The History of Leith

August 15, 2007

The story of the Old Tolbooth Leith

The name of Tolbooth Wynd comes from the fact that this was where the Tolbooth of Leith was. Erected on the instructions of Mary, Queen of Scots after much trouble. She had instructed the Council to erect this but after being ignored several times she wrote again “We charge you that you permit our inhabitants of our said town of Leith to build and edify our house of justice within our said town of Leith and make no stop or impediment to them to do the same for it is our will that the same be built and that you desist from further molesting them in time coming as you will answer to us thereupon”

This royal mandate which was subscribed at Holyrood Palace on the 1st March 1563 appears to have had the desired effect as the ornamental tablet in the upper part of the building had the Scottish arms boldly sculptured with two Unicorns for supporters and the date in large Roman characters- In Defence, M R, 1565. This Coat of Arms can be seen at South Leith Church and a picture of the old Tolbooth and the Coat of Arms can be seen in “Views of Leith” to be found on the rhs.

Soon after the demolition of the Edinburgh Tolbooth which stood outside St Giles in the High St and called the “Heart of Midlothian”, the doom of the old Leith Tolbooth was pronounced and plans made for a new court house and prison. Great efforts were made by several antiquarians including Sit Walter Scott to save the old building but to no avail. Sir Walter and Mr Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe tried to induce the magistrates of Edinburgh under whose authority the work was to be done to persevere the picturesque and venerable fa�ade while the remainder of the building could be demolished and rebuilt according to the plan. The proposition involved the ever recurring conflict between the conservative antiquary and the civic reformer.

A deputation waited on the Lord Provost to urge their petition and was arrogantly dismissed with the unanswerable argument that the expense of the new designs had already been incurred and so the old house of justice of Queen Mary was demolished

Some Text