Edinburgh, High Street, Tolbooth


Site Name Edinburgh, High Street, Tolbooth

Classification Tolbooth

Alternative Name(s) The Heart Of Midlothian; The Old Tolbooth

Canmore ID 52447

Site Number NT27SE 4

NGR NT 2568 7359

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27SE 4 2558 7359.

(NT 2558 7359) Old Tolbooth (NR) (Site of)

OS 25"map, (1953)

A charter of 1386 provides for the site of a new "Bell-House", successor to the praetorium of 1369. Nothing is on record about this building until 1403, when a praetorium in which were accommodated the Town Council, the Justice Ayres, the Law Courts and Parliament. This tolbooth stood on the S side of the High Street, just W of the nave-gable of St Giles' Church, with its S wall in alignment with the N wall of the church. The site is outlined in the street with brass markers. If the building occupied the whole of the site specified in 1386, its overall dimensions must have been 60ft in length by 30ft in breadth. Although from 1480-1 onwards the building included a prison, it appears to have remained without material alteration until 1561 when the magistrates decided to extend their premises by taking in part of St Giles' Church. A new building for the use of the Lords of Session and of the Town Council was built on a site at the SW corner of St Giles' Church, now occupied by part of the Signet Library. It was linked up with that part of the Church that had previously been marked out for secular use. The old Tolbooth was not demolished, but was eventually reconstructed and extended; it survived as the common prison until 1817. Early 19th century drawings show it as consisting of two adjoining blocks. The W one, of four storeys and an attic, served by a central turnpike projecting from the S side, had rubble walls relieved by four string-courses and represented a substantial reconstruction made in 1610-1. The E block, known to the very last as the Bell-House, was of ashlar and had been restored at least 50 years before its neighbour. It had four storeys and an attic, served by a turnpike stair projecting from the SE corner.

A door, complete with fittings, and various building fragments from the Tolbooth are at Abbotsford (NT53SW 41) and several other relics are in the NMAS.

P Miller 1886; RCAHMS 1951; 1967.

As stated, metal studs in the road delineate the outline of this building.

Visited by OS (J L D) 25 December 1953.

Architecture Notes

Depicted on the coloured 1st edition of the O.S. 1:1056 scale map (Edinburgh and its Environs, 1854, sheet 35).

Demolished 1817.



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