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, Scotland (U.K.) 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]

Historical brass plaque at the entrance to the Tolbooth Tavern[edit]

The text on the plaque reads as follows:

"Tolbooth Tavern "The Tolbooth Tavern is part of the original Canongate Tolbooth which was built in 1591.

"The building was used to collect tolls from travelers entering the burgh but has also served as a Council Chamber, Police Court and Prison. The Prison was tenanted by those who suffered in the cause of liberty and many of its captives were wrongly detained and brutally treated.

"A suspected warlock is thought to have been exorcised here by the lay successor to the Abbots of Holyrood, Sir Lewis Bellenden. The unfortunate soul was so terrified by the fierce preacher he is said to have died of fright soon after the experience.

"In 1654 Oliver Cromwell’s guard detained several Scottish enemies of the State in the building but the Tolbooth’s walls could not hold them and they made their escape using strips of blanket as rope lowering themselves to freedom from the upper floor.

"The Covenanters were also imprisoned in the Tolbooth’s cells between 1661 and 1688.

"Many of the prisoners were sent to the plantations of the Caribbean for seven years hard labour. After this period they could return to Scotland or remain in the colony, however, before their departure all the captives were marked so they could not escape their past. Women had their faces branded with an iron while men had an ear chopped off.

"The rear section of the pub was originally built as housing c.1750 and was still used for this purpose into the early 20th century and while this area of the establishment is not as old as the front many people find it the most eerie and have claimed to feel a presence.

"The front area became a tavern in 1820 with the rear area following suit some 100 years later and has traded in this fashion up to the present day."

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).[2] This work included remodelling the interior to create museum spaces.


  1. ^ "163 CANONGATE, CANONGATE TOLBOOTH (Ref:27582)". Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  2. ^ Buildings of Scotland:Edinburgh by McWilliam Gifford and Walker

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Canongate Tolbooth.

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