The Tolbooth: from Jail to Jewel of Lanark

The Tolbooth, Lanark

A recent post by Tolbooth Arts has prompted me to look a little further into the history of this significant Lanark landmark. It sits at the bottom of the High Street with the Provost’s lamp (from the 1890’s) standing outside. The lamp is a relatively recent feature in it’s history – the third of the Tolbooth buildings to have existed on this site since the early 1400’s.

Lanark is one of Scotland’s oldest Burghs and back in the 12th century it was a favoured hunting ground for the Kings of Scotland. Over the years, the town has been a creative hotspot for shoes, gloves, saddlery, weaving, oil, and knitwear whilst the Lanark markets traded in livestock and agricultural implements. A walk through the Closes of Lanark give a great insight into the layers of history woven into the town.

Information boards on the wall of McKenzie’s Close – drawings by Kirsten Harris Art

The Town Council would have had a Council Chamber – a ‘Tolbooth’ in which to hold their meetings and to serve as a base for their officials, the treasurer and town officer. The Tolbooth served as a point for collection of customs or charges imposed on all goods brought in to the town for market. The ‘Customer’ or ‘Tacksman’ based here had control of the weights and the ‘Tron’ or public weighing machine located nearby.

The first building referred to in Lanark records was located approximately on this site and is thought to have been built around 1400. By 1571 it was in a ruinous condition and was replaced by a building which survived until 1778 but the Council didn’t have the funds to repair it.

‘Gentlemen of the Tolbooth’ – Volunteers Ernest, Tom and Millie, Christmas 2019

However, this was when the “Gentlemen of the County” stepped in and offered to pay for erecting a new building entirely at their expense with the one condition that they were allowed to use the Upper Hall as a gathering place. This is the Tolbooth building that exists at present.

There is plenty more on the history of the Tolbooth on the Discover Lanark website and on the Canmore website.

In 2017 The Tolbooth Trustees embarked on the redesign of the ground floor unlocking the buildings potential as a gallery, heritage centre and arts hub open daily manned by a dedicated group of volunteers. For the past few years that I have been living near Lanark, the Tolbooth has indeed been a creative hub and I’ve been delighted to have participated in several exhibitions with many happy hours spent sketching inside and out – a few examples follow:

Streetscape opposite the Tolbooth
Richard Price giving a pottery demonstration in the Upper Hall
Lanark’s town pigeons settling down to roost for the night

The Tolbooth Christmas shop has been a growing success over the past few years and artists are well underway preparing new work for this year’s stock, myself included.

Skilled creative work of local artists in the Christmas Shop
Lanark’s town Crier taking shelter in the Tolbooth, wearing Thomson Blue Tartan

Look out for the next exhibition – ‘Clyde Valley – Garden of Scotland’ coming very soon to the Tolbooth – more on that in the next post!

In the meantime, I will sign off with this drawing of the Tolbooth Lanark. It will be in the Christmas shop from November, or get it touch with me or a volunteer at the Tolbooth. Price is £225 framed (20 x 17in) which includes a commission towards the upkeep of this fantastic community hub.

Thanks for reading, Ronnie

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