Statement of Special Interest
This former gatehouse dates from Thomas Brown's 1839-42 reworking of Perth Prison, however it is likely that this building has been augmented from the simple plan shown on Brown's 1839 drawing. It is a key focal point from the entrance through the outer prison buildings and signals the entrance to the prison proper. Its crenelated design and use of both whinstone and ashlar is in keeping with the 1840-60s work.
Prisons as purpose-built structures did not come into being in the United Kingdom until the 1770s. Until this time, imprisonment as a punishment was not the norm. Prisoners were usually incarcerated for short periods of time before corporal or capital punishment was carried out or they were transported to America or Australia or, in the case of debtors, they paid their debts. In Scotland the local tolbooth often served as the place of temporary detainment and such prisons were run by the burgh. Conditions were usually woeful. All types of inmates would be held together, with no segregation, and usually in a single large room which was frequently overcrowded. Unruly prisoners could be sent to 'the pit', a dark hole in the ground. Where there were prisons, individual cells were rare.
John Howard (1726-90), one of the most well-known of the emerging prison reformers, visited Scotland and Ireland as part of his tours of prisons throughout the United Kingdom in the 1770s and 80s. As Cameron tells us in Prisons and Punishment in Scotland he visited Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Inverness, Nairn, Stirling and Jedburgh prisons in 1783 noting that they were, "old buildings, dirty and offensive, without courtyards and also generally without water" (p50). Howard was key in instigating nationwide reform efforts with the publication of his book 'The State of the Prisons in England and Wales' (1777).
A number of new prisons were constructed in response to the calls of the reformers and also to cope with the huge numbers of French prisoners of war who were in the United Kingdom. Calton Jail in Edinburgh opened in 1791 to designs by Robert Adam and it was later extended by Archibald Elliot in 1817. Perth opened in 1812 to house prisoners of war, Cupar opened in 1814, Inveraray opened around 1820 and Jedburgh in 1823 (see separate listings). The buildings were generally designed by leading architects of the day, including Archibald Elliot and James Gillespie Graham. Plans and styles were variable, from castellated as at Calton and Jedburgh to classical as at Inveraray and Cupar.
Generally the prisons of the time followed a congregate system whereby prisoners were kept together unsegregated throughout the day and night. Howard and other reformers vehemently condemned this practice as producing moral contamination and corruption. Howard advised that alongside implementing healthier practices of ventilation and the employment of paid gaolers that prisoners should be divided by classes and housed in separate yards. It was increasingly believed that different kinds of prisoners corrupted each other and hence that prisoners of different age, sex and type of crime should be kept apart. Howard and early investigators played a significant role in instigating reform by bringing to public attention the state of prisons throughout the country. Their recommendations regarding health, classification and inspection formed the basis for the reforms and legislation of the 19th century and encouraged architectural design towards providing cellularly divided spaces to fight against the spread of physical and moral contamination within the prison environment.
On 17 August 1839 an Act to Improve Prisons and Prison Discipline was passed in Scotland to enshrine classification and separation as principles of prison discipline. An earlier 1835 Act had set up Inspectors of Prisons in Great Britain and the 1839 Act transferred the control of prisons to County Boards which were established and took over local supervision and management of all prisons, except Perth, which was to be rebuilt as the national prison. Prison Acts of 1877 brought prisons under the authority of the Home Secretary which lasted until the Criminal Justice Act in 1948.
The effect of the 1835 and 1839 Acts was a new wave of prison building, with Thomas Brown II (1806-1872) appointed architect to the Prison Board of Scotland in 1837. Brown's prisons took on board the suggestions of the prison reformers and were built to reflect contemporary ideas of observation and control, with solitary rather than mass confinement in a hygienic environment and with an emphasis on rehabilitation. Brown was responsible for building around 12 purpose-built prisons and he added to, or reconstructed, around 9 other prisons during his tenure as architect to the Prison Board of Scotland. As a result of this he is the leading prison architect of the 19th century in Scotland. Very few of Brown's purpose-built prisons survive and Perth is amongst the best-preserved examples.
His design for the General Prison at Perth was one of his first major prison commissions and one of the first prisons in Scotland to be built on the separation principle. Thomas Brown's scheme of 1839-42 for the General Prison for Scotland proposed four large cell blocks of 4 storeys radiating from a semi-circular viewing corridor. Two were built in 1839-42 and they linked with the crescent block described above. The planned further two were built around 1852-9 in response to overcrowding issues to the designs of Robert Matheson (now known as A and B Halls) and these were later extended in 1876. They run parallel to the crescent block. The two cell blocks built in 1839-42 to the east of the crescent block have since been demolished.
Category changed from C to B, statutory address, listed building record revised in 2015 as part of the Scottish Prison Service Listing Review 2014-15. Previously listed as 'Gatehouse'.