Listed Building

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Tain Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, including Tolbooth, High Street, TainLB41867

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NH 78014 82117
278014, 882117


Thomas Brown II, 1848-1849 with 1873 additions and alterations by A Maitland and Sons, and incorporating 1706-1733 tolbooth to southeast. Prominently situated on principal road in the burgh town

Court house: 2-storey and attic, symmetrical 3-bay elevation with 1873 gabled bay returning to Castle Brae, all in Scots Baronial and Tudor style. Tooled ashlar with ashlar dressings and chamfered angles. String course at ground floor linking hoodmoulds. Centre door flanked by pairs of round arched windows. 3 bipartite round arched windows at first floor with squared hoodmoulds. Crenellated parapet with corbelled angle turrets topped by conical roofs and ball finials. 4-bay elevation to Castle Brae of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings.

Tolbooth: Alexander Stronach, contractor; 1706-1733. Large square-plan 2-stage tower of coursed rubble. South elevation with moulded, round arched doorway (contemporary with later court house) with niche containing lion rampant above. Single window to each stage with chamfered reveals. West elevation with round arched window at ground floor and small blind window at 2nd and 3rd stages. 4 small angle turrets with stone conical roofs, ball finials and diminutive gabletted openings. Similar detailing to centre steeple topped by later weather cock. Later (circa 1877) corbelled parapet to house clock faces. Bronze Seaforth Highlanders memorial plaque fixed to ground floor, inscribed To the undying memory of 8432 comrades belonging to the ten battalions of the regiment who gave their lives for their country in the Great War'.

The interior, seen in 2014, is arranged around a central southwest facing courtroom on the ground floor and with an open well staircase to the east. The courtroom has a number of 6-panel doors and a high, deeply coved ceiling with thin ribs, bosses, moulded and decorative cornicing, decorative plaster quatrefoil roof vents and ornate central rose. The public seating and courtroom fittings have been replaced in the 1980s in a period style. Two shallow niches flank the wall behind the bench, a third niche is present in to the rear (north) wall of the courtroom. There is elaborate decorative cornicing to other rooms and the hallways. Panelled doors throughout with moulded architraves. The staircase has decorative metal barley twist balusters and a timber handrail. The windows are timber sash and case, most with panelled shutters. The interior of the tolbooth is open to the 1st floor, and has an open well stone stair with decorative metal railing and timber banister. A stone turnpike stair continues on 1st floor providing access to the bell chamber.

Statement of Special Interest

Tain Sheriff Court is a highly distinctive, purpose built court house with a considerable amount of decorative detailing to the exterior and interior, and unusually incorporates an earlier 18th century tolbooth into its design. The court house is a good composition of Scots Baronial and Tudor features, and demonstrates the confident adaptation of this mid-19th century country house style to public architecture. It is one of the earliest court houses in Scotland to use Scots baronial detailing as design of court houses in the early 19th century tended towards neoclassical or Renaissance styles.

Tain Sheriff Court was constructed in two significant phases. The first was designed by the successful architect Thomas Brown II, architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, and built in 1848-49 to replace an 1825 building which had burnt down in 1833. The arched entrance at the base of the Tolbooth tower, on the High Street elevation, is contemporary with the 1840s court house design and originally served as its principal access. The second phase of construction was in 1873, with the addition of the four bay block facing Castle Brae designed by Andrew Maitland, a prominent Highland architect of the time.

The court house incorporates a tolbooth, which replaced an earlier tolbooth of 1631, that had collapsed in 1703. The rebuilding of the tolbooth was started by contractor Alexander Stronach and was completed, along with a two-storey council house, by 1708. The bartizan was added to the tolbooth in 1733. The clock faces date to 1877 and replaced one installed in 1750. Some stonework from the earlier buildings is incorporated into the tolbooth, including a stone inscribed 'This Wark – Bigit 1631 John Mackullogh Being Provost'. The date is also confirmed on the bell inside the turret, stating that it was made by the Flemish master founder Michael Burgerhuys of Middelburg (who cast a number of bells for Scotland, such as the bell at Falkland Town Hall and at Nigg Old Church, to name a few).

Thomas Brown II (1806-circa 1872) began his architectural career in his father's firm. He probably worked in the office of William Burn prior to being appointed as architect to the Prison Board of Scotland in 1837 and setting up his own independent office in Edinburgh. James Maitland Wardrop (1823-1882) was articled to Thomas Brown, becoming a partner in the practice in 1849. As architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Brown had extensive experience in designing county court houses and prisons, the design work of which Wardrop gradually took over, which included the court houses of Wigtown (1862), Alloa (1863), Forfar (1869), Angus (1869) and Stirling (designed 1866, built 1874) (see separate listings). The practice were also highly successful at remodelling and designing country houses.

Andrew Maitland (1802-1894) designed a number of schools, churches and steadings in Ross-shire and was the architect for Stornoway Sheriff Court and Prison (1870) (see separate listing). The Maitlands had a large family of whom two became architects, James (born 1845) and Andrew II (born 1847). His sons joined his practice in the 1860s, becoming partners in 1875 and the firm was renamed A Maitland & Sons.

The development of the court house as a building type in Scotland follows the history of the Scottish legal system and wider government reforms. The majority of purpose-built court houses were constructed in the 19th century, however, prior to this time burgh judicial functions were commonly housed in a single building such as a tolbooth or town hall. The tolbooth is still evident at Tain.

By the 19th century there was an increase in the separation of civic, administrative and penal functions into separate civic and institutional buildings, and the resultant surge of public building was promoted by new institutional bodies.

Statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Courts Listing Review 2014-15. Previously listed as 'High Street Tolbooth and Sheriff Court'.



Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: CANMORE ID 267932.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1874, published 1881) Ross-shire, Sheet XLI.8. 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. London: Ordnance Survey.

Inverness Courier, 19 April 1843 and 23 May 1848.

Inverness Adveriser, 4 March 1873. Advertisements for tenders.

Groome, F. H. (Ed) (1885) The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 1st Ed., Vol VI. London: William Mackenzie. p.426.

MacGibbon and Ross (1887) Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland. p.99-101.

The Scottish Civic Trust (1983) Historic Buildings at Work. Glasgow: The Scottish Civic Trust. p.77.

Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands. London: Penguin Books Ltd. p.460.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1996) Tolbooths and Town-Houses. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office. pp.196-7.

Historic Scotland (2014) Scottish Courts Preliminary Report at

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Thomas Brown II at [accessed 03 November 2014].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Andrew Maitland at [accessed 03 November 2014].

Further information provided by Scottish Courts Service (2014).

About Listed Buildings

Listing is the way that a building or structure of special architectural or historic interest is recognised by law through the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

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Tain Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, principal elevation, looking northeast, during daytime on an overcast day.

Printed: 25/04/2019 15:26