History of Culross

When you stroll through the narrow cobbled streets of the quiet old burgh of Culross, it is not difficult to imagine yourself back in the 16th or 17th century. Almost the entire village is a living museum, as all the pan-tiled houses with their crow-step gables have been carefully restored. But there’s a lot more to Culross than a group of picturesque houses. Today, it is a lively community where the burgher’s lives weave a web from past to present, keeping the buildings of Culross more alive than any museum could. It is the perfect venue for musical and artistic events.

The name Culross derives from the two Gaelic words ‘Cuileann Ros’, meaning point where the holly grows. St. Serf founded a monastery here in the 5th century, and it was also in Culross that Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo was born and educated. It later became a busy and prosperous sea port, marketing and exporting coal and salt. King James VI granted Culross the status of Royal Burgh due to the influence of an important local resident, Sir George Bruce.

The Town House or Tolbooth, Culross

It is one of just over twenty surviving Scottish tolbooths dating from the period prior to the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. There was an earlier tolbooth in Culross, in existence in 1588, but its exact location is not recorded.

The Town House fronts the Sandhaven, standing at its north-east side, and dates from 1626 (date on ground floor lintel). It was two storeys and a garret high with a steeply-pitched slated roof but this roof was later inserted by a tall tower, a three-stage central steeple, being erected in 1783 with a steep ogee roof. On the 1861 OS map the high water mark was just 140 feet away.

The Town House was renovated for the burgh by Ian G Lindsay and Partners in 1957–59.

The ground floor is vaulted and contains two large rooms and two smaller ones. Until about the beginning of the 19th century one of the larger rooms was used as a prison, and the smaller rooms were presumably cells. On the first floor, which is approached by the double flight of steps, is a central lobby, having the council chamber on the west side and the “debtors’ room” on the east. Both rooms had original painted open-beam ceilings. The ceiling of the east room has an unique pattern of repeated draped heads and cherubs’ heads, stars and faceted rectangles.

The upper stair is lit by a small window and leads up to the garret.The east gable is tabled while the west is crow-stepped and carries a belfry which may have replaced an earlier one.In the roof was a ‘dreary, fireless place where the unfortunate women accused of witchcraft used to be confined’. This garret provided extra prison accommodation.

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