Burgh tolbooths and early prisons
Cells in royal and baronial castles were used throughout the Middle Ages to detain small numbers of prisoners, but the most important form of prison in medieval Scotland consisted of cells in the tolbooths of burghs. Prisoners in these were usually held for short periods before trial, or between trial and punishment, or until a fine or debt was paid. An act of James VI in 1597 (c.277) ordained that “Prisoun Houses suld [should] be bigged [built] within all Burrowes [burghs]”, but most burghs continued to use tolbooth cells rather than build separate prison buildings. However, by the mid seventeenth century larger towns, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen, were building ‘houses of correction’ on the English model of the ‘Bridewell’, where vagrants and criminals could be imprisoned and made to work at various tasks for short periods of time. From the eighteenth century until the mid nineteenth century, High Court judges on circuit had powers to visit, inspect and approve lawful jails for criminal prisoners. At this time jailers were very inadequately paid but supplemented their income by supplying drink to prisoners, extracting fees from debtors, and, in some cases, obtaining fees on liberation. Escape, especially from tolbooths, was quite common and the task of recapturing escaped prisoners fell to the commissioners of supply in each county, who raised a local tax (rogue money) to pay for this. An act of 1819 (59. Geo. III c. 61) authorised (but did not compel) commissioners of supply to contribute towards the improving, enlarging or rebuilding of prisons, but such contributions were few and far between. The First Report of the Board of Directors of Prisons in Scotland recorded that in 1839 there were 178 buildings functioning as prisons: 70 lock-up houses, consisting of one small room; 80 small burgh jails, often part of the town house and unfit for the purpose; and 20 larger prisons, maintained by burghs, counties or both.