The Tolbooth

History & Heritage
The building at the angle of the High Street is the Tolbooth, built in the 1620s. It once served as the town council’s meeting place, a law court and prison.

About The Tolbooth

The central part of the Tolbooth was built in the 1620s and the tower was added in 1644. It was extended in the 1750s by adding prison cells at the west end, and a water cistern for the town’s public water supply was placed in front of the tower in 1763. In the 17th and 18th centuries the town’s weekly market and its annual fairs were held in the High Street before the Tolbooth, the location signified by the Mercat or Market Cross, dated 1610. The cross has since been moved to the top of the forestair over the water cistern.

The Tolbooth was also the meeting place for the Town Council and the Burgh and Sheriff Courts. Attached to the building behind the Mercat Cross can be seen an iron collar or ‘jougs’. Petty offenders were sometimes punished by being made to stand in the jougs as a form of public humiliation. The prison within the building has held suspected witches and Covenanters in the later 17th century, and for a short spell, Captain John Paul or John Paul Jones as he was later known later, America’s first naval hero.

The tower has always held a clock and bells; the original clock mechanism is now in The Stewartry Museum in St. Mary Street, but the original bell, made in Holland in 1646 stills hangs in the tower. The two outer clock dials allowed the clock to be seen down the two stretches of the High Street.

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