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HM Prison Barlinnie

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HM Prison Barlinnie,
HM Prison Barlinnie
© Chris Upson

HM Prison Barlinnie (81 Lee Avenue, Riddrie, Glasgow, G33 2QX)is a large prison generally housing male offenders, those on remand, and those convicted and serving less than 4 years. It also holds offenders serving life sentences when approaching a potential release date. It has been used to hold prisoners from all over Scotland in response to a new building programme within the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).[1]

Locally and colloquially Barlinnie is known as the 'Bar-L'.


  • 1879 Purchase of land
  • 1882 A Hall commissioned
  • 1883 B Hall commissioned
  • 1887 C Hall commissioned and old gate completed
  • 1888 House for chaplain and doctor built outside gate
  • 1890 Link corridor A, B, C halls were built
  • 1892 D Hall commissioned
  • 1893 Chapel completed and perimeter extended to build E Hall
  • 1896 E Hall completed
  • 1908 Old sheds built with alterations to E Hall
  • 1933 Alterations to D hall and new office block built adjacent to gate
  • 1939 Gymnasium and (old) library built
  • 1949 Handicraft workshop built
  • 1951 Dining halls built
  • 1954 Old visits room completed
  • 1955 Female block built (closure of Duke St)
  • 1960 Reception area reconstructed and VT introduced
  • 1968 New sheds complete
  • 1972 Special Unit in female block (until 1994)
  • 1983 Segregation Unit completed
  • 1989 Observation bridges built


  • Average numbers in custody for 2013/2014 – 1,305
  • Average 8,000 prisoner admissions per annum
  • Average 4,500 liberations per annum
  • Average 45,000 prisoner movements to courts, transfers etc.
  • Average 3,600 prisoner visits per month
  • 6,326 prisoner visitors per month
  • 1,143 legal agents visits per month

End of Barlinnie 'Hanging Shed'

Known as the Hanging Shed, the Execution Suite at Barlinnie was finally scheduled for demolition in 1995, during planned reconstruction of Barlinnie's D Hall.

Although capital punishment for murder had been abolished in the UK, the Hanging Shed and gallows were maintained at Barlinnie because capital punishment remained on the Statute Book for treason and sedition, meaning that Scotland was required to retain at least one such facility.

While parliamentary majorities against capital punishment increased each time the House of Commons was sounded, the facilities were retained in case that view changed.

Although the Barlinnie execution suite would cease to exist, a smaller facility was to remain at HM Prison Perth.

Barlinnie's Hanging Shed had been capable of the simultaneous execution of up to three prisoners at once, but was never actually used for multiple executions.

The first hanging took place there in 1946. Prior to that, the last hanging in the city took place in Duke Street Prison on 03 August 1928, when George Reynolds was executed for the murder of a bakehouse fireman.[2]

Capital Punishment and its abolition

A total of 10 judicial executions by hanging took place at HMP Barlinnie between 1947 and 1960, replacing the gallows at Duke Street Prison before the final abolition of Capital Punishment in the UK for murder in 1969.

Each of the condemned men had been convicted of murder. All executions took place at 8:00 am. As was the custom, the remains of all executed prisoners were the property of the state, and were therefore buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison. During the D hall renovations of 1997, the prison gallows cell (built into D Hall) was finally demolished and the remains of all the executed prisoners were exhumed for reburial elsewhere.

DateNameAge (years)Executioner
08 February 1946John Lyon21Thomas Pierrepoint
06 April 1946Patrick Carraher39Thomas Pierrepoint
10 August 1946John Caldwell20Albert Pierrepoint
30 October 1950Christopher Harris28Albert Pierrepoint
16 December 1950James Robertson33Albert Pierrepoint
12 April 1952James Smith22Albert Pierrepoint
29 May 1952Patrick Gallagher Deveney42Albert Pierrepoint
26 January 1953George Francis Shaw25Albert Pierrepoint
11 July 1958Peter Manuel31Harry Allen
22 December 1960Anthony Miller19Harry Allen

Documentary - Hanging with Frank

Frank ((Frank McHue) worked in Barlinnie during the 1950s as a prison officer, and was occasionally occasionally called on to serve on deathwatch details.

In the autumn of 1995 Frank McKue returned to his old haunt, the execution chamber of Barlinnie Prison, before its demolition. This award winning documentary takes us on a dark journey into the world of capital punishment without making judgements.

Shot entirely on 16 mm black & white film stock using an Arri16BL and Bolex cameras. Edited entirely on a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite at Glasgow Film and Video Workshop 1996-7. Sound dubbing at BBC Scotland studio in Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow.

Best Doc Award Reel to Real Festival 1998. Selected for Edinburgh Film Festival 1998.

Tx (transmitted) Channel 5 2001/ BBC Schools 2005.

Most Watched film on Shooting People filmmakers network. Selected for 4Docs website.

Hanging with Frank

The following notes accompany the uploaded documentary on Vimeo, and are quoted here for completeness and are creditted to the film maker:

Some extra notes that were intended for publication:

I'd love to sit and transcribe the words of Frank McKue which are now sitting on some 1/4 inch magnetic reels at the Scottish Archive. He was an extremely likeable chap with a very dark sense of humour. Definitely my type of guy. Used to have a drink with him at his local pub in Edinburgh called The Diggers Arms (called as such because local gravediggers would drink there) . The sound of the trapdoor swinging open that you hear in the film is actually the door to the beer cellar crashing open in the pub which I recorded as a foley. Frank said it was almost the exact sound! Since the trapdoor in the execution chamber at Barlinnie Prison was shored up and unable to open when we visited it seemed a logical idea to use this nice little soundbite!

Incidentally the prison that we were filming was still (and still is) very much in operation. There are some shots where you can see prisoners moving about in the upper galleries. It's Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, Scotland and dates from the Victorian era. Frank worked there in the 50s as a prison officer who occasionally did deathwatch details. That involved sitting with the condemned man on his last nights and drinking tea, engaging him in conversation and playing draughts (I think this may be called checkers in the US).

Frank showed how the prison officer's escorting the condemned man would walk a few paces across the gallery and through the doors into the execution chamber. They'd stand on planks placed over the trapdoors (clearly seen in the photos posted) and hold onto safety ropes dangling from the ceiling to stop them from falling down with the prisoner. There had been various instances in the past of prison guards and assistant executioners falling through the trapdoors with the condemned man.

The deathwatch officers would sit with the condemned prisoner at all times after sentence was pronounced. Cups of tea, mingled with small-talk and endless games of draughts (checkers in US) and they just chatted away about everything 'except the obvious'!! Their job on the morning of the execution was to escort the condemned man out of his cell (which was actually two normal sized cells knocked into one) and into the execution chamber just a few paces across the gallery in D-Hall of the prison. They steadied the man as the executioner led the way onto the scaffold and the assistant helped buckle his wrists and feet with leather straps when they reached the correct position on the trapdoors. A signal from the assistant to the executioner sent the man on his downward journey to the basement below where the mortuary slab awaited. The positioning of the noose was crucial for a clean break between the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae The rope always did a quarter turn to throw back the head and cleanly sever the spinal column at those points and the hangman treated the affair with diligence and extreme reverence. Frank would then often sit with the executioner and assistants as they had their breakfast and left the executed man dangling for a full hour. The prisoner was then pulled back up, the noose removed and then he was lowered back down with other ropes to the basement room again where he was stripped and laid on the mortuary slab. The body 'belonged to the state so it was buried within the prison grounds' and no relative was allowed to visit the grave site or send flowers.

I storyboarded much of the film due to the restrictions of time, the nature of the equipment we were using and, of course, the mood I was trying to evoke. I also used black and white, grainy, light-sensitive film stock to try and get the feel of the execution facility in its heyday of the 1950s. If I had more money and time I would have made this film about 10 mins longer but alas it was not to be. There was always the odd event that we shot spur-of-the-moment. Like when I noticed a butterfly trying to escape from the window of the execution chamber. In this space it took on quite a metaphorical aspect as it struggled desperately and futilely against the glass. Strangely, there was a large group of them roosting on the ceiling. I've never seen such a thing in my life and have no idea why they were acting like this.

-By David Graham Scott.

Stills from the documentary


1 HMP Barlinnie Retrieved 13 March 2017.

2 Gallows to be axed. End of line for death suite at Barlinnie (From HeraldScotland) Retrieved 6 April 2017.

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