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Ayr, 21-29 New Bridge Street, Town Hall

Assembly Rooms (19th Century), Steeple (19th Century), Town Hall (19th Century)

Site Name Ayr, 21-29 New Bridge Street, Town Hall

Classification Assembly Rooms (19th Century), Steeple (19th Century), Town Hall (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Sandgate; High Street; Tolbooth; 1, 5 - 9 High Street

Canmore ID 41822

Site Number NS32SW 51

NGR NS 33709 22080

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council South Ayrshire
  • Parish Ayr
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Kyle And Carrick
  • Former County Ayrshire

Archaeology Notes

NS32SW 51 33709 22080.

(For previous tolbooths see NS32SW 13 'New Tolbooth' and NS32SW 17 'Laigh Tolbooth')

(NS 3370 2208) Ayr Town Hall, built in the Renaissance style in 1828 and enlarged in 1881. Clock tower and stone steeple 226ft high. Thomas Hamilton, architect.

SDD List 1958

Architecture Notes


ARCHITECT: Thomas Hamilton, 1828.

Campbell Douglas & Sellars 1880-1, (alterations)

(not to be confused with 'TOWN HOUSE STEEPLE' demolished 1825)

'Ayr Advertiser', 3 April 1828 - article on laying of foundation stone

Ayr Town Hall

Estimates for reconstruction of Ayr Town Hall, J Kennedy Hunter, Architect, Ayr, 1901. Deposited by Carnegie Library, Ayr.

Neo-classical block topped by a vast steeple complete with swags, griffens, clock faces and spire finished by a figure of a Triton.

Photographed on behalf of the Buildings of Scotland publications.

RCAHMS 2009.


Publication Account (1996)

The 'Town's New Buildings', erected to the designs of the Edinburgh architect Thomas Hamilton in 1828-30, are situated in the SE angle of High Street and New Bridge Street, a few metres NE of the site of the 'High Tolbooth'. The original building was a two-storeyed L-plan block, 33.7m along the New Bridge Street (NW) front and II m along the NE front, but with the SW wing, which contained the main assembly-room, extending a further 5m to the rear. The NW gable of this wing exploits the sloping site and rises above the remainder of the New Bridge Street front, which is also divided asymmetrically by the massive base of the steeple. In 1878-81 the buildings were extended to the SE, and 24m added in matching style to the High Street frontage, to designs by James Sellars of the Glasgow firm, Campbell Douglas and Sellars. In 1901-3, following fire-damage to the main hall added by Sellars, further internal alterations were supervised by the local architect J K Hunter.

The original building is faced throughout with white sandstone ashlar from the Cullaloe quarry in Fife, for which a reduced freight charge through the Forth and Clyde Canal was negotiated. The main frontages, except for the steeple, are in a simple neo-classical style, with ground-floor shop-fronts and a high first floor articulated by shallow pilasters with simple bases and capitals framing tall round-headed windows. The entablature terminated in a flat parapet, replaced by Sellars with a balustrade except in the pedimented gable of the SW wing.

Hamilton responded to local criticism that the site was too low-lying, and that the bells would be inaudible, by designing a monumental steeple in baroque style, 8m square at base and 64m in height, which dominates the town and the surrounding countryside. Its NW front, slightly advanced from the flanking wings, has a rusticated ground storey with a pedimented entrance-doorway, above which massive anglepilasters frame a tall round-headed window and rise to an entablature with a bold cornice carried on scrolled triglyphs. In three faces of the tower below the entablature there are large boldly-carved panels of anthem ion-ornament, and at the angles above the cornice there are winged lions holding torches, linked by rich festoons which enclose the octagonal upper stages. The belfry-stage has projecting paired Tuscan pillars set on the oblique faces, and clock-faces below round-headed louvred openings in the principal ones. In the next stage pillars with distinctive Corinthian capitals, based on those of the Tower of the Winds in Athens, frame the openinggs in the principal faces, while at the angles, which were originally intended as the location for the clock-faces, there are urns on tall plinths. Above the entablature eight scrolled trusses support a thin octagonal spire or obelisk with recessed

panelled sides, terminating in a capital which is a simplified version of those from the Tower of the Winds. For a few years this carried a copper figure of Triton, based on the finial of the same monument, but following lightning-damage in 1836 this was replaced by a simpler vane to Hamilton's design. A vestibule in the base of the steeple, ornamented with pilasters and tall round-headed niches in the side-walls, leads to the main staircase, which was designed as a series of short flights and landings but replaced by Sellars with a single broad flight. The elliptical-vaulted coffered ceilings of the staircase and inner vestibule correspond to Hamilton's design drawings although the top-lit cupola of the main landing differs in the number of panels.

The first-floor rooms comprised a suite of assembly-rooms hall to the SW, supper-room and an ante-room in the steeple and a coffee-room and reading-room to the NE. In 1878-81 these were adapted as council-chamber, committee-room, strong-room in the steeple and town clerk's office. Hamilton also provided a four-storeyed block of offices in the rear reentrant, but in 1878 these were replaced by a link-area to the new main hall. The principal assembly-room, some 14.5m by 8.3m, retains the main features of Hamilton's design, but the coffered ceiling with central domed cupola was altered by Sellars, who raised the wall-head by about 1.4m. At the same time, the pairs of timber Corinthian pillars in the end-walls, and the simpler pilasters in the angles, were raised above a dado. Here and elsewhere, several ofthe original fine mahogany doors, with rich consoles, have been preserved, although the marble fireplaces in both end-walls have been removed. A three-light stained-glass window of 1881 in the SW wall replaced the 'orchestra' or musicians' gallery, which is shown in Hamilton's drawing as having a metal balustrade supported by two caryatids.

The former supper-room retains its coffered ceiling and windows intact, while the square ante-room in the steeple preserves much of its ornament, although the entrance doorway from a former stair-landing on the SE has been removed. It was entered through a screen with two Greek Doric columns supporting a deep entablature, which continues round the room to the pilastered window-surround, and the ceiling is a shallow dome.

The three lower stages of the steeple are linked by a newelstair projecting at the NE angle, above which step-ladders continue through apertures in the groin-vaulted roofs of the main stages to the base of the spire. The clock-mechanism was made by Mitchell and. Son, Glasgow, in 1830 and retains a pendulum in a long timber case. A massive framework supports the principal bell, 1.25m in diameter and 1.18 tonnes in weight, which was supplied by Thomas Mears in 1830 and recast by Mears and Stain bank in 1897. A smaller bell hung at a higher level bears the inscription: SOLI DEO GLORIA DALMAHOY 1700.


The town council asked Hamilton to consider possible locations for a new steeple in 1824, when it was clear that the old tolbooth in Sandgate would have to be demolished, and it was decided that the site of the old assembly rooms would be most convenient.The council offices were moved to the new Town and County Buildings, but in 1827 the inhabitants petitioned for the new steeple to be erected, and Hamilton produced a full set of drawings for which he received £150. The contractor, Archibald Johnston, began work in 1828 and completed the building, at a total cost of £9,965, in time for the inaugural ball to be held in November 1830.

Information from ‘Tolbooths and Town-Houses: Civic Architecture in Scotland to 1833’ (1996).


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