History in Structure

County Buildings (former Court House and Prison), Breadalbane Street, Tobermory

A Category C Listed Building in Tobermory, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.621 / 56°37'15"N

Longitude: -6.0724 / 6°4'20"W

OS Eastings: 150277

OS Northings: 755100

OS Grid: NM502551

Mapcode National: GBR CCD6.TLM

Mapcode Global: WGZCZ.PVL4

Plus Code: 9C8MJWCH+93

Entry Name: County Buildings (former Court House and Prison), Breadalbane Street, Tobermory

Listing Name: County Buildings (former Court House and Prison) including gatepiers and boundary walls, Breadalbane Street, Tobermory

Listing Date: 20 July 1971

Last Amended: 11 January 2017

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406567

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB42072

Building Class: Cultural

ID on this website: 200406567

Location: Tobermory

County: Argyll and Bute

Town: Tobermory

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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Designed by John Dick Peddie and Charles Kinnear in 1862 it is a 2-storey, 3-bay, rectangular-plan, Scots Baronial former court house and prison. It is sited on high ground overlooking Tobermory Harbour. It is built in squared and snecked rubble with ashlar dressings, chamfered reveals and crowstepped gables. There are curved corner, corbelled out at the first floor and an advanced, crowstep gabled entrance bay to the north with a segmental arched doorway at the centre. There are shouldered chimney stacks at the corner and the side elevations have gabled outer bays with wallhead chimney stacks. Three gableted windows with thistle finials break the eaves to the former courtroom at the first floor. There are four horizontal, small-pane glazed openings to each of the former cells at the ground floor on the east elevation.

The building has mostly a 6-pane glazing pattern in timber sash and case windows, a grey slate roof and coped wallhead stacks.

The interior has not been seen. Photographs of the interior of the former courtroom (used as a registry office) show that it has timber panelling to dado height, a segmental-arched recess in the south wall behind a raised timber judge's bench (with later pieced fretwork frieze). There is a raised cast iron fireplace to the left of this recess.

Three sandstone ashlar, square-plan and coped gatepiers front Breadalbane Street including a pedestrian entrance. The rubble boundary wall has rubble copes and includes a curving section of retaining wall to the north.

Statement of Interest

The former Tobermory Court House and Prison is a good example of a small burgh court house by the renowned Scottish architectural practice of Peddie and Kinnear. The design is a simplified form of the Scots Baronial style, with curved corners and crowstepped gables, and is reminiscent of the fortified and defensive quality of earlier Scottish tower houses. The principal entrance elevation is unusual for the lack of windows at the ground floor.

Age and Rarity

The former Tobermory Court House and Prison (now the County Buildings) was built in 1861-82 by the renowned Edinburgh architectural practice of Peddie and Kinnear. The architects' plans, dated 1861 (Canmore 157762, reference AGD/29/2), show the principal courtroom on the first floor with the main staircase to the north. There is a row of holding cells at the ground floor in the south of the plan with living quarter above that are accessed by a separate entrance in the south elevation. The east elevation (facing the harbour) and the entrance elevation to the north are little altered from that shown on these drawings. The building is marked as a court house and prison on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1877).

The building ceased to operate as the sheriff court in 1905 and the building was acquired by Argyll and Bute Council for use as local county buildings. Some internal alteration work was carried out around this time and the main courtroom is now used as a registry office but is understood to retain some of its courtroom fixtures and fittings.

The development of the court house as a building type in Scotland follows the history of the Scottish legal system and wider government reforms. The majority of purpose-built court houses were constructed in the 19th century as by this time there was an increase in the separation of civic, administrative and penal functions into separate civic and institutional buildings, and the resultant surge of public building was promoted by new institutional bodies. The introduction of the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860 gave a major impetus to the increase and improvement of court accommodation and this provision of central funding was followed by the most active period of sheriff court house construction in the history of the Scottish legal system and many new court houses were built or reworked after this date.

The courts were designed in a variety of architectural styles many relying heavily on Scots Baronial features to reference the fortified Scottish building tradition. Newly constructed court buildings in the second half of the 19th century dispensed with large public spaces such as county halls and instead provided bespoke office accommodation for the sheriff, judge and clerks, and accommodating the numerous types of court and holding cells. Courthouses constructed post 1860 generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells. Exceptions to this tended to be the more remote court houses such as Kirkwall, Stornoway, Tobermory, and Lerwick.

The former Tobermory Court House and Prison is a good example of a small burgh court house that was among the first phase of sheriff court buildings to be designed and built after the 1860 Act, a significant period of court house building in Scotland.

Architectural or Historic Interest


Photographs of the former courtroom on the Tobermory Isle of Mull Website indicate that the surviving fixtures and fittings are relatively plain in comparison to other court houses of a similar date, however, this is not uncommon for rural court houses.

Plan form

The plan form of the court house is typical for its date with the main courtroom located on the 1st floor. A comparison between 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map and modern maps indicates that the footprint has not been altered.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The former Tobermory Court House and Prison is a good example of its building type using a simplified form of the Scots Baronial style. The principal entrance elevation is unusual because of the lack of ground floor windows. This together with the curved corner and crowstepped gables are reminiscent of the fortified or defensive quality of earlier Scottish tower houses and are very appropriate for a building associated with law and justice. The Scots Baronial style was used by Peddie and Kinnear in their design for Aberdeen Town House (1861-2) and at Greenock (1867-69) and other court houses would also follow suit, including Selkirk (by David Rhind, 1869-70) and Kirkcaldy (by James Gillespie, 1893).

The partnership of Edinburgh architects of John Dick Peddie and Charles George Hood Kinnear existed between 1856 and 1878. Kinnear's earlier association with William Burn and David Bryce was a significant influence on the practice. The partnership was successful from the beginning with numerous commissions for high status public and commercial buildings, schools and churches across Scotland. Aberdeen Town House is considered to be one Peddie and Kinnear's best buildings.


The building is on an elevated site overlooking Tobermory Harbour. On the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map the court house is relatively isolated but since this time Tobermory has expanded and houses have been constructed to the south and west of the building. The immediate setting of the building has changed from that shown on this map by the construction of a single storey building to the west but the building remains physically and visually detached from its neighbours by a boundary wall.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations.

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2016).

Statutory address, category of listing changed from B to C and listed building record revised in 2017. Previously listed as 'Court House'.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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