At the centre of A and B Halls is a crescent shaped Tudor style observation block of 5 and 4 storeys by Thomas Brown and dating to 1839-42. It consists of an advanced two bay 5-storey central tower flanked by slightly lower curved 4-storey crenelated blocks which are in turn flanked by lower curved crenelated single bay 4-storey sections. The crescent block is constructed of squared and coursed whinstone with cream sandstone ashlar margins and quoins. There are chamfered openings and some openings have hoodmoulds. There are replacement steel-framed multi-pane windows to the rear.
A Hall (to the left of the crescent) and B Hall (to the right of the crescent) are imposing 4 storey crenelated cell blocks constructed in cream ashlar. B Hall at 24 bays is slightly longer than A Hall but they are in the main largely similar. Both have advanced taller 2-bay inner corner sections with machicolation. Both have slightly advanced later outer bays added in 1876 (3 bays to A Hall; 4 bays to B Hall) and large near-central crenelated ventilation chimneys. There are some segmental and round-headed openings particularly to the inner and outer bays, but most are regularly-spaced small rectangular openings with chamfered margins. There are replacement timber multi-pane windows.
The interior of A and B Halls, partially seen in 2014, comprise a corridor plan with four floors of regularly spaced cells opening off either side of the corridor. There are few architectural features and the design is simple and functional. The basement of A Hall (now not used for prisoner accommodation) has some surviving early narrow 2-panel timber cell doors with an observation hole and a central rectangular letter-box type opening. There are some surviving sets of vertical metal bars forming barriers (central gate not extant) which are no longer used but which appear to conform to Brown's description of the design of the cell blocks and are likely to date from Matheson's work of around 1852-9.
In front of the Crescent Block is a two storey 5-bay flat-roofed building with a crenelated parapet now known as the Tower Board Room. It was originally built by Robert Reid in 1810-12 (it formerly had a tall observation tower which is thought to have been demolished in the 1960s) and it was extensively altered by Thomas Brown in 1839-42 to form the Governors' Office and a reception centre for new inmates. It is constructed in squared and coursed whinstone with cream ashlar margins and quoins. It has a two-way forestair to provide access to the central first floor entrance.
Statement of Special Interest
Designed by the renowned prison architect Thomas Brown and completed by Robert Matheson, this group of buildings is exceptionally important in the history of prison architecture in Scotland. Using the pioneering separation system, these are the only surviving examples of their type and scale in Scotland and are also the oldest cell blocks still in use today. The Tower Board Room contains fabric from Robert Reid's earlier Napoleonic Prisoner of War Camp of 1810-12 which is also of exceptional interest.
The site of HMP Perth has its origins as The Depôt, Scotland's principal place of internment for French prisoners or war. Designed by Robert Reid as a military prison in 1810-12, it was later chosen as the site for the General Prison for Scotland. Some buildings (of which Aultbea House, the Visitor Centre and Staff Club and the Tower Board Room survive today – see separate listings) were retained for its new use, but the prisoner of war barracks were demolished as they did not comply with new thinking about prison design. The General Prison for Scotland was designed by Thomas Brown and constructed in 1839-42. Later alterations and additions have been made, including the demolition of a number of buildings constructed by both Reid and Brown. The site has been redeveloped since the 1980s and continues in use as a prison, HMP Perth.
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.
Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2015 as part of the Scottish Prison Service Listing Review 2014-15. Previously listed as 'Main Prison Block'.