DURING the early 1860s, the keeper of Alloa prison was Gavin Martin. He had been the turnkey at Perth Prison but had been promoted to Alloa.

Although he had applied for more lucrative work, he was knocked back and spent his time keeping an eye on the prisoners, but as it turned out, he was not very good at his job.

At least two prisoners absconded from the gaol, simply walking out of their cells and onto the streets without any difficulty and never being approached by prison staff.

The first to make their daring escape was Isabella Freelan in March 1857. One Saturday evening, Freelan simply walked out, and made her way to Old Bridge Street where she enjoyed a cup of tea with her friends.

She then set off for Clackmannan with her child in her arms. However, she was spotted by a police officer who knew her and was duly escorted back to gaol.

On Tuesday 3rd September 1861 another prisoner escaped without difficulty sometime between 8 and 9 that morning.

The warder William Wallace had gone home for breakfast while the keeper and the matron sat in the parlour drinking coffee.

John Ferguson of Clackmannan had been charged with theft and the Sheriff John Tait had sentenced him to three months' imprisonment on 14th August.

Ferguson had chores to do that morning. He was to clean the kitchen, hang up the washing and clean the stair and prison lobby. He also had use of a ladder to carry out his duties.

However, bored of the chores and his incarceration, he used the ladder, which was a bit short so he placed it on a table, to escape over the prison walls.

In doing this, the cleaning then fell to old James Lightfoot or Loutit, the only other prisoner in the gaol at the time.

As soon as the governor got word of the escape, he telegraphed Stirling to inform them. He also decided to have a look for the escapee himself, hiring a horse and gig from the Crown Hotel.

Wearing a great coat, a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other, and with handcuffs concealed in his pocket, he set off.

He was mortified that Didley Jock, as Ferguson was known, had escaped but was sure he would return with him. He did not.

The governor and matron came in for a great deal of criticism as they only had two prisoners to watch at the time.