Reader, I’m glad you are back! I am really enjoying writing this blog. Writing is such a fun hobby for me, and I feel privileged that you indulge me in sharing something I love. I hope you are having fun as well and are learning a little bit about Scotland. Thanks for popping by!
A few days ago, I gave an introduction to Edinburgh’s Grassmarket by telling you a tale of one of the most famed individuals ever to be associated with the area. Raise your hand if you remember her name. I’m kidding.
Her name was Maggie Dickson, i.e., Half-Hangit Maggie, and I’m sorry to say, she was not the only one who faced her mortality on those gallows.
But before we talk about that, please allow me to give you a quick history of the Grassmarket. This section of the city lies in Edinburgh’s Old Town, directly in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
Since at least the 1400s, the Grassmarket was one of Edinburgh’s foremost centers of commerce. It was a bustling marketplace that sold everything from corn to textiles to livestock. It was also the site of inns and taverns, particularly for the drovers that went into the city to sell their cattle. Today the medieval street plan is virtually unchanged. The area continues to be home to an eclectic mix of shops, street markets, lively pubs, and restaurants.
To date, Mr. C and I have had the fun of dining in the Grassmarket on two separate occasions. The first time we chose a quaint French restaurant called Petit Paris (actually French-owned and operated), and it was as close to being in France as I had been then or since. It was quite good. In my memory, I mainly recall a fabulous bowl of tomato-basil bisque. Oh my.
On our most recent trip, we tried out an Irish pub called Biddy Mulligans (named for an old Irish folk tune celebrating a woman named…surprise…Biddy Mulligan). I had a plate of most excellent fish & chips. And beer. Excellent beer.
Just for the fun of it, Google ‘Biddy Mulligan’ and a band called “The Dubliners” and you will find their cheery recording of this old tune. I promise it will put a smile on your face.
But I digress. Back to Grassmarket.
Although the street plan is remarkably untouched from its original medieval scheme, many of the buildings in the Grassmarket are “newer,” dating from the 1800s when the Old Town went through a period of improvements. Additionally, there are several buildings from the 1700s (most notably the White Hart Inn) and one complete building from the 1600s, located at the entrance to Victoria Street.
A couple of interesting sites to note: At the foot of Victoria Street, you will find the Bow Well – the first piped outlet of running water in Edinburgh, built in 1681. Close to that is the Covenanter’s Memorial, a memorial and humble reminder of Edinburgh’s grim past.
And that takes us back to the terrifying gallows. Aside from being a significant market area, the Grassmarket served for many years as the place for public executions. Allow your imagination to picture the scene. The sight and sounds of a raucous crowd cheering and jeering as both criminals and innocents were strung up on the gibbet to meet their fate. It’s a bit chilling!
During a period in the late 1600s, known as “The Killing Time,” over one hundred Covenanters died for their religious faith. They tried to keep their Presbyterian faith from interference by the king; however, they were viewed as rebels and traitors. Many were arrested. Some engaged in battles with the king’s troops. Others were executed for simply being an audience participant to the preaching of a Covenanter minister.
Another notable hanging was that of John Porteous, captain of the city guard. Mr. Porteous was found guilty of murder; however, he had many friends in the court system, and a pardon seemed likely. The people would have none of it, though. A massive mob of around 4,000 people stormed the Old Tolbooth, where he was being held. He was found hiding in a chimney and subsequently dragged to the Grassmarket, where he was lynched.
And then there was Wilson and Robertson-two smugglers sentenced to death in 1736. As Wilson removed from the gallows, all mayhem broke loose, and people began throwing stones. The city guard responded by opening fire, and sixteen people died that day; among them, a small boy watching from a window.
Thankfully, public executions came to an end after the hanging of the last man in 1784 – a fellow by the name of James Andrews. From then on, they took place at the Old Tolbooth.
You can probably tell that Edinburgh has quite a dark and macabre past. Isn’t it fascinating? I think so! We’ll be exploring this more at a later time.
One of the things I love about Edinburgh is that it is a city that seems to understand the complexities of its past and yet not take itself too seriously. Its history is rich and complex and deep, and a whole lot of it isn’t pretty. But the Scottish people embrace it, honor it, remember it, and learn from it. They know from where they came and where they want to go.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post, readers. Until next time…