THE TOLBOOTH STORY
From the earliest days, Town Councils in Lanark would have had a Tolbooth or Council Chamber in which to hold their meetings and to serve as a base for their Officials, the Treasurer and Town Officer.
An early reference to the ‘Tolbuth’ in Lanark is found in the Burgh Records of 20th May 1448 when “the mekill buth of the north syd of the tolbuth set to James Ram for xx ti Scots” and “the next buth set to John Pedecrw for half a mark….etc. etc.” In translation this reads, “The large room at the north side of the Tolbooth (most probably a stall or shop in one of the vaults at the ground floor of the building) was let to John Ram for twenty shillings scots. The next booth was let to John Pettigrew for half a mark (about 16 new pence). Tom Kerr and Bessie Clarkson each got booths for half a mark. George Dickson got the let of the booth under the bellhouse for five shillings David Pumphrey the adjacent one for seven shillings. George Mercer got a booth for ten shillings and Bessie Lockhart one for four shillings. Bessie Kerr, John Simpson Cuthbert Grym each got booths for five shillings. Sir William Dobbie was given the let of his chawmer (room) for five shillings and Sandy Lockhart the loft for six shillings.” (It is likely that the chawmer and loft also referred to accommodation within the Tolbooth) Apart from this which suggests that it would have been single storey with a loft and a bellhouse, with open vaults
underneath, no records exist of the layout of this early building which served as Council House or Tolbooth at the foot of the Heiton or High Street until 1571 when it was in a ruinous condition and required major reconstruction.
Throughout the years the Tolbooth served as a point for the 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 (in 1448) was roughly on the present High Street site and is thought to have been built around 1400 but by 1571 it was in a ruinous condition and was replaced by a building which survived until 1778.
Those early Tolbooths were also used as jails and over time the term ‘Tolbooth’ came to be applied to the jail only, the remaining part being known as the Council Chamber, or the Council’s Town House.
In 1714, a separate jail was built at the west end at the corner of the Wellgate and adjacent to the old building.
In 1778, the earlier building now also in a dangerous state and the Council not being in a financial position to repair it the present building was erected at the expense of the " Gentlemen of the County " on condition ,only, that they were permitted the use of the Upper Hall as a gathering place . Later, in the mid-19th century, the jail was moved to new premises which had been built to house the Council on Hope Street. On completion , in 1838 , of those new public buildings on Hope Street the Council let out and eventually sold the present building for commercial purposes. Over the intervening period The Tolbooth has been use as a printers office, an auction house and a general grocers shop, " Cooper Brothers" with it's last commercial occupant being " Semi Chem".
When the part of the building comprising the ground floor room and the hall above was offered for sale, Clydesdale District Council and Lanark Community Council arranged, in 1992, to purchase it using ‘Common Good’ funds. Essential maintenance work was carried out, and the building’s future was placed in the
care of a Trust charged with preventing further deterioration and developing it as a Heritage Centre.
In 2017 The Tolbooth Trustees wanting to furher unlock the buildings potential embarked on the redesign of the ground floor as a Gallery Room and Community Arts Hub which is now manned by a group of volunteers and is open daily to the public.