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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TOLBOOTH, n., v. Also -buith, -both, toll-, representing 17th c. spellings; and Sc. historical forms, with first element stressed towbuith, toubooth (Lnk. a.1779 D. Graham Writings (1883) II 212), towbooth (Ags. 1890 A. Lowson J. Guidfollow i.), towbeeth (Abd. 1875 A. Hislop Sc. Anecdotes 300), -beith (Abd. 1909 J. Tennant Jeannie Jaffray iv., 1932 J. Leatham Fisherfolk 55); with stress on the second element: tubuith, to'booth, tibaith (Ayr. 1923 Wilson D. Burns 190), ta'buith (Lnk. 1890 H. Muir Reminisc. 2), †tabeeth, tibeethe (Cai. 1905 E.D.D., obsol.). [′tolbuθ; †′tʌubøθ, tə′bøθ; n.Sc. -biθ]

I. n. Orig. a booth or office where tolls, market dues and other local imposts were paid to the municipality, hence the municipal buildings, including the room in which the Town Council met, the offices of various burgh officials, and very freq. also the local jail. Hence (1) the town hall. Gen.Sc., now only hist. or as applied to a building orig. used as such and still standing, in whole or part, e.g. in the Canongate of Edinburgh, Banff, Glasgow, Kirkcudbright, Queensferry, Crail, etc. Now only dial. in Eng. Also attrib.Gsw. 1702–3 Burgh Rec. Gsw. (B.R.S.) 349, 362, 365:
For taking down the tolbuith clock. . . . The dean of gilds court hall in the tolbuith. . . . The lands to be publictly rouped within the tolbuith of this burgh.
m.Lth. 1710 J. Paterson Musselburgh (1857) 36:
He most contemptuously walked up and down the tolbuith where the Council was sitting, and would not stand still.
Sc. 1724 W. Macfarlane Geog. Coll. (S.H.S.) I. 8:
This toun [Inverurie] has no publick buildings save a church and a Tolbooth.
Ags. 1776 First Hist. Dundee (Millar 1923) 162:
The Tolbooth or Toun house is a Stately and Elegant building of Modern taste, said by many Travelers to be the Grandest of its kind in Britain if not in Europe.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Sir A. Wylie xiii.:
St James's here, it's just like an auld to'booth.
Edb. 1825 R. Chambers Traditions II. 213:
The Tolbooth Kirk was the peculiar resort of a set of rigid Calvinists from the Lawn Market and the head of the Bow, termed the Towbuith-Whigs, who loved nothing but extempore, apostolical sermons.
Sc. 1933 Hist. Mon. Comm. Fife 285:
The Tolbooth or Town-house dates from about the beginning of the 18th century [at West Wemyss].

(2) a jail or prison (Sc. 1782 J. Sinclair Ob. Sc. Dial. 223). Gen.Sc. Now only hist. Also attrib. as in tolbuith mealls, the subsistence-money charged to a debtor, while in prison, for his keep.Lnk. 1709 Minutes J.P.s (S.H.S.) 76:
To commit him prisoner within the tolbooth of Lanark or other convenient prisons ay and while performance of the sentence.
Ork. 1710 B. H. Hossack Kirkwall (1900) 97:
For payment of George Baikie his father his tolbuith mealls in regard his said father has been neer a year in prison and no part of his Tolbuith mealls payed.
Crm. 1721 Earls Crm. (Fraser 1876) II. 173:
The meeckle Deel's in the man, nothing will please him but to putt us all in the Tabeeth.
Sc. 1793 “Tam Thrum” Look before ye Loup 13:
They had a muckle to'booth that they ca'd the Bastille.
Edb. 1826 M. & M. Corbett Odd Volume 360:
Elie Anderson's murdered David's Nanny, sae haste ye, rise! and yoke yir cart, that we may tak her to the tubuith.
Slg. 1843 Session Cases (1842–3) 513:
Gillies had been incarcerated in the Tolbooth of Stirling for debt.
Kcb. 1896 Crockett Grey Man l.:
The turnkey of the Tolbooth.
Sc. 1913 W. Roughead Twelve Sc. Trials 24:
The Tolbooth, the old prison of Edinburgh, famous in fact and fiction as “The Heart of Midlothian”.
Abd. 1955 Huntly Express (28 Oct.):
The ‘tow-beith,' or gallow-hill, of Auchindoun Castle was situated at Mutterton.

II. v. To imprison.Abd. 1826 D. Anderson Poems 91:
An I am ne the only poet, That ha'e been Tow'beeth'd, man, for debt.

[O.Sc. tolbuth, a customs-office, a.1400, a town-hall, 1440, towboth, a jail, c.1480, Med. Lat. tolbutha. from toll + booth. The anglicised form tolbooth has now become established in Sc.]

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"Tolbooth n., v.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 Apr 2024 <>



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