Scottish Review of Books: Dark Heart
The history of the Heart of Midlothian, the Tolbooth jailhouse on Edinburgh’s High Street, which itself no longer exists, is unsurprisingly a grim and bloody one. Inmates had to pay for their own incarceration (doubly hard if you were incarcerated for debt in the first place) and many were simply forgotten about, left to languish long after their prison terms were completed. Compared to some more brutal punishments of the time – chopping off hands, or ears; whippings; brandings – incarceration may seem like the softer option, but the smell of the place was often enough to terrify potential miscreants. Robert Chambers noted in 1817 just before it was demolished that “there was something about [it] that would have enabled a blindfolded person led into to say it was a jail”. It housed noblemen who were deemed traitors to the crown as well as young girls suspected of being witches, but it was also surprisingly easy to escape from; a favoured method of escape involved dressing in women’s clothing brought in by family or wives. A revealing, if uncomfortably entertaining, glimpse of crueller times, it tracks our long and often dubious attitudes towards law and justice.
- Add to BasketDark Heart: Tales From Edinburgh's Town Jail - - Paperback
The Old Tolbooth Jail - Edinburgh's Bastille - was for five centuries the capital's heart of darkness. Here, the complete story of the Old Tolbooth is told, from its proud beginnings to its final downfall at the hands of municipal vandals.