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

Cromarty Court House Museum including prison, gatepiers, boundary wall and railings, Church Street, CromartyLB23585

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 78977 67390
278977, 867390


The court house was constructed from 1772-82 and in 1845-47 Thomas Brown II carried out repairs and improvements to the building, including a cell block to the rear. It is a 2-storey, 5-bay, T-plan former courthouse (now a museum) with a central projecting 3 stage clock tower and octagonal cupola. The building is predominantly constructed of coursed rubble and has been rendered, with rusticated quoins at the ground floor, ashlar margins, gable string courses on the gables and a cupola in coursed red sandstone. There are square windows at the ground floor and round-arched windows at the first floor with multi-pane sashes. The roof is slated.

The clock tower has round arched recesses at the ground floor. That to the east side has an entrance door. The third stage has a blind lunette and there is a simple stone parapet and a pinnacle on each corner. The octagonal cupola has a clock face on its north elevation and louvred bull's eyes on three sides. The cupola has a domed copper roof and is topped by a metal weathervane. To the rear is a later mid-19th century L-plan and gabled cell block with a slate roof containing 3 prison cells with small high level windows. There is a small arcaded exercise gallery with a flat stone roof and iron bars in the arcades. The cell block and exercise yard are constructed of coursed red rubble with ashlar dressings.

The interior was seen in 2015. The first floor courtroom retains many mid-19th century fittings. There is a raised bench (with no seating) flanked by cast iron stoves, a narrow timber dock, a jury and witnesses' boxes, and benches. There are plastered walls with some timber panelling up to dado level and a simple moulded plaster ceiling. The adjoining former clerk's room to the rear has a mid-19th century inserted chimney. There is a vaulted documents store in the roof space of the prison block, which is accessed from the corridor adjacent to the clerk's room.

At the ground floor is a kitchen, 3 cells and an exercise gallery. Two of the cells were fitted with single low wooden beds, now replicated. The third and largest cell has a fireplace and was used both for debtors, and as a dayroom for prisoners. All 3 cells have a studded, metal-plated door.

A pair of square ashlar gatepiers to Church Street are supported by a curved wrought iron lap bracket. There are iron railings mounted on a coped stone wall.

Statement of Special Interest

This former court house at Cromarty is an impressive late 18th century civic building that straddles a significant period of change in the Scottish legal system. It was remodelled in the mid-19th century by Thomas Brown II to include prison cells and an exercise gallery and these changes are representative of the prison reform movement in Scotland. Set back from the street and situated on a small mound with a distinctive clock tower and octagonal cupola rising above the surrounding one and two storey fishertoun type building, it has significant streetscape presence in Cromarty town centre. The classically proportioned principal elevation, remains largely unaltered since construction was completed in 1783. Internally the building retains a number of late 18th century and mid-19th century decorative details, particularly the heating system and prison cells.

Age and Rarity

The former court house at Cromarty was commissioned by George Ross of Pitkerrie and Cromarty in 1772 (see other information section). Construction began in that year and the interior scheme was the work of joiner Thomas Keith and was complete by 1783. The court house clock is by John Ross of Tain and is dated 1782 and installed 1784. The bell itself is said to have been from the Spanish carrack ship, San Dimas, and is dated 1771 and inscribed 'S.DIMAS.CARRACA.ANNO D.1771'.

In 1845-47 the ground floor was adapted and extended by Thomas Brown II to provide 3 prison cells and an enclosed exercise gallery, as well as living accommodation for a jailer and his family. It was also at this time that a heating and ventilation system was installed (see Technical excellence or innovation, material or design quality heading below) including two cast iron stoves in the courtroom to either side of the bench.

The prison was closed in 1872 however it continued to be used as a lock up for local police after this time. Furthermore the building was used by the naval shore patrol (military police, responsible for the discipline of sailors) during the First World War when the natural harbour of the Cromarty Firth was a naval base. Unusually, the Burgh judicial functions of a sheriff court and prison continued in the same building until its closure in the 1950s. The building laid empty and fell into disrepair until repair work was undertaken by Ross and Cromarty District Council in 1988 to prepare for its eventual conversion to a museum in 1991. At the time of review in 2016 the building continues to be in use as a museum.

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 the tolbooth or town hall. The Court House at Cromarty is representative of this time. Town houses were the centre of local administration and they served as meeting places for councils and courts, a place to keep records and to collect taxes and customs, and for the imprisonment of suspected criminals. A building such as Cromarty Court House would have shared the principal chamber for civic and judicial functions.

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. A number of Scottish towns and cities had already begun to construct or adapt buildings to separate judicial functions from other civic and administration activities and about one third of the surviving town houses were built or rebuilt in the first third of the 19th century. Court houses with extensive pre-19th century fabric are unusual. Other examples include Tain Sheriff Court (LB41867) and Jedburgh Sheriff Court (LB35503) which are both attached to 18th century Tolbooths.

The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1833 significantly altered local government in Scotland and marked the beginnings of democratically-elected councils. The period following this Act brought forward stricter financial control of Scottish burghs and few new or major alterations to court houses were carried out until the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860. The main exception in this period was the remodelling of prisons or cell accommodation, which following The Prisons Act of 1835 were subject to annual inspection. An 1839 Act transferred the supervision, management and cost of prisons to County Boards. The few court houses that were constructed between 1835 and 1860 typically had a small cell block range, such as Dingwall and Peebles. Cell blocks were also added to the court houses of Nairn, Inverness, Cromarty and Stonehaven (cell block has been demolished). Following the 1860 Act court houses generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells.

The Court House at Cromarty is an impressive late 18th century civic building that straddles a significant period of change in the Scottish legal system. Its judicial functions and form have remained in use in this tolbooth style building which was not significantly extended or rebuilt after the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860. The survival of the 1845-47 prison additions and alterations by Thomas Brown are also representative of the prison reform movement in Scotland.

2.2 Architectural or Historic Interest


Courts were often highly decorated buildings in keeping with them being high status civic buildings and at Cromarty Court House most of the 1845-47 internal scheme remains intact, particularly in the principal court room and prison block.

Plan form

The symmetrical plan with the principal court room on the first floor is typical for a classical town house and court house. The survival of the cell range and arcaded exercise gallery at the rear is also of interest as cell blocks were added to a relatively small number of court houses. The building largely retains its mid-19th century plan form at the ground floor, and most significantly its late 18th century plan form at the first floor.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

Late 18th and early 19th century town houses and court houses are typically classical in design as an appropriate indication of the important civic status of this building type. Cromarty Court House is no exception to this with a classically proportioned principal elevation, including round headed windows and a distinctive octagonal clock tower. By the early 17th century it was an obligation of every burgh to have a clock to call meetings and public events and to mark rising time and curfews. Typically tolbooths and town houses would have a landmark tower or steeple to house the clock, as well as a stylistic reference to the earlier tollbooth.

In the interior, some innovation is credited to Thomas Brown II who installed gas fittings, and a Dutch style heating and ventilation system were also installed at the time of the 1845-47 improvements to the building. A stove in the corridor of the new cell block powered the system and a brazier was installed on the first floor to circulate the warm air around the building though the flues inserted into the walls.

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. As architect to the Prison Board of Scotland, Brown II had extensive experience in designing county court houses and prisons (the design work of which his partner Thomas Wardrop gradually took over) including Dingwall, Wigtown (1862), Alloa (1863), Forfar (1869) and Stirling (designed 1866, built 1874) (see separate listings). The practice were also highly successful at remodelling and designing country houses. The Tudor Gothic style adopted at Dingwall was undoubtedly influenced from both Brown and Wardrop previously working in the offices of William Burn and David Bryce respectively.


The building is set back from the street and on a small mound with a distinctive clock tower and cupola. Its position and design is indicative of a building of status and it has significant presence in the town centre of Cromarty, rising above the surrounding one and two storey fishertoun type buildings.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations.

Close Historical Associations

This former Court House played a role in the First World War when the town was used as a naval base and the prison cells were used by the military police. When considering close historical association, the fabric of a building should reflect the person or event and not merely be a witness to them. In this case the association with the First World War is not considered to be reflected in the design of the building as the cells were not built for this military purpose.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2017 as part of the Former Scottish Court Houses Listing Review 2014-16. Previously listed as 'Church Street, Court House, Prison and Gatepiers'.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 14464


Great Reform Act Plan (1832). Cromarty. Vol. 11. London: House of Commons.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1871, published 1880) Ross and Cromarty Sheet LXVII.9 (Cromarty). 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.


Inverness Courier (19 April 1843 and 19 June 1844) Advertisement for tenders.

Printed Sources

Gifford, J. (1992) Buildings of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books. p.399.

Groome, F. H. (Ed) (1885) The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical. 1st Edition, Volume II. London: William Mackenzie. p. 309.

New Statistical Account (1845) Statistical Account of the Parish of Cromarty. Volume XIV. p.14.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1996) Tolbooths and Town-Houses: civic architecture in Scotland to 1833. Edinburgh: The Stationary Office. pp.59-61.

Online Sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Thomas Brown II at [accessed 24/08/2016].

Historic Scotland (2014) Scottish Courts Preliminary Report at [accessed 24/08/2016].

Other Information

Further information provided by the Cromarty Courthouse Museum (2015).

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Cromarty Court House Museum, principal elevation, looking southwest, during daytime, on an overcast day.
Cromarty Court House Museum, rear elevation, looking northeast, during daytime, on an overcast day.



Printed: 30/05/2024 05:00