to 362. 

Peterhead prison finally  closed for business in 2013, and replaced by the  HMP Grampian, Scotland’s first prison  to house young offenders, men and women. 

Until Peterhead Prison was opened, Scottish prisoners were routinely transported to England to see out their sentences. The first prisoners to be received in the prison arrived August 1888.

Peterhead prison supplied the labour force to work in a local Quarry and in the Admiralty Yard which was attached to the prison. These convicts helped support the work of civilian labourers employed by the Admiralty to construct a Harbour of Refuge breakwater.   

The Admiralty project was unique to Scotland and was served by the only state-owned passenger carrying railway in its day.

Peterhead Prison had a history of poor conditions for prisoners and a harsh brutal regime, being often referred to as “Scotland’s gulag, a prison of no hope” or “The Hate Factory”. The  2005 inspection reported that electricity had only just been made available in cells and slopping out continues to be the norm at the prison.

In  1979 Johnny and his brother Jim along with another 8 inmates stormed the punishment block in protest at the out-dated regime and conditions, ultimately a Victorian regime was being implemented and enforced. They held the punishment block for 5 days and 5 nights, the secretary of state for Scotland at the time ‘Malcolm Rifkind’ even made an appearance to try and talk the protesters around. Johnny would be involved in numerous protests over the years, to many to document in this post but you can read about these exploits in his critically acclaimed book The Bird That Never Flew: The Uncompromised Autobiography Of One Of The Most Punished Prisoners In The History Of The British Penal System  or listen to him via Shaun Attwoods podcast.

The 28 September 1987 saw a riot in the prison’s D wing which resulted in prisoners taking over the building and taking  prison officer  Jackie Stuart, hostage. Officer Stuart was known by the prisoners as ‘Hess’ as in the Nazi ‘Rudolph Hess’ due to him looking like him, he also had a like for physically abusing inmates in restraints or on the deck, it wasn’t just the prisoners who were crazy!  The press made it known that the rioters were serving life in prison for violent crimes and put it across that they had nothing to lose and would not hesitate to make good on their threats to kill their hostage, whom they had taken up to the rafters.

Prison officer hostage

The prisoners had earlier released an officer who was suffering health problems. Negotiations eventually broke down and the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, sent the SAS to intervene and bring the riot to an end on 3 October. They were successful and hostage was released unharmed and order in the prison restored.

In its latter years Peterhead prison lost its tough image when it was reinvented into a specialist centre for sex offenders, then talks of a new Peterhead prison began in 2006 and eventually came to bear fruit when HMP Grampian was opened in 2013.

Peterhead Prison is know a museum with tourists regularly taking the guided tour with an ex-officer at the helm, just a thought, but an ex-con guiding the tour along with the officer would also add an extra dimension.

Peterhead Prison has a very special place in Scotland’s penal history and means different things to different people, what do you think though? Leave a comment and subscribe for more prison related content, thanks, DC

Johnny Ramensky





  1. Hi Danny,

    Interesting post about Peterhead Prison! I’m curious where your interest in this began!

    Criminal rehabilitation is a very difficult problem to try and solve, and throughout the world there are systems of varying quality. What is the best way to help those with violent tendencies? What is the proper response to those who have committed horrible, heinous crimes?

    Certainly there needs to be justice. Otherwise society will fall apart and devolve into tribalism. But as for how to best rehabilitate those who have committed crimes, we still haven’t figured that out.

    • My interest is due to me myself being an ex-con and Johnny Steele being my friend and co conspirator [lol] on this site, both of us are reformed by the way.

      Johnny is a veteran of a very harsh brutal regime and is the most punished prisoner in Scottish penal history and the author of the book ‘The Bird  that never flew’, anyway thanks for the interest.

  2. This is a really interesting post. I have always been fascinated with prisons and prison culture so this is up my alley and I might be a little biased LOL. I love to read the history of prisons and your post definitely did not disappoint. I would love to be able to go on the tour you talk about! That would be very interesting and I hope I can make it over there before they stop giving them. Sounds like it was quite a brutal place back in it’s day and somewhere nobody would want to go. Thank you for writing this! 

  3. Hi JohnnyBoy,

    This is a really interesting article. I love a bit of history and a good story and this is a new one to me, as it was just before my time. You got some good photos of the lads on the prison roof too. If I’m ever in that neck of the woods, I fancy going to learn a bit more about it.

    • Thank you Tom, i will pass this on to Johnny, infact he will see it anyway, thanks again

  4. It as a while ago, but not so long that Jonnyboy Steele will recall he asked me for my shoes, at who knows what time it was, in A hall back in the day. Peter hiis pal, a wee rebel of the sort rarely seen today, a proper man, a scotsman with a cause, a fearless warrior of the working class. A man who was immensely proud to be a member of the Scottish Republican Workers Party. A man who was imprisoned for his part in raising funds for his political agenda. Not to say in fairness his agenda was all too fruitful. Communism, was still a very volatile ideology then.
    It has failed , as we know, today, So there we have that, as a conclusion.

    Young Jonny Steele is a product of Glasgow folklore. he is a very unique young man. He has endured a lot of pain in his journey. he has also been very guilty of all his faults. He is not blameless. However jonny is a character, he is a soldier of the old school villainy which his old Dad, God Bless him, and his Mum, seen as a way of life. Jonny is the product of a criminal mentality which he never chose for himself. He is an innocent victim of that mentality. As his his brothers Jim and Joe. Truth be told they are kind decent guys with so much history behind them, it is impossible to be normal. The Steele family are what they are, a criminal diety of the Glasgow era.

    • I will get Johnny to reply to this asap, i need to clue him up, as it is not my place to, anyway thanks for the insight and comment, kindest regards, Danny

      • Thank you for your comment . And yes,I know who you are my friend. I can still remember the newspaper article you wrote for the Scotsman newspaper “Is there anybody out there?” Great article about the conditions and turmoil of the Peterhead regime. Hope you and your own band of (great guy’s) brothers are keeping well and prospering. Thank you Mr. TM

  5. You know who I am Jonny.

    I respect you for what you truly advocate as a person. I know you Jonny as you I know who I am. All your brothers and we respect each other. Time is passing Jonny, we are getting old, people will forget us soon enough. I am so proud of the way you have turned out Jonny, your very honest, very genuine, its all heartfelt and very brutally transparent. You Jonny have no agenda. You are like your old pal from all those years ago, on the landing, albeit going nowhere, other than clicking around on tommy’s shoes, for a laugh, and I get that too my son. You and him had that quality of irony, it was superb comedy at the time for me jonny. It has never left me, anymore than Toe has in his sadness of the momentum when he managed to transform himself to the special unit with bug Tommy for a spell that I wish I recorded. Jonny, I love you as a son, do good what is left of your life, you are an example the youth should pay heed to.

    • Thqanks for the comment, all need to clue Johnny up on how to reply to these, as replying to this aint my place, anyway thanks and i agree with everything you wrote, regards, Danny

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