Meet the model maker | Inveraray Jail

Meet the model maker

When you enter Inveraray Jail’s spectacular courtroom get ready to step back in time and become part of the sensational trials that took place here almost two centuries ago. Take your seat alongside the witnesses, listen to the court in action and feel the tension as the sentences are passed.

The Circuit Court in session.

The courtroom drama is played out on a soundtrack that’s based on the transcripts of real trials from the prison records. But it’s not just the soundtrack that creates this unique historical experience. Twenty-eight superb life-like models populate the courtroom, set out as if the Circuit Court was in session. Directly below the Judge sit the Advocate Depute or prosecuting counsel, the Defence Counsel, their respective solicitors and the Clerk of the Court. To the right of the Judge is a fifteen-man jury. A witness stands to give evidence. The accused, guarded on either side by a policeman, sits in the dock facing the Judge. Below and to the left of the Judge stands the Mace Bearer.

The models were designed and made by the renowned sculptor Alan Herriot almost twenty years ago. He lifecast the models from real people to create the high level of realism and detail that you see today. The human models were placed ‘in situ’ in the courtroom and covered with modroc, a plaster-coated bandage. This created the moulds, which were then used to create the final fibreglass models.

The Prosecutor looks on, quill moving backwards and forwards as he writes.

‘It was a lot of work to create the entire scene, but we had great fun,’ remembers Alan. ‘The policeman was quite a big fellow and I think he may have been modelled on me.’ He also animated a couple of the figures. ‘Small movements can be quite nice,’ he explains. ‘You don’t want to over do it, but something subtle can make all the difference. The sleeping man’s head nod, for example – it’s just a tiny gesture but it brings the figure to life. It gives some people quite a start!’ He also used a simple rocking mechanism to make the Prosecutor’s quill move. The costumes also add to the realism. They were all thoroughly researched and sourced from theatres and vintage shops or made by the fabulous costumer Ellen Tracey.

Because the models are made from fibreglass, they’re pretty indestructible. The biggest threat is vandalism. ‘People have a penchant for pinching things,’ explains Alan. ‘It’s unbelievable. Wigs and sidechops get nicked all the time.’ The other problem is sunlight. The courtroom is a lovely bright room, but the light bleaches the costumes. ‘The hair on all the models is getting blonder and blonder,’ says Alan. He pops over to Inveraray Jail from time to time to give the models a clean and to touch up the make up. Over the years, he’s also taken them back to his Edinburgh studio, one or two at a time, for a complete refurbishment. The clothes get removed, cleaned and sown back on.

Alan has designed and made models for other visitor attractions, including New Lanark and Tarbert Bridewell. But he says that these types of models are commissioned less and less these days. ‘People prefer using digital animation and special effects now,’ he explains. ‘I think it’s a great shame. There’s something so visually exciting about seeing real-life models and becoming part of the scene.’ He thinks, like so many things, that models eventually will come back into fashion again.

Alan Herriot at work in his studio.

Alan is considered one of Scotland’s most successful figurative sculptors, and his life-size sculptures are displayed both in the UK and overseas. It’s this fine art background that adds a certain something to the work he does for more commercial ventures such as Inveraray Jail. The models are works of art in their own right.

To meet Alan’s models and see and hear the court in action drawing on historical records of actual cases, book your visit to Inveraray Jail, one of Scotland’s top tourist attractions, today.

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