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1394 - Tolbooth (Prison) and Courthouse sanctioned to be situated in Castle Street

The Tolbooth was built between 1616 and 1629 by Thomas Watson, a master mason from Old Rayne. The Wardhouse of the Tolbooth was the prison for both the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire until the 19th century.

Police History

1394 Charter to build Tolbooth Aberdeen.
1576 Houses of Correction established on the model of Bridewell London.
1616 Tolbooth Aberdeen started.
1636 House of Correction built at Aberdeen.
1819 East Prison Lodge Walk, Aberdeen built.
1864 West Prison Aberdeen closed.
1865 Distinction between Jails and Bridewells abolished
1891 Aberdeen Craiginches prison built.

1819 - Watch House established in Huxter Row. Watchmen are nicknamed Charlies; their 'uniform' consisted of a top coat, Tam O'Shanter bonnet and a staff or cudgel

In 1820, on the opening of the new Courthouse building in Castle Street, the Tollbooth or Watch-House was relocated to Huxter Row, at the rear of the Courthouse where it remained until 1867 when the property was scheduled for demolition, along with the Police Court, to make way for the new Municipal Buildings in Castle Street.  Both were therefore moved to the Old Record Office in the Castlegate at the top of Justice Street. This building, erected in 1779, was in a poor state of repair and required extensive renovation in order to make it habitable as it failed in it's prime purpose as a Public Records Office due to continual dampness.. An adjoining house was also acquired to supplement the cell accommodation.  On 4 June 1870, the Force Headquarters moved from the Old Record Office to new premises in the reconstructed Municipal Buildings occupying that part overlooking Concert Court off Broad Street. The main public entrance was in Broad Street.  In February 1892, the Watching Committee called upon the City Architect to report on the possibility of converting the East Prison in Lodge Walk to a new Police Headquarters. It was decided to demolish the existing prison buildings and erect a new Police Headquarters. This new building in Lodge Walk was opened in 1895 and remained in use as the headquarters of Aberdeen City Police until 1972 when the present headquarters in Queen Street were opened.

Correction Wynd. The House of Correction, founded in C1637 on the initiative of Provost Jaffray, stood nearby until 1711. It provided lodging and employment in the cloth industry for vagrants and delinquents.


1867 - Huxter Row along with the Lemon Tree Tavern is demolished as part of slum clearance; new Police premises established at Old Record Office, Castlegate

Over the centuries The Tolbooth has witnessed, and often played a part in, some of the key events in Aberdeen's and Scotland's history. During the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, when the Duke of Cumberland stayed in Aberdeen in order to put down the rebellion here before leaving for Culloden, he posted troops on the steeple of The Tolbooth to watch out for rebels and give a very visibly display the reasserting of Royal Authority. After the rebels had been defeated at Culloden hundreds of rebel prisoners were brought back to The Tolbooth where they were interrogated. In the mid-18th century The Tolbooth was one of the many places associated with one of the darkest episodes of Aberdeen's history. A number of Aberdeen's Merchants and Magistrates organised the kidnapping of hundreds of children from both the town and countryside. These children were then stored in various places, including The Tolbooth, before being transported to the Americas and sold as indentured servants.  It seems there is profit to made from Orphans and Waifs to benefit the merchants magistrates.

Aberdeen’s Tolbooth, properly the Wardhouse Tower of the Tolbooth (Aberdeen’s prison) had a significant role to play in the 1745 Rebellion.  After the declaration of the Young Pretender as king, the Laird of Strathbogie ordered all of the Town’s bells to be rung and the doors of the Tolbooth to be opened, freeing all of the prisoners, no doubt earning himself some dubious allies.  After the town was ‘liberated’ by Cumberland’s forces in 1746, it was to the Tolbooth that known and suspected Jacobites were taken prior to trial. On 17 May 1746 William Murdoch, then keeper of the gaol, made a note of the names of the 34 prisoners he had received into custody. Three days later, on 20 May, this number had risen to 46 names, and by 25 July had reached a staggering 96 prisoners ‘in the Tolbooth for treasonable practice.  There followed a campaign of collecting statements of evidence against and confessions from these prisoners.

What is striking about the lists of prisoners is the social class involved. The majority were craftsmen or servants, few if any being Professionals or Merchants. Thus William Murdo, shoemaker in Aberdeen,  James Thom, servant, George Wallace, George Wales and John Main, white fishers in Fittie were all imprisoned. Although an Episcopalian preacher, William Strachan, and one Advocate, Thomas Mosman, were questioned they do not appear as prisoners in the Tollbooth List.

The Tolbooth stopped being used as a prison in the 19th century and was first 'modern' prison, the Bridewell, built on what it replaced in Aberdeen we now call Rose Street, Bridewell. The Tolbooth remained in use during the time the Bridewell was opened and after, when the Bridewell was replaced by the East Prison on Lodge Walk, as a holding prison. The Tolbooth survived when the new Townhouse was laid out. The front of The Tolbooth was encased in granite, but the rear of the building still shows its original sandstone with its 17th century battlements.

Aberdeen Tolbooth Today the Tolbooth is Aberdeen’s Museum


The City Bridewell was erected at an expense of £12,000, on a site of two Scotch acres on the confines of the town, and was opened in 1809; it is a handsome structure in the castellated style, surrounded with a wall fourteen feet in height. The edifice contains 5 storeys, of which part of the uppermost is used as an Hospital, and the interior is divided, throughout its whole length, by a Gallery, on one side of which are Dormitories, and on the other Cells for labour; the whole number of Cells is 109, each 8 feet long, and 7 feet wide. The building is warmed by steam, and lighted with gas ; and adjoining the rear, is the Governor's house, containing a Committee-room for the meeting of the Magistrates, a Chapel, and apartments for a Surgeon, in addition to the requisite accommodations for the Governor, Matron, and other officers necessary for the performance of the various duties of the establishment. The prisoners were employed in profitable labour.

The Bridewell Prison stood on an area of ground between Rose Street and what was formerly called Henry Street. It opened to guests in 1809. The origin of the popular name is derived from a well between Fleet Street and the Thames, dedicated to St Bride or Bridget. The Corporation of London gained possession of it and a large part of it was turned into a notorious model prison. The Aberdeen Bridewell was closed when Caiginches was opened in 1891

Illustration of the prison taken from Historical Account and Delineation of Aberdeen by Wilson

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Adjoining to St. Bride’s Churchyard, Fleet Street, London is an ancient well dedicated to the saint, and commonly called St Bride’s Well. A palace erected near by took the name of Bridewell. This being given by Edward VI to the city of London as a workhouse for the poor and a 'house of correction', the name became associated in the popular mind with houses having the same purpose in view. Hence it has arisen that the pure and innocent Bridget - the first of Irish nuns - is now inextricably connected in our ordinary national parlance with a class of beings of the most opposite description.  The name stuck for all similar institutions

Aberdeen's Bridewell opened 1802 was the alternative name of the West Prison that was to be found at the South end of Henry Street, and North end of Rose street. With the demolition of the prison after 1868 Rose Street and Henry Street were linked with dropping of the title Henry Street in preference of Rose Street.  The impressive entrance to the Bridewell prison stood until 1883 when it was demolished, allowing Rose Street to extend northwards and eventually lead to Skene Street. Few people travelling along this road today probably realise the grand entrance would have completely blocked their path in days of old.  West Prison or Bridewell was on Rose Street, near its junction at Thistle Street. 

Gateway to Bridewell Prison, c.1880 - this massive gateway was the impressive entrance to the Bridewell in Rose Street, situated off the west end of Union Street. The Bridewell was opened in 1809 as a House of Correction and became known as the West Prison. It was in use till 1868, when it was closed and later demolished. For a short while, the site was laid out as the West End Pleasure Gardens and Recreation Grounds. The gateway had a Porter's Lodge and a Guardhouse attached and it remained until 1883, when it was demolished to allow Rose Street to be extended northwards to link with Henry Street which in turn led on to Skene Street. Henry Street had been named after George Henry, Provost of the City between 1850-53 but the whole street then became known as Rose Street.

The establishment of a prison in Aberdeen was suggested as early as 1795 and in 1796, the Town Council proposed to obtain an Act of Parliament for the building of the prison. It was not until 1802 that an Act of Parliament was granted for the erection of the Bridewell and the magistrates of Aberdeen authorised to borrow £7000 and a further £5000 in 1808 to complete the task. The total expense of the building, including bedding, clothing and other furnishings came to £10, 500.   In 1807, the location and approach to the prison was being decided. The Provost suggested that the prison should be erected on the south side of what was known as Collinson's Croft and the land purchased. The piece of ground was '204 feet along the road made out by Marischal] College and leading westward from Chapel Street' and after 'giving off 40 feet of the ground as an access to Bridewell'. The architect for the building was James Burn of Haddington and it was completed in 1809 with accommodation for up to sixty prisoners, both male and female. 

The prison was established on
2 acres of ground and was enclosed by a wall 14 feet high. Entry was from Union Street through a front gateway and the porter's lodge and guardhouse was attached to this gateway. The building was four storeys high, with an additional attic storey that housed the prison hospital and storerooms. At the rear of the prison there was a projection that held the kitchen, committee room, chapel, surgeon's room and accommodation for the governor, his family and servants. In addition, there was a large open area, or garden, and airing ground at the back of the building for the prisoners to use. 

There were a total of
48 working cells, located at the front of the building, 56 sleeping cells and 4 dark cells of the confinement of unruly prisoners. Each floor of the prison had 11 working cells, 14 for sleeping and one dark cell. The size of each cell was approximately 7 x 8 feet and each being arched over with brick. There were two windows in each day cell that measured 4 feet long and 1 foot wide and one window of the same size in the sleeping cell.  The working cells were separated from the sleeping cells by a gallery, or passage, which ran the length of the house and was 125 feet long, 8 feet high and 4 to 8 feet broad. There were large Venetian windows at each end of the passage. All the windows in the prison were of cast metal and turned upon an iron rod down the middle. In the Hospital storey, there was a room 26 feet by 15 feet that was well ventilated, as well as 3 working cells, one dark cell and 8 small rooms for sleeping. 

The prison was
heated by steam through cast iron pipes and supplied with water by a pump at the west end of the garden; the building was lighted by gas. The officers employed at the prison were the governor, matron, two turnkeys, a watchman and a porter. In addition, a chaplain, teacher and surgeon were also on hand on a regular basis. In 1842, the name of the Bridewell was changed to the West Prison.  On 9 December 1868, it was proposed that the prison should close. On 18 January 1869, 81 prisoners, including 12 debtors, were transferred from the West Prison to the old East Prison or Jail. The West Prison was then put up for sale on 24 February 1869 and later sold to the Town Council for £3000. The building was demolished and the grounds turned into the 'West End Pleasure Gardens and Recreational Grounds' by 1 June 1870. Currently there is a small portion of the wall of the prison still standing just off Chapel Street
Current Status: Demolished in 1868/9; Fragment of Wall remains.

This prison was not the familiar Craiginches of today, but was the Bridewell, erected in 1802. Parts of the walls of the Bridewell can still be seen. As one walks north up Rose Street, about fifty yards north of Thistle Street just before one comes to what used to be Kennerty Dairies on the east and Middleton's paper works on the west side of the road (now housing on the west and a garden centre on the east), there is a gap of about nine inches between the houses. This gap marks the southern wall of the old prison. Again if one walks up Thistle Lane from Thistle Street, the wall on the right hand, beginning at the corner of the lane, is the old prison wall. Finally when one is at the Chapel Street car park, looking west towards the manufacturing works, the old wall is clearly seen, built upon with brick. At the southermost corner of the portion of the wall you can still see a half circle rose style church window, which seems to have belonged to the prison chapel. These are the few traces left of a building which was of great importance some one hundred and twenty years ago. [But (1986) things change: portions of the Bridewell wall are still there, behind the buildings on the west of Chapel Street south of the multistorey Car Park, and north of the premises of a car hire firm. The half-rose window at the south east corner of the Bridewell has been boarded up. Another part of the wall can be seen in the back area of the flats on Thistle Street and Rose Street, best seen through the access at the west of Hebron Evangelical Church. The Thistle Lane wall is still there, but otherwise it is becoming more difficult to see these fragments of history. Mr Chalmers, the Governor of the Bridewell, was one of the leading men of the congregation.

The Bridewell Prison: The Story of Aberdeen's Forgotten Jail

by Paul Webster

Bridewell Prison was located on Rose Street in Aberdeen during the early 19th century. the building erected in 1802 and housed prisoners until its closing in 1858, when the prisoners were moved to another location. After the building was torn down, a pubic resort was opened where the prison stood. Using the few remaining sources of information available on the history of this prison, the author has given us an interesting look into prison life in the early to mid-1800's. Some of the sources include an Article from the "Aberdeen Journal" titled 'Reports of the Inspector of prisons: and the Book of By-laws and Regulations of the Prison.' The book features maps of the area, photographs, and illustrations. This was the original Bridewell Prison by which Chicago formulated their prison. Perhaps for Al Capone.

East Prison
Lodge Walk Police Station replaced East Prison

The East Prison, immediately behind the court-house and located in Lodge Walk, was the only gaol of Aberdeen, the West Prison having been discontinued since 1863: and the East itself is shortly to be transferred to a different site. Built in 1831, and enlarged in 1868, it contains 95 cells, and was described as 'bad in situation, with small dark cells, imperfect ventilation, and insufficient accommodation, ' in the Inspector's Report for the year ending 31 March 1879. In the twelve month following, 1426 criminal and 58 civil prisoners were confined within it, and its gross expenditure was £1564.-During the same year Oldmill Reformatory (1857), 2¼ miles W of the town, was occupied on an average by 148 boys, and Mount Street Reformatory (1862) by 25 girls, their respective receipts being £2645 and £578.

The old prison, which was situated in the tower under the steeple in Castle Street, was in every respect unsuited to its object, being neither properly ventilated, sufficiently capacious, nor secure. In 1829, the foundation of a new prison was laid immediately behind the Court-house, and it was first occupied in July 1831. It contains sixty cells and ten day-rooms, one of which is appropriated for debtors; the other nine have lately been converted into work-rooms. There are six yards within the precincts of the prison, four of which are used by the male prisoners, and one by the females, the remaining one being connected with the debtors' room.  The criminal prisoners are not permitted to hold any intercourse with each other, and they are kept apart as much as possible. They are all employed, tried as well as untried, in such works as picking oakum, weaving, tailor-work, &c, and for the females knitting and sewing, and an account is kept of the produce of their labour; and their earnings are given to them on leaving the prison. They are allowed access to the yard one at a time, for about two hours each, daily.

A teacher attends in the prison daily from 10 a. m. to 1 p. m. and the chaplain visits five times in the week, exhorting, catechising, and praying with each prisoner separately. The female prisoners, who are under the care of a female assistant to the jailer, are also visited every lawful day, except Saturday, by the members of the "Ladies' Association for promoting the Reformation of Destitute Females."

The diet of the prisoners is of the plainest kind, but wholesome and in sufficient quantity; and the introduction of every kind of luxury into the prison is strictly prohibited.  Untried prisoners are permitted to be visited by their relatives in the presence of the keeper of the prison, once a week, but after conviction this liberty is allowed only once a month.

The expense of maintaining the prisoners, and of keeping up the necessary establishment, as well as the repairs of the building, is defrayed out of the rogue money; the city and county bearing each a share proportioned to the number of prisoners from each.  The debtors are not subjected to the same restrictions as the criminal prisoners, being permitted the free use of the yard and day-room of their ward from 6 am to 9 pm daily.  The average number of prisoners during 1838 was about 57; the greatest number at one time being 86, and the smallest, 39.

Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen [Pic: Press and Journal]

A new prison, at Craiginches, south of the Dee, was opened in 1891.  Craiginches often pronounced Craigie Inches in Aberdeen - Probably after Craiglug and the then Broad Inches in the River Dee before it was re-directed and channelled to its present course.

HM Prison Aberdeen (formerly known as Craiginches) is a medium-security prison, located in the City. The prison is managed by the Scottish Prison Service. Known as one of the most overcrowded prisons in Scotland, it has a design capacity of 155 and is contracted to hold up to 220 prisoners. However, on the 1st day of the January 2009 inspection it held 264 prisoners.

Henry John Burnett (5 January 1942 – 15 August 1963) was the last man to be hanged in Scotland, and the first in Aberdeen since 1891. He was tried at the High Court in Aberdeen from 23-25 July 1963 for the murder of merchant seaman Thomas Guyan. His execution, at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen, was carried out by the hangman Harry Allen.

The Scottish Prison Service is planning to invite bids to build a £140m prison next to the existing Peterhead Prison near Aberdeen in the spring.

The 500-cell new HMP Grampian will replace Peterhead Prison and Craiginches in Aberdeen.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013