The History of Leith

September 19, 2006

Royal Mile past uncovered

Archaeologists have unearthed a piece of Edinburgh’s past on our most famous historic thoroughfare.

The Tolbooth on the Royal Mile has long been known to lie somewhere close to St Giles’ Cathedral but now, as part of the £1.5million face lift of the road, the actual location of the building has been discovered.

During its chequered past the Tolbooth was used as the Council Chambers, the Scottish Parliament sat there and it was the site of the High Court. Latterly it became the old town gaol. Amongst the notorious criminals imprisoned there, were Deacon Brodie and Captain Porteous. They would have been held there before being hanged either at the on site jibbet or in the Grassmarket.

In 1817, the whole building was demolished to widen the road. To mark the entrance to the gaol, the now internationally recognisable Heart of Midlothian stones were laid.

The site will now be preserved by terra sheeting and then recovered. When the road is relayed there will be copper setts to mark the location.

City Archaeologist, John Lawson, said: “The Tolbooth is laden with history and being able to mark exactly where it lay is a significant step in charting Edinburgh’s past.

”It’s one of Scotland’s iconic buildings and the scene of many dramatic events in Edinburgh’s colourful history. Uncovering it gives us the opportunity to interpret the findings and preserve this important landmark.”

Cllr Bob Cairns, Executive Member for Streetscape, said: “It’s tremendous that the works to restore the Royal Mile setts have provided us with an opportunity to learn more about our city’s past and preserve it for future generations. The discovery of the exact location of the Tolbooth is of particular significance on account of the important role it played in the city’s history over the centuries.”

Work on the reconstruction of the road surface between George IV and North Bridge began in January this year. The archaeological work involved radar surveys in the hope of locating any historical buildings such as Edinburgh’s Tolbooth and Tyne Gaol.

The £1.5million project is being undertaken to prevent further damage to the road and to avoid any future need for unplanned emergency repairs. The work will be completed by early 2007.

The reconstruction will involve re-laying thousands of existing traditional granite setts (cobbles). The existing granite setts will be used to maintain the historic appearance of this section of the Royal Mile and they will be laid in a traditional Edinburgh pattern, as used elsewhere in the city. Historic Scotland, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust and Conservation Planning have all approved the design.

Note to Editors:

More details on the Tolbooth and images can be found at


Media contact:

Lynn McMath

Transport and Planning Media Officer

0131 529 4428

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