Edinburgh, High Street, Tolbooth

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Alternative Names The Heart Of Midlothian; The Old Tolbooth
Canmore ID 52447
Site Number NT27SE 4
NGR NT 2568 7359
Former Region LOTHIAN
Former County MIDLOTHIAN
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Architectural 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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Archaeological 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.

30 March 2006 to 30 November 2006

Notes An archaeological watching brief was undertaken on the machine and hand excavation of an area of the Royal Mile, extending from the George IV Bridge at the North end of the High Street to Cockburn Street to the south of the High Street in Edinburgh's Old Town. The works were carried out between 30th March and 24th November 2006 and were the culmination of road improvement works that began in 2005/6 on George IV Bridge. Six cellar walls, a substantial multi phased wall postulated to be the remains of the old Tolbooth and Luckenbooths of medieval or post-medieval date and a Well were identified during the extensive road works on the High Street. No physical remains of the documented Guardhouse which was originally located in the middle of the High Street were uncovered during the works.
AOC Archaeology 2008 (S. Lynchehaun, M. Cross)

Further details

Books and References

Anon (1838) Guide pittoresque du voyageur en Ecosse: orne de 120 vues, representant les principaux edifices, les curiosites naturelles, les chateaux remarquables, et tous les lieux cites par Walter Scott..., In French Paris
Page(s): engraving p.86 Held at RCAHMS D.20.GUI.R

Kerr, H F (1924 (?)b) 'The Old Tolbooth of Edinburgh: ''The Heart of Midlothian'' ', RIAS Quarterly Winter 1923
Page(s): 23-7

Miller, P (1886a) 'The origin and early history of the Old Tolbuith of Edinburgh- the Heart of Midlothian; and the Luckenbooths', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol.20
Page(s): 360-76

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Charity SC026749