MJ STEEL COLLINS says the ghost of an executed murderer still lurks on the site of the Stirling Tollbooth
Stirling Tollbooth was once classified as the worst prison in Britain, until its closure in the 19th century.
Prisoners, young and old, were thrown in together in pretty dire conditions, twenty to a cell and left to moulder. However, the Stirling town authorities may have met their match in the final prisoner held in the jail.
Allan Mair was an 86-year-old farmer held in the condemned cell after murdering his wife in the spring of 1842, the culmination of decades of horrific abuse. Normally a condemned prisoner was held for seven days before being taken out to the gallows. However, the town authorities thought they might save a few bob by just leaving Mair to die naturally in the condemned cell, given his great age. But it rather backfired on them. He clung determinedly on, until eventually, his execution was scheduled in October 1843. Even that didn’t go to plan.
Execution Gone Wrong
Owing to his frailty, Mair wasn’t heavy enough to be hanged properly. He dangled at the end of the rope, writhing and thrashing as he slowly strangled in front of the gathered crowd. Eventually, the Hang Man pulled down on Mair’s feet, breaking the old man’s neck. None of Mair’s family came to claim his body afterwards, and he wasn’t allowed to be buried in consecrated ground, so he was laid to rest in the Tollbooth.
In the early 2000s, the Tollbooth was renovated into what is now a popular theatre and music venue. During the work, Mair’s remains were discovered near the entrance. His skeleton was complete, right down to his boots. His body was removed and given ‘a Christian burial’. Not long after the theatre opened for business, so much paranormal activity occurred, that an exorcist was called in.
Mair was believed to be at the centre of it. What happened could be described as a low budget horror movie maker’s dream. The postman one day was terrified when he encountered an old man in 18th century country wear. The postie bade the man good morning, and was disconcerted when the man responded with, “Good morning, Sir,” and faded.
Staff was terrified by poltergeist activity. Wine glasses flew off tables and door handles turned by themselves in the restaurant area. Even during renovations, workmen wouldn’t set foot in some parts of the building. The operation assistant told the Sunday Herald in a 2002 report that he heard strange noises in cells overhead every night, including the sound of something being dragged along the floor.
One girl left her job in the theatre after seeing a man walk across a room. She had already seen door handles move by themselves and thing flying around. In the bar, bottles of wine were smashed. A barman going down into the cellar heard loud noises, and when he opened the door, bottles flew out past him and hit the floor.
It wasn’t reported whether or not the exorcism was successful. For all we know, Mair could still be there waiting for the next unsuspecting staff member to enter a room alone…