Medieval tolbooth found in Edinburgh

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THE remains of Edinburgh's medieval tolbooth have been unearthed during road repairs on the Royal Mile.

Historians have always known the tolbooth was located somewhere between St Giles' Cathedral and the City Chambers, but until now had been unable to pinpoint its location.

The archaeological investigations, carried out as part of a GBP 1.5 million upgrade of the Royal Mile, have discovered a large section of the lost building's northern wall which they believe dates to the late 14th century.

The wall begins below the junction with George IV Bridge when heading down the High Street in the direction of Holyrood. Starting under the current road, roughly in line with the statue of David Hume, it continues down the Royal Mile for about 12 metres before turning right towards St Giles.

And John Lawson, the archaeology officer for the Edinburgh city council, believes more will be uncovered over the coming weeks at the site.

"The wall that we've found seems to be the foundation of the old tolbooth building. We think it dates back to 1386 when the tolbooth was rebuilt after being destroyed a year before," he said.

"It may well be that underneath the wall there is a cellar, which may have been used for different purposes during the various stages of the building's history.

"With further roadworks we hope to uncover the remaining part of the wall, which we believe continues right down to the entrance to St Giles' Cathedral and turns right into south side of the church. Obviously we can't dig that place up, but at least we have an idea where the exact location of the tolbooth is."

During its existence the tolbooth was used as the city's council chambers, the Scottish Parliament sat there and it was the site of the High Court.

Latterly it became the old town gaol, and among the notorious criminals imprisoned there was Deacon Brodie.

In 1817, the building was demolished to widen the road. To mark the area where prisoners had entered the gaol, the Heart of Midlothian stones were laid.

"The site will now be preserved by terra sheeting and then recovered. When the road is relaid, there will be copper setts to mark the location," Mr Lawson said.

Councillor Bob Cairns said: "It's tremendous that the works to restore the Royal Mile setts have provided us with an opportunity to learn more about our city's past and preserve it for future generations.

"The discovery of the exact location of the tolbooth is of particular significance on account of the important role it played in the city's history."

Work on the reconstruction of the road surface between George IV Bridge and North Bridge began in January. The archaeological work involved radar surveys in the hope of locating any historical buildings such as the tolbooth and Tyne Gaol.

The project is being undertaken to prevent further damage to the road and to avoid any future need for unplanned emergency repairs. The work will be completed by early 2007.

The reconstruction will involve relaying thousands of the existing traditional granite setts, or large cobbles. The setts were relaid in a GBP 5 million project finished in 1996, but within three years sections of the street began to give way, leading to emergency repairs - and the threat of a lawsuit against the contractor.

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