stonehaven tolbooth

Stonehaven Tolbooth

The Stonehaven Tolbooth has a long and storied history, playing many roles within the life and administration of this community in Aberdeenshire, Scotland for over 400 years. From its initial use as a storehouse to a gateway tracing different phases of local jurisdictional functions, religious turmoil, changing political circumstances and architectural expansion – exploring the timeline of this landmark sandstone building provides insight into Stonehaven itself.

Early Years as a Storehouse and Courthouse

Thought to originally be founded in the late 16th century by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, the Stonehaven Tolbooth first served as a basic storehouse for goods. However, in 1600 an Act of Parliament called for the building to formally become a tolbooth structure used as an administrative center. The text directed that the “shiref of the shiref-dome of Kincardin in all time cum sall sit and hald their courtis at Stanehyve.” This officially designated the location as the site for judicial and governmental proceedings in the region.

Over its early decades, the rectangular Tolbooth building’s upper level hosted governmental figures and courts dispensing justice within Kincardineshire, which would later be incorporated into present-day Aberdeenshire. Cases were argued and judgments passed down from chamber rooms of the Tolbooth as it operated as the equivalent of the county courthouse through the 1600s.

Converting into a Prison and Seat of Justice

In addition to serving as the figurative seat of justice as a courthouse, by the late 17th century the Stonehaven Tolbooth also became the literal seat for incarceration and punishment within the developing town. The ground level cells of the Tolbooth building were utilized as a prison for the shire, housing inmates arrested for crimes both major and minor under the jurisdiction.

This dual functioning courthouse and prison usage continued and expanded in the following decades as the population grew. By 1685 historical accounts note the Tolbooth clearly operating as the centralized location for all judicial and incarceration needs across now wider reaching regional boundaries.

Imprisonment of Episcopalian Clergy

A notable episode highlighting the prison capacity of the Stonehaven Tolbooth occurred over 1749, when several members of the local Episcopalian clergy were arrested and imprisoned for continuing to hold church services. They had been conducting religious ceremonies for more than the approved limit of only 9 citizens, going against strict rules enforced at the time by ruling Hanoverian loyalists to curb Episcopalian and indirectly Jacobite activities.

See also  HM Prison Drake Hall

The imprisonment of the Episcopal priests for carrying out these forbidden well-attended services in nearby Muchalls Castle became a minor cause célèbre. It was memorialized in a painting depicting a baby’s baptism being performed between the bars of the cell, illustrating their punishment which would help relax enforcement of restrictions on Episcopalian worship in the area.

Continued Use by Episcopal Congregation

In fact, even during periods when Episcopalian ceremonies were more tolerated, the Stonehaven Tolbooth continued as a fallback center of activity. From 1709 onward after Dunnottar parish church rejoined the Church of Scotland movement, Episcopal services relocated from that location into the Tolbooth building itself. The Tolbooth hosted this Episcopalian congregation until their own dedicated meeting house was finally built along High Street in 1738.

So throughshake-ups between Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations during the 1700s, the adaptable rooms of the Tolbooth variously functioned as judicatory chambers, jails, storage, and even makeshift sanctuary allowing its walls to witness forced imprisonment alongside voluntary worship over its history.

Period as a Storehouse Again

After the construction of updated county administrative buildings in 1767 to better suit governmental needs, the Stonehaven Tolbooth subsequently reverted primarily back to use as a basic storehouse as in its original conception. For about two centuries from then onward, the building served as a warehouse facility, its cells and halls used for stocking supplies rather than prisoners.

Falling into Disrepair

By the mid-20th century, after sitting mostly unused for long stretches through the 1800s into 1900s, the aging unmaintained structure had fallen into considerable disrepair. Sections of the roof had caved in while components of the walls cracked and crumbled without ongoing upkeep. Largely abandoned once modern prison and courthouse edifices had been erected, the formerly grand Tolbooth decayed as centuries of Scottish coastal weather eroded exterior sandstone blocks built in the late 1500s.

Restoration and Reopening

In 1963 however, awareness grew to appreciate the heritage the dilapidated prison and former courthouse embodied. In September 1963 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother officially opened the Tolbooth once more after extensive restorative work had been carried out to rehabilitate the building.

Funding and Planning the Restoration

The challenging restoration process brought together several key partners to fund and plan rehabilitation initiatives. Scottish civic agencies along with backing by area councils allowed comprehensive projects to secure and waterproof deteriorating walls, fully reroof the structure and spotlight interior spaces and elements.

Rededication Ceremony

Marking the successful multi-year restoration efforts, the September 1963 opening event included Queen Elizabeth ceremonially receiving a historic key to the building. The milestone celebrated the rebirth of this community asset as it embarked upon yet another new chapter in its already long service to Stonehaven. The Queen Mother’s formal participation indicated revitalized national pride in recognizing the importance of preserving the legacy bound up in this regional Tolbooth with nearly 400 years of local history behind it.

See also  HM Prison Lindholme

Current Use as a Museum and Restaurant

Saved from potential demolition, the refurbished Stonehaven Tolbooth today operates with a dual purpose that nods back to earlier aspects of its past while allowing the public to interact with it more accessibly. The ground floor functions as a museum space with artifacts and informational exhibits surveying elements of its complex background while the upper level serves as a lively restaurant with scenic views over Stonehaven Harbour.

Museum Exhibits and Contents

The Tolbooth Museum on the street-level now organizedly presents historical materials long associated with the old government site to tell its rich story as a keystone establishment. Interactive components allow visitors to explore a recreation of past jail quarters or handle objects illustrating facets of regional life relating to law and order in earlier eras.

Artifacts Relating to Local History

Showcased contents range from period coins, tools and ceramics used in the area over centuries past to supplementary texts and visual components detailing the one-time role of the building themselves. Aspects covering its shifting judicial, religious, commercial and civic purposes are covered from the initial years as a storehouse up through becoming a modern-day museum.

Recreated Prison Cell

Particularly illustrative is a section of prison cells recreated to emulate their harsh past conditions, which visitors can enter to grasp a sense of the confinement imposed on prisoners during the 18th century and onward when it served as the county jail. Mannequins even represent inmates and attending guards from various moments in history.

Top Floor Restaurant

In an elevated nod to earlier governmental assembly use, the upper floor of the Tolbooth now houses a lively restaurant and bar for locals and tourists alike. Patrons can wine and dine in rooms that previously served as courthouse chambers adjudicating regional disputes or hosting councils debating municipal policies impacting Stonehaven inhabitants through changing times.

Menu Offerings

The fare ranges from traditional Scottish seafood chowders and smoked salmon plates to roasted meats, whisky cocktails, ciders and craft beers. Heartier options such as steak medallions or haggis platters satisfy hunger while lighter sandwiches or baked scones paired with coffee allow lighter snacking over leisurely views through arched windows.

Views Overlooking Harbor

These views perfectly capture the beautiful natural backdrop defining Stonehaven as a historic fishing town and now vibrant scenic destination. Patrons gaze over the picturesque Stonehaven Harbour to take in sailboats bobbing amid moored vessels hinting at the enduring maritime heritage central to the community’s culture through centuries.

Architectural and Design Elements

While impressive history breathes through every brick and beam of the Stonehaven Tolbooth, the structural composition itself reveals evolving design choices reflecting how the building physically transformed during stages of expansion and reconstruction across 400 years of changes. The lasting stonework bears testament to the shifting needs and priorities over its long lifespan.

Original 16th Century Section

The original 16th centuryTolbooth section comprises a rectangular fortified block built stoutly from locally quarried red hued sandstone. Typical defensive design elements of the 1500s such as crow-stepped slope gablescan be observed along the roofline while chimneys protrude at gable ends. Small window openings pierced through substantially thick loadbearing walls form early allowances for light ingress.

See also  HM Prison Cornton Vale

Sandstone Construction

This sandstone selection came from the durable bedrock defining much of Aberdeenshire’s coastal topography. Masons used traditional techniques to quarry, shape and lay the blocks comprising the principal structure. The choice mirrors other imposing period buildings found through northeast Scottish towns from Aberdeen south to MuchallsCastle.

Crow-stepped Gables

Crow-stepping along roof eavelines represent particular embellishments echoing common regional aesthetics during the late Medieval age. The stepped vertical portions form practical terminations preventing water infiltration while adding whimsical decorative elements befitting a civic building.

17th Century North Wing Addition

As demands on space grew after its initial construction, a sizable north wing perpendicular to the first building was added during the 1600s. This extension established extra chambers, court venues and storage areas as activities associated with administration, incarceration and political meetings multiplied over years.

Flagstones and Cobblestones

Interior flooring within parts of the north wing reveal original flagstones and cobblestones preserving the authentic ambiance and irregular textures characteristic of venerable Scottish structures from this era. The worn surfaces indicate heavy foot traffic over decades through once active governmental hub rooms.

Large Firepit

A prominent firepit situated along the west wall while lined by safety stones bears witness to rudimentary efforts at heating spaces within the building during inhospitable winter months. While long deactivated from actual use, the pit evokes images of how occupants contends with cold through history.

Conclusion and Legacy of the Tolbooth

As a rare standing example of a centuries-spanning regional tolbooth, the Stonehaven fixture represents a critical window into the administrative and jurisdictional evolution small towns underwent as modern judicial and civic frameworks developed in Scotland as well as elsewhere across Europe’s transition toward urbanization. By facing cycles of changing functionality, fluctuating structural renovation and at times neglect, the sturdy iconic landmark has proved consistently adaptable decade after decade.

Whether firstly weighing goods as a storehouse, sentencing lawbreakers as the county courthouse, confining prisoners within its ground-floor cells, offering religious sanctuary or proudly showcasing community heritage as a museum, this symbol of Stonehaven’s living history stands ready to welcome new generations of visitors and fresh purposes promising to shape its unfolding future.


When was the Stonehaven Tolbooth first built?

The Stonehaven Tolbooth was first founded in the late 16th century, around 1595, originally serving as a basic storehouse structure.

What different functions has the building served over time?

Over its 400+ year lifespan, the adaptable Tolbooth has variously operated as a storehouse, seat of justice, courthouse, jail, temporary Episcopal church, warehouse and now museum with restaurant.

Why were local Episcopal priests imprisoned there in 1749?

Episcopal clergymen were jailed for continuing to hold church services with more than the mandated limit of 9 attendees as authorities attempted to restrict Episcopalian/Jacobite assemblies.

What architectural features characterize the original 16th century Tolbooth section?

Defining attributes of the first Tolbooth block include fortified sandstone composition, sloped crow-stepped gables, slim window openings, enduring chimneys and remarkably thick loadbearing walls.

How was the building restored for modern reopening in the 1960s?

Through philanthropic and civic funding efforts, restoration initiatives repaired collapsing roofs, shored up eroding exterior walls and spotlighted interior spaces ultimately allowing updated museum and eatery uses.

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