Canongate Tolbooth

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The Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591.

Canongate Tolbooth is a historic landmark of the Old Town section of Edinburgh built in 1591 as a tolbooth, that is, a courthouse, burgh jail and meeting place, for the then separate burgh of the Canongate. The building is now occupied by The People's Story Museum and is protected as a category A listed building.[1]


The tower of the tolbooth was built in 1591, and the block to the east of it at that time or slightly after, by Sir Lewis Bellenden, justice-clerk and feudal superior of the then independent Burgh of Canongate.[1][2] It served as the administrative centre for burgh which was outside the Edinburgh town walls, acting as courthouse, burgh jail and meeting place of the town council.[1]

In 1875 the City Architect, Robert Morham completely restored and remodelled the exterior giving it back its medieval look (based on Gordon of Rothiemay's map of 1647).[3] The first and attic floors were combined to make a single floor, now the The People's Story Museum.[3][4]


The clock with bartizans to either side and the conical spire

The Tolbooth is made up of a central tower, with a block to the east that contained Council chamber.[5] Against the eastern block is a stone forestair which leads to a door next to the tower.[5] There is an oriel window in the eastern end of the east block.[2] Under the main tower is an arch that leads into Tolbooth Wynd.[6]

The tower has two bartizans with ornamental gunloops on either side of a clock, dated 1884, which is suspended over the Royal Mile by wrought iron brackets.[2][3] Above the bartizans and gunloops is a conical spire, and four pedimented dormers by Morham that replaced three piended ones.[3]

To the east of the tolbooth, down the Royal Mile, is the Kirk of the Canongate and the Canongate Kirkyard.[6]


  1. ^ a b c "163 Canongate, Canongate Tolbooth (Ref:27582)". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Youngson, A. J. (2001). The Companion Guide to Edinburgh and the Borders. Companion Guides. p. 54. ISBN 978-1-900639-38-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Gifford, John; McWilliam, Colin; Walker, David (1984). Edinburgh. Yale University Press. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-300-09672-9. 
  4. ^ "Canongate Tolbooth". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Edinburgh, 163 Canongate, Canongate Tolbooth, City Museum". ScotlandsPlaces. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Oliver; Boyd (1860). Guide to Edinburgh and its neighbourhood. p. 26. 

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Coordinates: 55°57′05″N 3°10′48″W / 55.9515°N 3.1800°W / 55.9515; -3.1800