Dalkeith’s Tolbooth Reopens

One of Dalkeith’s oldest buildings, the 17th Century Tolbooth, has been re-opened by the Duke of Buccleuch, following the completion of a £220,000 six month repair and restoration project.

Situated in Dalkeith’s East High Street, The Tolbooth is one of Dalkeith’s oldest buildings, dating from the 17th Century and is grade A listed. It has a classical frontage in ashlar stone with a hipped slate roof. It was the focal point of the town from medieval times until the 19th Century, but was in need of urgent repair as previous repair work, consisting of  hard cement render and mortar pointing, had damaged the front and rear of the building. At the rear, hard cement render had trapped moisture, resulting in erosion of the soft sandstone beneath.

The restoration was carried out under the Dalkeith THI/CARS (Townscape Heritage Initiative and Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme) grant programme. The idea was to restore and renovate as much of the original fabric of the Tolbooth as possible. No internal work was required to be carried out so the existing tenants were able to carry out business as usual.

tolbooth window beforetolbooth window afterThe stones requiring replacement were carefully marked and recorded so that the new stone exactly matched in terms of size, shape, detail, texture and colour.  The rear and end gable of the Tolbooth had in the past been rendered over with a hard cement roughcast. This had to be taken off to avoid continued erosion of the soft sandstone beneath. A more traditional lime harl and colour wash were applied to ensure that the stone was protected and was able to breathe i.e. let any moisture evaporate rather than being trapped behind the roughcast.

On the roof, the slate was repaired and all the rainwater gutters and downpipes were overhauled. A new lead valley gutter was installed to the property where it adjoins the former Cross Keys Hotel. The existing timber sash and case windows were repaired and repainted and the steel security bars on the ground floor windows were taken out and repaired, repainted and then reinstalled.

Rod Lugg, THI/CARS project manager explained, “The repair work has involved a careful analysis of the condition and type of stone together with an archaeological survey to record and investigate the condition and history of the building. This key building has had many uses over the years, a count house, prison, weight house, and base for Dalkeith Scientific Association amongst others. It was the focus of much civic pride and community identity and with the repair work now completed it will continue to have a significant presence in Dalkeith for many more years to come.”

old tolboothArchaeological investigations including the removal of the render at the rear revealed a number of old openings and evidence of previous rear structures and building phases. Originally the Tolbooth was located within St Nicholas Parish Church. Around 1711, the 2nd Duke of Buccleuch moved it to its present site, probably adapting an earlier existing building. Every Burgh would have a Tolbooth where the administrative work of the Council was carried out as well as legal work such as the court house. On the upper floor and on the ground floor in Dalkeith’s Tolbooth were a weigh-house, prison cell and underground dungeon known as the ‘black hole’ and indeed, the Woods map of 1822 shows it as a jail. In front of the building there is a circle of stones to mark the spot where the last public hanging in Dalkeith occurred on 1st March 1821. As Tolbooths were replaced by other buildings in the 19th century, they found other uses and the 1852 The Ordnance Survey map shows it as a scientific hall.

The Tolbooth stands in Dalkeith’s conservation area and is not the only fine building on the High Street. Connected to the Tolbooth at the rear was a range of buildings forming Tolbooth Close, one of the many closes in Dalkeith at that time. The remains of the close can be seen in the rear building which dates from the late 18th Century and ongoing work to adjacent buildings will see Dalkeith’s High Street transformed.

The plaque above the door reads ‘1648’ but this was taken from another building and doesn’t actually relate to when the Tolbooth was built. A new Time Capsule has been laid behind the new dated quoin stone.

The following organisations have grant-aided the work:

The Dalkeith THI/CARS (The Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Midlothian Council and Dalkeith Business Renewal)
WREN Heritage
The Leche Trust
The Wolfson Foundation
The Dalrymple Donaldson Fund
St Mary’s Tolbooth Trust

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

One thought on “Dalkeith’s Tolbooth Reopens”

  1. Bravo to those who have the resources and foresight to rescue such wonderful buildings for the people of Scotland and the world! We simply can not understand the importance of history, not the sights, feel, smells, and experience of history except when walking within the living history as seen in these saved buildings. Thank you for your sacrifice for all of us who will learn from and enjoy when we see these wonderful reflections of Scotland’s storied past!

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