Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Old Jail and Former Drill Hall including Rifle Range, Castle Street, DornochLB24638

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NH 79788 89599
279788, 889599


The building comprises a 1842-44 former jail, a 1896-7 drill hall (both now in use as commercial premises, 2015) and a early 20th century rifle range. The Old Jail is a 3-storey, 4-bay structure, rectangular in plan and designed in a symmetrical Scottish Baronial style, designed by Thomas Brown in 1842-44 before being converted to use as premises for the Sutherland Rifle Volunteers about 1880. 2-storey, 2-bay L-plan Scots Baronial style drill hall offices were added to the west end of the jail with an attached hall to the rear in 1896-7. A rifle range that runs south from the drill hall was added during the early 20th century. To the east of the Old Jail is a small entrance courtyard enclosed by high walls adjoining the Old Jail. In the centre of the east wall is an arched opening and in the north wall is an opening with a studded door.

The elevation to Castle Street is of ashlar sandstone while the side elevations are squared coursed rubble, and the drill hall at the rear is also of squared coursed rubble. It is set in a prominent position on one of the main streets in Dornoch, adjacent to the former County Buildings and Castle, and opposite Dornoch Cathedral. The outer bays of the former jail are advanced with crowstepped gables with stone cross finials and dummy corner bartizan towers. There are also crowstepped gablets over the windows of the central bays of the jail. The front elevation of the drill hall premises also has a crowstepped gable and matching bartizan tower at the west end. There is a base course continuing to hoodmoulds over the ground floor windows and doors and an inscribed and dated panel above the entrance door to the drill hall area. There are round-headed window openings in the outer bays of the jail and an elliptical headed recessed entrance door to the drill hall, while the windows in the hall at the rear are also round-headed.

There is mainly 12-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows in the jail section and 6-light mullioned and transomed ground and first floor windows in the drill hall section. There are grey slates on all parts of the roof and corniced chimney stacks with yellow clay cans on the ridge and gable ends of the Old Jail and there are ventilator finials on the ridge of the drill hall.

Some parts of the interior were seen in 2016. The jail has a number of mid-19th century fittings in place including some metal studded timber cell doors, stone-flagged floors and various ventilator grills in the walls and ceilings, some still with their opening and closing mechanisms. The drill hall section retains some of the late 19th century interior scheme including a timber boarded dado in the hallway, timber panelled doors, a timber staircase and what was probably a mess on the first floor with simple coved ceiling with moulded plasterwork. The drill hall itself retains some coloured glass and has a later mezzanine floor supported on columns so it is set back from the walls.

Statement of Special Interest

The Old Jail and former Drill Hall complex is a very good and unusual example of a building which began as a prison in the mid-19th century but was adapted for use as a drill hall in the 1880s, with further alterations and additions in the 1890s and later. The core of the building was designed by the eminent architect Thomas Brown who, as architect to the Prison Board from 1838, designed a significant number of prison and court buildings throughout Scotland. The exterior of both phases of the building retain their 19th century appearance while many interior details are still in place. The complex is situated in one of the main streets in Dornoch and forms part of an impressive group of buildings along with Dornoch Castle and the County Buildings.

Dornoch Prison was built in 1842-4, although it was not occupied until 1850. At that point prisoners were moved in, having been temporarily accommodated in Dornoch Castle, courtesy of the Duke of Sutherland after the closure of the former prison. The 8th Report from Commissioners of Prisons, dated 3 June 1843, stated that the new building had been commenced and 'is expected to be roofed in next month'. It is unclear why there was a delay of several years between completion of the new building and its occupation. The footprint of this building can be seen on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1874 and published in 1879). The cost of the jail, with 11 cells, two rooms for civil prisoners, a sick room, an exercising gallery and an airing yard, along with accommodation for the keeper, was estimated at £2000 (although it eventually cost almost £3000).

On 17 August 1839 an Act to Improve Prisons and Prison Discipline had been passed in Scotland to enshrine classification and separation as principles of prison discipline. An earlier 1835 Act had set up Inspectors of Prisons in Great Britain and the 1839 Act transferred the control of prisons to County Boards which were established and took over local supervision and management of all prisons. Prison Acts of 1877 brought prisons under the authority of the Home Secretary which lasted until the Criminal Justice Act in 1948.

The effect of the 1835 and 1839 Acts was a new wave of prison building, with Thomas Brown II (1806-1872) appointed architect to the Prison Board of Scotland in 1837. Brown's prisons took on board the suggestions of the prison reformers and were built to reflect contemporary ideas of observation and control, with solitary rather than mass confinement in a hygienic environment and with an emphasis on rehabilitation. Brown was responsible for building around 12 purpose-built prisons and he added to, or reconstructed, around 9 other prisons during his tenure as architect to the Prison Board of Scotland. As a result of this he is the leading prison architect of the 19th century in Scotland and very few of Brown's purpose-built prisons survive.

The prison in Dornoch was underused and it was closed on 29 March 1880, with the prisoners removed to Dingwall. The building was then sold to the Sutherland Rifle Volunteers for £220. Between then and 1896 the building was used by the Volunteers as a drill hall and offices. The Dornoch Company (like the Golspie Company) of the Sutherland Rifle Volunteers had been formed in 1859. Their first premises was a timber building at the corner of Wallace Street and Argyll Street (which like a number of smaller drill halls) was constructed of wood or iron, as indicated on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map). It is not clear if any alterations were made to the prison building when it was first acquired. However a large L-shaped extension was made to the building in 1896-7 and this is shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map. It is not clear in which part of the building they actually held drill exercises at first. Apart from the later addition of the rifle range at the rear of the hall, this part of the building retains the late 19th century footprint.

In the late 1850s there was concern in the British Government about the Army's ability to defend both the home nation as well as the Empire. Britain's military defences were stretched and resources to defend Britain needed to be found. One solution was to create 'Volunteer Forces', a reserve of men who volunteered for part-time military training similar to that of the regular army and who could therefore help to defend Britain if the need arose.

In 1859 the Rifle Volunteer Corps (and Artillery Volunteers Corps in defended coastal towns) were formed and the Volunteer Act of 1863 provided more regulation on how the volunteer forces were run and it set out the standards for drills and a requirement for annual inspections. Most purpose-built drill halls constructed at this time were paid for by a major local landowner, the subscriptions of volunteers, local fundraising efforts or a combination of all three. The Regulation of the Forces Act 1871 (known as the Cardwell Reforms after the Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell) gave forces the legal right to acquire land to build a drill hall and more purpose-built drill halls began to be constructed after this date. The largest period of drill hall construction, aided by government grants, took place between 1880 and 1910. The Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907 (known as the Haldane Reforms after the Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane) came into force in 1908 and the various Volunteer Units were consolidated to form the Territorial Force. The construction of drill halls largely ceased during the First World War and in 1920 the Territorial Force became the Territorial Army.

In the 20th century changes in warfare and weaponry made many of the earlier drill halls redundant and subject to demolition or change to a new use. Around 344 drill halls are believed to have been built in Scotland of which 182 are thought to survive today, although few remain in their original use. Drill halls are an important part of our social and military history. They tell us much about the development of warfare and the history of defending our country. They also, unusually for a nationwide building programme, were not standardised and were often designed by local architects in a variety of styles and they also have a part to play in the history of our communities.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2016 as part of the Drill Halls Listing Review 2015-16. Previously listed as 'Castle Street Old Jail and Former Drill Hall'.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 93410


Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1874, published 1879). Sutherland Sheet CXIII.6 (Combined). 1st Edition map. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1905, published 1906). Sutherland 113.06 (includes: Dornoch). 2nd Edition map. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed Sources

Aberdeen Journal (26 December 1896) p.6.

Aberdeen Journal (14 April 1897) p.4.

Caledonian Mercury (18 November 1859) p.2.

Dundee Evening Telegraph (3 January 1895) p.3.

Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books p.567.

Glasgow Herald (4 September 1896) p.6.

Historic Environment Scotland (2016) Scotland's Drill Halls Preliminary Report. Unpublished.

Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command (1843), Reports from Commissioners. 8th Report of the Commissioners. Report relative to the System of Prison Discipline & Co by the Inspector of Prisons. Volumes 25-26. London: HMSO, pp.67, 70.

Online Sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Thomas Brown II at [accessed 11/03/2016].

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Old Jail and Former Drill Hall principal elevation, looking south, during daytime, on an overcast day and with red and black cars in front of building.
Old Jail and Former Drill Hall, Castle Street, Dornoch during daytime, on overcast day

Printed: 24/07/2024 03:38