The Carnegie Courthouse


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

ICT / Chair of Dornoch Community

Architect or lead designer:

Maxwell & Company Architects and Designers Ltd

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

ICT / Chair of Dornoch Community

Project Description

Dornoch Sheriff Courthouse which is listed category ‘B’ was constructed from 1849 – 50 and is the former Dornoch County Buildings and Courthouse. It is located in the main town square opposite the cathedral. The building is an important example of a mid-19th century courthouse designed in the Gothic Tudor style by well-known architect Thomas Brown II. It marks a period of transformation of the Scottish legal system in which civic and administrative functions were separated from penal functions.

The building is constructed in high quality materials, and is a 2 storey – 3 bay roughly rectangular plan. It has a distinctive symmetrical principal elevation with ground floor loggia and first floor lancet windows under gableted dormers. It is part of a pair of historical judicial buildings with the adjacent jail (1842 – 44) also by Thomas Brown.

The building had been well maintained by the Scottish Courts Service between the date it was marketed for sale along with another 9 courthouses, in 2013 and the end of 2015.

Mr Todd Warnock initially leased the property in 2016 during which time he undertook the conversion work and he then bought the building in 2017.

At the commencement of the project, the Courthouse retained its features as a working court house, i.e. it had a court room at first floor level with public seating, a raised bench for the Sheriff, Sheriff’s chambers, witnesses offices, secure vault, holding cell and ancillary functions. At the front right side of the building at ground floor level, Highland Council operated a Service Point from two rooms.

The project sought to create the following accommodation:

1. Enhanced Service Point from the same location. Improved visual communication by introduction of a glazed screen and revised plan layout. Renovation and re-decoration.

2. A Whisky Cellars opposite the Service Point. A glazed screen which mirrored that of the Service Point, renovation and remodelling of the layout to provide a retail shop with purpose made joinery utilising waste material from distilleries. A purpose designed tasting room with display cabinetry and tasting table/stools reusing the secure vault.

3. Public access to first floor by introduction of a lift.

4. Accommodation at ground and first floor level for a spa utilising remodelled offices and removing the holding cell.

5. Remodelling of the courtroom and Sheriff’s chambers to provide a delicatessen, commercial kitchen, storage.

6. Public washrooms including new disabled WC.

7. Office area for Deli owner, utilising the separately accessed courtroom mezzanine gallery.

8. Conversion of witness rooms to form Health Spa.

9. Re-landscaping rear garden to provide outdoor picnic area with public access.

The work was carried out between January 2016 and June 2016 using a local general Contractor.

A prominent feature in the new delicatessen is a mural commissioned by Mr Warnock celebrating citizens who have played a significant part in Dornoch’s history over the centuries.

Supporting Statement

Dornoch Sheriff Courthouse which is located in the central square of the town and is part of a row of important historic buildings, comprising the former jail and Dornoch Castle, was put up for sale by the Scottish Courts Service in 2013. It subsequently lay empty for 2 years. In December 2015 it was purchased by a local surveyor with the intention of converting some of it to offices. Mr Todd Warnock saw the opportunity for this prominent and architecturally significant building to be brought into public use with his financial assistance for the benefit of the town.

He therefore persuaded the surveyor to sell it to him in order to convert it for mixed commercial use. He identified enterprising entrepreneurs who were persuaded to establish new businesses which did not compete with existing enterprises. He financed the conversion and offered guidance and financial assistance so that the entrepreneurs would be able to buy him out of his investment on favourable terms to them.

A critical factor was to persuade Highland Council to retain its Service Point which it intended closing. He financed the Service Point renovation on the basis of a minimum 5-year occupancy.

In addition to the Service Point, now renamed the Visitor Centre, Mr Warnock conceived of and helped establish:

The Carnegie Whisky Cellars -

A specialist whisky and spirits retailer with a ‘tasting room’ converted from the former courthouse vault.

The Courthouse Café –

A vibrant delicatessen and café occupying the former courtroom and adjacent chambers.

Aspen Spa –

An established spa operator who has opened a spa treatment facility in the former witnesses offices.

All businesses are doing very well and the building is attracting an increasing home and tourist market. The whisky cellars has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Drinks Retailing Awards 2018 and the review of the businesses on Trip Advisor fully justify Mr Warnock’s investment.

It is important to mention that Mr Warnock, who originates from and is based in Chicago, USA, has invested very significantly in Dornoch since 2009.

He is the owner/operator of the Links House Hotel, a former Grade ‘B’ Listed Free Church Manse, dating from 1834, which lies beside the Royal Dornoch Golf Club and which was opened in 2013. He has since added a new period annex to the hotel in 2017, owing to its commercial success.

Mr Warnock is also the joint investor in the proposed Coul Links, a new championship Golf Course at Embo, north of Dornoch.