One of the more interesting surprises while looking through Glasgow’s town plan was the discovery of a large scale prison in the heart of the city, less than 800 metres from the City Chambers. The prison on Duke Street received its first inmates in 1798 and was in constant use until its closure in 1955. One of eight prisons in and around the city during the period, it held both male and female prisoners until the opening of Barlinnie Prison in 1882, after which it functioned as a women’s prison.
Originally known as the Bridewell, it wasn’t until the Gaol Act of 1823 and the subsequent decision in 1825 to build a new prison on the site that it became commonly known as Duke Street prison.
Looking at the surrounding area we see many common enterprises of the time. Skin dressing, glue and gas works are places which are no surprise to find in vicinity of a prison. However, not only do we find Alexander’s School for Boys, Girls & Infants facing the prison, but also but another unnamed school close by. How many children attending were threatened with incarceration if they did not do their homework?
Duke Street was the site of executions in Glasgow between 1865 and 1928. In the 20th century 12 people were executed here by hanging, including the last female prisoner to be executed in Scotland in 1923. All were found guilty of murder.
As you can see, the area covered by the prison has been left blank. This was almost certainly intended to limit information on the layout of the prison buildings becoming available to the general public. The Smashing of the Van incident of 1921, when the IRA attempted to free one of their number en route to the prison, certainly showed that escape attempts from inside and out were a real threat which could have benefited from the kind of detail shown on a map of this scale.
However a limited view of the prison layout can be found from an unexpected source: Thomas Sulmans 1864 Bird’s Eye View of Glasgow. His elevated view from hot air balloon shows the layout common to prisons and poor-houses of the era.
The prison was demolished by 1958, but the Alexander’s Public School building still stands on Duke Street today and can be seen by clicking here.
If you have any questions about this map, or any other maps held by the University Library, feel free to contact the Maps, Official Publications and Statistics Unit.
Other entries in this (very) occasional series: