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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Grisly past comes back to life
Skeleton's boots
A team member displays the soles of the skeleton's boots
The skeleton of a man hanged in the 19th century has been found during the renovation of Stirling's 300-year-old Tolbooth jail.

Archaeologists were amazed that the man, lying in the remains of a rough wooden coffin, was still wearing the boots he had on for the walk to the gallows.

The find was made during the construction of a 6m arts centre and followed the previous discovery of the legs of another skeleton.

The Tolbooth was once a jail
The soft leather uppers of the man's boots had completely decayed, leaving the soles and heels curled with time and age.

The skeleton was uncovered last week, when builders began to lift a concrete floor in a passageway leading to the former prison courtyard.

The police were initially called in, but it was quickly realised that crime was not the cause of death.

The teeth of the complete skeleton, dating back to the early 1800s, were intact and in good condition.

Ghostly stalker

That suggested they belonged to a criminal much younger than 84-year-old wife killer Allan Mair - whose execution in 1843 was the last to be carried out publicly in Stirling.

In a further twist, the archaeological team believes it has successfully laid the ghost of Mair, whose famously smelly spectre was said to have stalked the building.

It was customary for the bodies of executed criminals to be buried under the floor of jails, to stop their relatives recovering them

Archaeologist Tom Addyman
Former tenants of the Tolbooth complained of psychic disturbances, a mysterious, malodorous smell, and the figure of Mair, seeming to vanish.

Mair has not been seen since the recovery and removal of the leg bones, which may have been his.

Three men who died in 19th-century judicial hangings are known to have been buried in confines of the jail.

Humidified vaults

Archaeologist Tom Addyman, in charge of the site, said: "In the 19th century, it was customary for the bodies of executed criminals to be buried under the floor of jails, to stop their relatives recovering their bodies.

"We are pretty certain this is the skeleton of a hanged man."

Regional archaeologist Lorna Main said the identity of the skeleton's owner was presently a mystery.

Boots beside grave
The boots are laid out beside the grave
A police surgeon was unable to say if death was definitely by hanging.

The remains are now being stored in special humidified vaults in Paisley.

They will be transferred to laboratories at Glasgow University, where an attempt will be made to identify a cause of death.

The remains will eventually be given a Christian re-burial, probably in the nearby cemetery at the Church of the Holy Rude.

Stirling Council, which owns the site, has ruled out publication of photos of the remains, in case the man has living relatives.

Miss Main said: "If we can find out whose body it is, we may have to do a search to see if we can trace living relatives to seek their views on where he should be reburied.

"If not, we will take the decision ourselves."

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