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


Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Group Category Details
100000019 - See Notes
Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NT 26409 73796
326409, 673796


1591. Renovated by R H Morham, 1879 and 1884 (see Notes). Irregularly arranged, 16th century tolbooth in Franco-Scottish style comprising advanced, 5-storey belfry-tower and 2-storey and attic, 4-bay former council chambers to right. Predominantly squared, coursed rubble with some snecking to earlier fabric.

FURTHER DESCRIPTION: PRINCIPAL (S) ELEVATION: tollbooth comprises full-height square-plan projection with window at each level and round-arched pend running beneath; conical-capped bartizans at 5th floor with quatrefoil gunloops; conical spire to tower with flattened broaches, louvred openings and weathervane finial. Timber clock with leaded ogee-roof projects from 5th floor, supported by double-curved cast-iron brackets. Cast-iron railed forestair to council chambers abuts tower at E angle; corbelled and finialled oriel window to 1st floor right; deeply moulded dentiled attic cill course above, shouldered pedimented dormers with star and thistle finials. Metal rememberance plaque to centre with moulded and pedimented crest panel above.

INTERIOR: Ground floor modernised except for vaulted cell to S of tollbooth tower. Cellar beneath W end of main block with small windows to street level. 1st floor lobby with nail-studded stair-doorway. Main hall: pine panelling salvaged, 1954, from demolished houses in surrounding area; 18th century fireplace with plaster overmantle in E wall. Upper rooms contain 17th century ceilig with painted beams. Spire and bell-chamber retain early timbers within roof-structure and bell frames.

Predonminantly 12 and 15-pane timber sash and case windows with horns to council chambers. 9-pane fixed glazing with lugged upper panes to dormer windows. Broad ridge stack to rear of tower and end stack to E. Clay cans. Cast-iron rain water goods.

Statement of Special Interest

Part of an 'A Group' comprising Canongate Parish Church; Canongate Tolbooth; 167-169 Canongate; 142-146 Canongate, Huntly House; 140 Canongate, Acheson House and the Canongate Burgh Cross which together form the historic core of the former Canongate Burgh (see separate listings).

The Canongate Tolbooth is among the oldest extant structures on the Canongate and is an outstanding and rare survival of 16th century burgh architecture. Its turreted tower with conical-roofed bartizans and principal 'court-house' elevation brimming with architectural detail sets it apart as an archetypal example of its type. Tolbooths were the centre of local administration and justice in Scottish burghs from the medieval period until the 19th century and as such, represent a particularly significant aspect of Scotland's social history. Occupying a central position on the Canongate, opposite the 17th century Huntly House (see separate listing), the tolbooth adds significantly to the character of the streetscape.

Constructed in 1591 by justice-clerk and feudal superior of the Burgh, Sir Lewis Bellenden (initials carved above the Tolbooth Wynd pend), the building was the administrative centre of the Canongate, serving as courthouse, burgh jail and meeting place of the town council. The Latin inscription on the front of the building reads: 'The Place of the Seal of the Burgh. For Native Land and Posterity. 1591'. The tolbooth underwent numerous alterations during the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating in a late 19th century reworking of the exterior by Robert Morham, including the projecting clock, dormered windows and dentilled cill course. It is currently (2007) used as one of the city's museums.

The historic and architectural value of Edinburgh's Canongate area as a whole cannot be overstated. Embodying a spirit of permanence while constantly evolving, its buildings reflect nearly 1000 years of political, religious and civic development in Scotland. The Canons of Holyrood Abbey were given leave by King David I to found the burgh of Canongate in 1140. Either side of the street (a volcanic ridge) was divided into long, narrow strips of land or 'tofts'. By the end of the 15th century all the tofts were occupied, some subdivided into 'forelands' and 'backlands' under different ownership. Fuedal superiority over Canongate ceased after 1560. The following century was a period of wide-scale rebuilding and it was during this time that most of the areas' mansions and fine townhouses were constructed, usually towards the back of the tofts, away from the squalor of the main street. The 17th century also saw the amalgamation of the narrow plots and their redevelopment as courtyards surrounded by tenements. The burgh was formally incorporated into the City in 1856. Throughout the 19th Century the Canongate's prosperity declined as large sections of the nobility and middle classes moved out of the area in favour of the grandeur and improved facilities of Edinburgh's New Town, a short distance to the North. The Improvement Act of 1867 made efforts to address this, responding early on with large-scale slum clearance and redevelopment of entire street frontages. A further Improvement Act (1893) was in part a reaction to this 'maximum intervention', responding with a programme of relatively small-scale changes within the existing street pattern. This latter approach was more consistent with Patrick Geddes' concept of 'conservative surgery'. Geddes was a renowned intellectual who lived in the Old Town and was a pioneer of the modern conservation movement in Scotland which gathered momentum throughout the 20th century. Extensive rebuilding and infilling of sections of the Canongate's many tenements took place, most notably by city architects, E J McRae and Robert Hurd (mid 20th century) with some early frontages retained and others rebuilt in replica.

The tolbooth was de-scheduled in 2003. List description revised as part of Edinburgh Holyrood Ward resurvey (2007/08).



John Gifford et al, Buildings of Scotland - Edinburgh, (1991) p175. Charles McKean, Edinburgh - An Illustrated Architectural Guide (1992) p38. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Tolbooths and Town-houses - Civic Architecture in Scotland to 1833 (1996), p51-53.

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

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Printed: 04/10/2023 04:20