[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]
The West Port – Its Boundaries – Malefactors’ Heads – The City Gates – Royal Entrances – Mary of Guise – Anne of Denmark – Charles I. – General Assembly Expelled – A Witch – Jesuit Church – The Lawsons of the Highriggs – Lady Lawson’s Wynd – The Tilting Ground – King’s Stables – The Vennel – Tanner’s Close – Burke and Hare – Their Native Country – Their “Den,” Log’s Lodgings – Their Murders – The Mode of them – Trial and Sentence – Execution and Dismemberment.
THE ancient Burgh of Barony, called Portsburgh, comprehended two districts, the Easter and Wester, which are discontiguous; but it is of the latter, or West Port, we mean to treat just now. This district lies wholly to the westward of Wharton Lane and the ancient Vennel, and may be described as comprehending the main street of the West Port (the link between Fountainbridge and the Grassmarket), the whole of Lauriston from the Corn-market and foot of the Vennel to the Main Point, including Portland Place on the west, and to Bruntsfield Links on the east, including Home and Leven Streets.
In 1160 John Abbot of Kelso granted to Lawrence, the son of Edmund of Edinburgh, a toft situated between the West Port and the Castle, on the left of the entrance into the city. In this little burgh there were of old eight incorporated trades, deriving their rights from John Touris of Inverleith.
Many of the houses here were roofed with thatch in the sixteenth century, and the barrier-gate by which the whole of the district was cut off from the city was built in 1513, as a port in the Flodden wall.
Some gate may, however, have existed previously, as Balfour in his “Annales,” tells that the head of Robert Graham, one of the assassins of James I., in 1437, “was sett ouer the West Port of Edinburgh;”1 and in 1515 the head of Peter Moffat, “ane greit swerer and thief,” was spiked in the same place, after the reins of government were assumed by John Duke of Albany (“Diurnal of Occurrents.”)
In the same year it was ordained by the magistrates and council that only three of the city gates were to be open daily, viz., “the West Port, Nether Bow, and the Kirk-of-Field – and na ma. And ilk port to haif twa porteris daylie quhill my Lord Governoure’s hame coming. [Albany was then on the Borders, putting down Lord Home’s rebellion.] And thir porteris suffer na maner of person on hors nor fute, to enter within this toune without the President or one of the bailies knaw of their aiming and gif thame licence. And the said personis to be convayit to thair lugings be one of the said porteris, swa that gif ony inconvenient happenis, that thair hoste mycht answer for thame as efferis.” (Burgh Records.) It was also ordained that a fourth part of the citizens should form a watch every night till the return of Albany, and that every man in the city “be reddy boddin for weir,” in his best armour at “the jow of the common bell” for its defence if necessary. Nearly similar orders were issued concerning the gates in 1547, and the warders were to be well armed with jack, steel helmet, and halberd or Jedwood axe, finding surety to be never absent from their posts. (Ibid.)
In 1538 Mary of Guise made her first entry by the West Port on St. Margaret’s day, “with greit trivmphe,” attended by all the nobility (Diurnal of Occ). There James VI. was received by “King Solomon” on his first state entry in 1579; and by it Anne of Denmark entered in 1590, when she was received by a long Latin oration, while the garrison in the Castle “gave her thence a great volley of shot, with their banners and ancient displays upon the walls” (“Marriage of James VI.,” Bann. Club). Here also in 1633, Charles I. at his grand entrance was received by the nymph Edina, and again at the Overbow by the Lady Caledonia, both of whom welcomed him in copious verse from the pen, it is said, of the loyal cavalier and poet, Drummond of Hawthornden.
Fifteen years before this period the Common Council had purchased the elevated ridge of ground lying south of the West Port and Grassmarket, denominated the Highriggs, on a part of which Heriot’s Hospital was afterwards built, and the most recent extension of the city wall then took place for the purpose of enclosing it. A portion of this wall still forms the boundary of the hospital grounds, terminating at the head of the Vennel, in the only tower of the ancient fortifications now remaining.
In 1648 the superiority of the Portsburgh was. bought by the city from Sir Adam Hepburn for the sum of 27,500 merks Scots; and in 1661 the king’s stables were likewise purchased for £1,000 Scots, and the admission of James Baisland to the freedom of Edinburgh.
In 1653 the West Port witnessed a curious scene, when Lieutenant-Colonel Cotterel, by order of Cromwell, expelled the General Assembly from Edinburgh, literally drumming the members out at that gate, under a guard of soldiers, after a severe reprimand, and ordering that never more than three of them should meet together.
Marion Purdy, a miserable old creature, “once a milkwife and now a beggar,” in the West Port, was apprehended in 1684 on a charge of witchcraft, for “laying frenzies and diseases on her neighbours,” says Fountainhall; but the King’s Advocate failed to bring her to the stake, and she was permitted to perish of cold and starvation in prison about the Christmas of the same year.
Five years subsequently saw the right hand of Chieslie, the assassin of Lockhart, placed above the gate, probably on a spike; and in the street close by, on the 5th September, 1695, Patrick Falconar, a soldier of Lord Lindsay’s regiment, was murdered by George dimming, a writer in Edinburgh, who deliberately ran him through the body with his sword, for which he was sentenced to be hanged and have his estates forfeited. From the trial, it appears that Cumming was much to blame, and had previously provoked the unoffending soldier by abusive language, (Crim. Trials.)
The tolls collected at the West Port barrier in 1690 amounted to £105 11s. 1½d. sterling. (Council Register.)
In the year of the Union the Quakers would seem to have had a meeting-house somewhere in the West Port, as would appear from a dispute recorded by Fountainhall – “Poor Barbara Hodge” against Bartholomew Gibson, the king’s farrier, and William Millar, the hereditary gardener of Holyrood.
On the south side of this ancient burgh, in an opening of somewhat recent formation, leading to Lauriston, the Jesuits have now a very large church, dedicated to “The Sacred Heart,” and capable of holding more than 1,000 hearers. It is in the form of a great lecture hall rather than a church, and was erected in 1860, by permission of the Catholic Bishop Gillis, in such a form, that if ever the order was suppressed in Scotland the edifice might be used for educational purposes. Herein is preserved a famous image that once belonged to Holyrood, but was lately discovered by E. Waterton, F.S.A., in a shop at Peterborough.
Almost opposite to it, and at the northern corner of the street, stood for ages the then mansion house of the Lawsons of the Highriggs, which was demolished in 1877, and was undoubtedly one of the oldest, if not the very oldest, houses in the city. When built in the fifteenth century it must have been quite isolated. It had crowstepped gables, dormers on the roofs, and remarkably small windows.
It was the residence of an old baronial family, long and intimately connected with the city. “Mr. Richard Lawson,” says Scott of Scotstarvet, “Justice Clerk, conquest a good estate about Edinburgh, near the Burrow Loch, and the barony of Boighall, which his grandson, Sir William Lawson of Boighall, dilapidated, and went to Holland to the wars.” He was Justice Clerk in the time of James IV., from 1491 to 1505.
In 1482 his name first appears in the burgh records as common clerk or recorder, when Sir John Murray of Tulchad was Provost, a post which the former obtained on the 2nd May, 1492. He was a bailie of the city in the year 1501, and Provost again in 1504. Whether he was the Richard Lawson who, according to Pitscottie, heard the infernal summons of Pluto at the Market Cross before the army marched to Flodden we know not, but among those who perished on that fatal field with King James was Richard Lawson of the Highriggs; and it was his daughter whose beauty led to the rivalry and fierce combat in Leith Loan between Squire Meldrum of the Binns and Sir Lewis Stirling, in 1516.
In 1555 we find John Lawson of the Highriggs complaining to the magistrates that the water of the burgh loch had overflowed and “drownit ane greit pairt of his land,” and that he could get no remedy therefor.
Lady Lawson’s Wynd, now almost entirely demolished, takes its name from this family. The City Improvement Trustees determined to form it into a wide thoroughfare, running into Spittal Street. In one of the last remaining houses there died, in his 95th year, in June, 1879, a naval veteran named McHardy, supposed to be the last survivor of the actual crew of the Victory at Trafalgar. He was on the main-deck when Nelson received his fatal wound.
One of the oldest houses here was the abode of John Lowrie, a substantial citizen, above whose door was the legend – SOLI DEO. H.G. 1565, and a shield charged with a pot of lilies, the emblems of the Virgin Mary. “John Lowrie’s initials,” says Wilson, “are repeated in ornamental characters on the eastern crowstep, separated by what appears to be designed for a baker’s peel, and probably indicating that its owner belonged to the ancient fraternity of Baxters.”
The West Port has long been degraded by the character of its inhabitants, usually Irish of the lowest class, and by the association of its name with the dreadful Irish murders in 1828; but its repute was very different in the last century. Thus we find in the Edinburgh papers for 1764, advertised as to let there, “the new-built house, beautifully situated on the high ground south of the Portsburgh, commanding an extensive prospect every way, with genteel furniture, perfectly clean, presently possessed by John Macdonald, Esq., of Lairgie,” with chaise-house and stabling.
Near the Territorial Church is a door above which are the arms of the Cordiners of the Portsburgh – a cordiner’s cutting-knife crowned, within a circle, with the heads of two winged cherubim, and the words of Psalm 133, versified:-
“Behold how good a thing it is,
And how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are,
In unity to dwell.
One of the most complete of the few rare relics of the City’s old municipal institutions was the court-room where the bailies of the ancient Portsburgh discharged their official duties. The bailies’ bench, seats, and other court-room fittings remained intact up till so recently as 1881, while around the large cupola and above the chief seat were panels of coats of arms of the various city crafts, and that also of the Portsburgh – all done in oil, and in perfect condition. This court-room was situated in the West Port. In its last days it was rented from the city chamberlain by the deacons’ court of Dr. Chalmers’ Territorial Church. Mission meetings and Sunday-schools were held in it, but the site upon which it was built was sold by roup for city improvements.
In the middle of the West Port, immediately opposite the Chalmers Territorial Free Church and Schools, and running due north, is a narrow alley, called the Chapel Wynd. Here, at the foot thereof, stood in ancient times a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, some remains of which were visible in the time of Maitland about 1750. Near it is another alley – probably an access to it – named the Lady Wynd. Between this chapel and the Castle Rock there exists, in name chiefly, an ancient appendage of the royal palace in the fortress – the king’s stables, “although no hoof of the royal stud has been there for well-nigh three centuries,” and the access thereto from the Castle must have been both inconvenient and circuitous.
It has been supposed that the earliest buildings on this site had been erected in the reign of James IV., when the low ground to the westward was the scene of those magnificent tournaments, which drew to that princely monarch’s court the most brilliant chivalry in Europe, and where those combats ensued of which the king was seldom an idle spectator.
This tilting ground remained open and unenclosed when Maitland wrote, and is described by him as a pleasant green space, 150 yards long, by 50 broad, adjoining the Chapel of Our Lady; but this “pleasant green” is now intersected by the hideous Kingsbridge; one portion is occupied by the Royal Horse Bazaar and St. Cuthbert’s Free Church, while the rest is made odious by tan-pits, slaughter-houses, and other dwellings of various descriptions.
Calderwood records that in the challenge to mortal combat, in 1571, between Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, and Alexander Stewart younger of Garlies, they were to fight “upon the ground, the Baresse, be-west the West Port of Edinburgh, the place accustomed and of old appointed for triell of suche matters.” Latterly the place bore the name of Livingstone’s Yards.
We have mentioned the acquisition by the city of the king’s stables at the Restoration. Lord Fountainhall records, under date 11th March, 1685, a reduction pursued by the Duke of Queensberry, as Governor of the Castle, against Thomas Boreland and other possessors of these stables, as part of the Castle precincts and property. Boreland and others asserted that they held their property in virtue of a feu granted in the reign of James V., but the judges decided that unless the defenders could prove a legal dissolution of the royal possession, they must be held as the king’s stables, and be accordingly annexed to the crown of Scotland.
Thomas Boreland’s house, one which long figured in every view of the Castle from the foot of Vennel (see Vol. I., p. 80),2 has recently been pulled down. It was a handsome and substantial edifice of three storeys in height, including the dormer windows, crow-stepped, and having three most picturesque gables in front, with a finely moulded door, on the lintel of which were inscribed a date and legend:-
FEAR . GOD . HONOR . THE . KING.
T. B. V. B. 1675.
“From the date 1675, over the main doorway, we may presume,” says Wilson, “that this substantial mansion had its full influence in directing the attention of the Duke of Queensberry to this pendicle of the royal patrimony.” The initials are supposed to be those of the proprietor, and probably of his brother or wife. The houses that adjoined it were of much greater antiquity. Their last reflection of royal prerogative was that of affording sanctuary for a brief period to debtors, a right of protection pertaining to the precincts of royal residences now entirely fallen into desuetude, though (according to Chambers’s “Traditions”) they are affirmed to have proved available for this purpose within the memory of some aged persons. Gordon’s map shows a dense mass of houses in the quarter where Boreland’s mansion was afterwards built, all lying westward of the Lady Wynd.
Human heads would seem to have been deemed an essential decoration for the West Port. Fountainhall, after noting the execution of three Covenanters in 1681, says, that in about eight days two of their heads were stolen from the West Port. “The criminal lords, to supply that want, ordained two of their criminals’ heads to be struck off, and to be affixed in their place.”
Overshadowed in part by the city wall, the steep, narrow, and ancient Vennel terminates the Portsburgh on the south-east.
In Tanner’s Close, a narrow and filthy alley on the north side of the West Port, and in its most unsavoury quarter, was the abode, or den, of those terrible Irish Thugs, William Burke and William Hare, whose murders – roughly stated to average between sixteen and thirty, for the number was never precisely known – in 1827, startled all Europe – crimes on which a vivid light was first thrown by the powerful articles in the Caledonian Mercury for that year, from the pen of James Browne, LL.D.
Burke was born in the parish of Orrery, in the county of Cork, in 1792; his countryman, William Hare, was a native of Londonderry; both were vagabonds from their birth, and both came to Scotland as labourers; and the former, abandoning his wife and family in Ireland, associated himself with an infamous woman, named McDougal, with whom he became acquainted when working on the Union Canal at Mediston. Hare was also a labourer on the same canal, and used to work at the loading and unloading of boats at Port Hopetoun. Here he become acquainted with a man named Log, whose widow he afterwards married, or with whom he lived, at all events.
After the canal work was ended he became a travelling huckster, with an old horse and cart, selling fish or crockery, or bartering them for old clothes, old iron, &c. He quarrelled with Log, who expelled him from the low Irish lodging-house he occupied in Tanner’s Close; but when Log was dead and buried, he returned to the close, where he assumed all the rights of a landlord over the seven bed-rooms of the so-called lodging-house, as well as the privileges of a husband, though Mrs. Log was never called by his name.
Always addicted to intoxication, the miserable drawings of twopence or threepence nightly from the wretched and obscure Irish tramps who sought quarters at Log’s lodgings made him more drunken and dissolute than ever. Though no pugilist, he was always ready to fight, and Mrs. Log, also a drunkard, was ready to encounter him at any time; thus rows, quarrels, oaths, and noise of all kinds, perpetually prevailed in Tanner’s Close; and such was the life led by this couple when Burke and McDougal, two congenial spirits, came to live with them, the former calling himself a shoemaker.
The place which went by the name of Log’s lodging-house was situated near the foot of Tanner’s Close. The entry from the West Port Street to the alley begins with a descent of a few steps, and is dark from the superincumbent mass of building. On proceeding downwards you came – for the house, as an accursed place, has been rased to the ground – to a small self-contained dwelling of one flat, containing three apartments, and ticketed, “Beds to Let,” an invitation to the passing vagrants, so many of whom were destined never to leave those fatal beds alive. “The outer apartment was large, occupied all round by those structures called beds, composed of knocked-up fir stumps and covered with a few grey sheets and brown blankets, among which the squalid wanderer sought rest, and the profligate snored out his debauch under the weight of nightmare.”
There was a small closet, the window of which overlooked a dead wall and pig-stye, into which were introduced all those who were doomed to death. The character of the house, the incessant rows and “shindies,” real or pretended, always proceeding there, caused no surprise or alarm when actual cries of murder and suffering rang out upon the night, while the extraordinary mode in which the assassins extinguished life enabled them to pursue their terrible traffic for the dissecting-rooms without exciting suspicion.
Neither Burke nor Hare was a resurrectionist, but their cupidity was first excited, and their diabolical trade suggested, by the sum paid to them by a distinguished anatomist for the body of a poor old pensioner, named Donald, who died in their hands, a short time before his pension became due. Hare, who expected to be reimbursed for £4 owing to him by Donald, was exasperated by the loss, and filling the coffin with bark from the adjacent tannery, it was buried, while the corpse in a sack was carried alternately by Burke and Hare, through College Street, to Surgeon Square, and sold for seven pounds ten shillings, to Dr. Knox and his assistants.
The money so easily won seemed to exert a magnetic influence over the terrible quaternion in Tanner’s Close. The women foresaw that other lodgers might die, and hoped to flaunt in finery before the poor denizens of the Portsburgh; and the steady and studied career of assassination began, and was continued, by Burke’s own confession, from Christmas, 1827, to the end of October, 1828. – (Weekly Journal, Jan. 6th, 1829.)
The modus operandi was very simple: the unknown and obscure wayfarer was lured into the “lodging-house,” weary and hungry, perhaps, then generally well dosed with coarse raw whisky, preparatory to strangulation, glass after glass being readily and cordially filled in contemplation of the value of the future corpse, as in the case of one unfortunate creature named Mary Haldane. Then, “all is ready – the drooping head – the closing eye – the languid helpless body. The women get the hint. They knew the unseemliness of being spectators – nay, they were delicate! A repetition of a former scene, only with even less resistance. Hare holds again the lips, and Burke presses his twelve stone weight on the chest. Scarcely a sigh; but on a trial if dead a long gurgling indraught. More is not required – and all is still in that dark room, with the window looking out on the dead wall.” By twelve the same night the body of Mary Haldane was in the hands of “the skilled anatomist,” who made no inquiries; and as the supply from Log’s lodgings increased, the value for each subject seemed to increase also, as the partners began to get from £12 to £14 for each – nearly double what they had received for the body of the poor Highland pensioner.
The attempt to rehearse in detail all the crimes of which these people were guilty, would only weary and revolt the reader. Suffice it to say, that the discovery of the dead body of a woman, quite nude, and with her face covered with blood, among some straw in an occupied house of Burke and another Irishman named Broggan, caused the arrest of the four suspects. Hare turned King’s evidence, and on the 24th December, 1828, amid such excitement as Edinburgh had not witnessed for ages, William Burke and Helen McDougal were arraigned at the bar of the Justiciary Court, charged with a succession of murders! Among these were the murder of a very handsome girl named Mary Paterson in the house of Burke’s brother, Constantine Burke, a scavenger residing in Gibb’s Close, Canongate; that of a well-known idiot, named James Wilson (“Daft Jamie”), at the house in Tanner’s Close; of Mary McGonegal, or Docherty, at the same place. These were selected for proof as sufficient in the indictment; but the real list was never known or exhausted. Among the cases was supposed to be that of a little Italian boy named Ludovico, who went about the city with white mice. Two little white mice were seen for long after haunting the dark recesses of Tanner’s Close, and in Hare’s house a cage with the mice’s turning-wheel was actually found. Of this murder Burke was supposed to be guiltless, and that it had been a piece of private business done by Hare on his own account. The libel contained a list of a great number of articles of dress, &c., worn or used by the various victims, and among other things were Daft Jamie’s brass snuff-box and spoon, objects which excited much interest, as Jamie was a favourite with the citizens, and his body must have been recognised by Dr. Knox the instant he saw it on the dissecting table. The presiding judge of the court was the Lord Justice-Clerk Boyle; the others were the Lords Pitmilly, Meadowbank, and McKenzie; the prosecutor was Sir William Rae, Lord Advocate. The counsel for Burke was the Dean of Faculty; that for McDougal the celebrated Henry Cockburn. The witnesses were fifty-five in number – the two principal being Hare and the woman Log, received as evidence in the characters of socii criminis.
When all had been examined, and the cases were brought fatally home to Burke, while his paramour escaped with a verdict of “not proven,” a loud whisper ran through the court of “Where are the doctors?” as it was known the names of Knox and others were placed on the back of the indictment as witnesses; yet they could scarcely have appeared but at the risk of their lives, so high was the tide of popular indignation against them.
Burke was sentenced to death in the usual form, the Lord Justice-Clerk expressing regret that his body could not be gibbeted in chains, but was to be publicly dissected, adding, “and I trust that if it is ever customary to preserve skeletons yours will be preserved, in order that posterity may keep in remembrance your atrocious crimes.” So the body of Burke was sent appropriately where he had sent so many others; and his skeleton now hangs in the Museum of the University. The Parliament Square rang with reiterated cheers as if the city held jubilee, when sentence was pronounced; but the people were greatly dissatisfied with the verdict of “not proven” in the case of McDougal; and had Hare not effected his escape secretly by the mail home to Ireland, the people would infallibly have torn him limb from limb. In prison, and with death before him, Burke’s thoughts were ever recurring to earth. Once he was observed (says Alexander Leighton) to be silent and meditative, and a pious attendant took it as a sign of contrition; but Burke said suddenly – “I think I am entitled to and ought to get that five pounds from Dr. Knox, which is still unpaid, on the body of the woman Docherty.”
“Why,” replied the astonished pietist, “Dr. Knox lost by the transaction, as the body was taken from him.”
“That was not my business,” said Burke; “I delivered the subject, and he ought to have kept it.”
He confessed in the lock-up house that he “had participated in many more murders than those he had been indicted for; and said that after his mind was composed he would make disclosures, which would implicate several others, besides Hare and his wife, in the same crimes for which he was doomed to die. He was asked how did he feel when pursuing his horrible avocation? He replied, that in his waking moments he had no feeling, but that when he slept he had frightful dreams, which previously he had been unaccustomed to. The fact is,” continues the editor of the Weekly Journal, “that the wretch, when awake, by means of ardent spirits steeped his senses in forgetfulness… At night he had short fits of sleep, during which he raved, but his expressions were inarticulate, and he ground his teeth in the most fearful manner.”
In the morning he was removed to the Calton gaol, and secured by a chain to the massive iron gaud. On the 27th January he was unchained and conveyed to the lock-up in Liberton’s Wynd, at the heap of which the gallows was erected. He was attended by two Catholic priests and two Presbyterian ministers, for his ideas of religion were somewhat vague and cloudy. When his heavy fetters were removed and they fell with a clank on the floor, “So may all earthly chains fall from me!” he exclaimed, but went to die evidently with the hopeless secret feeling “that he was too deeply sunk in crime even to think of the infinite mercy of Heaven.” Yet was he eager to be dead, and ascended the scaffold with his eyes half closed, as if anxious to be beyond the roar of the vast assemblage that thronged the great thoroughfare far as the eye could reach, and filled every window, roof, and foot of vantage ground. The deep hoarse roar of voices rose into a terrible and prolonged yell, on which he threw around him a fierce glance of desperate defiance and hatred; and again rose the prolonged yell of disgust and half-glutted vengeance when, after hanging the usual time, the body was conveyed to the College.
The sight of the execution instead of allaying the passions of the justly-excited people, inflamed them with a desire to drag his body out and tear it to pieces; but a grand public exhibition was arranged for the morrow, and the white, naked corpse, so loathed, was laid on the black marble table of the theatre, and displayed to thousands who streamed through the entire day.
Burke was cut up and put in strong pickle and in small barrels for the dissecting-table, and part of his skin was tanned.
The woman McDougal after the execution had the daring effrontery to present herself in Tanner’s Close again; but the people of the Portsburgh rose, and she only found in the watch-house a narrow escape from an infuriated mob, according to the Weekly Journal. “In the den of murder occupied by Burke,” continues the paper, “several objects strengthen the general persuasion that many other wretches had fallen a sacrifice under the same roof. The bloody straw in the corner, a heap of bloody clothes on the floor, and a pile of old boots and shoes, chiefly those of females, amounting to several dozens, for which the pretended trade of a shoemaker never can account, furnish ample food for suspicion! The idea suggests itself that the clothes and shoes belonged to the unfortunate girls whom this monster decoyed to his house, intoxicated, and murdered, as he did the poor old wanderer… The two houses which were inhabited by this gang were well chosen for the purpose to which they were put. Burke’s dwelling, in which he has only resided since June last, is at the end of a long passage, and separated from every other house except one. After going through the close from the street there is a descent by a stair to the passage, at the end of which is to be found this habitation of wickedness. It consists of one apartment, an oblong square, at the end of which is a miserable bed, under which may still be seen some straw in which his murdered victims were concealed. The house of Hare is in a more retired situation. The passage to it is by a dark and dirty close, in which there are no inhabitants, except in the flat above. Both houses are on the ground floor.”
Tanner’s Close still exists, but the abodes of those two wretches – the most cold-blooded criminals in history – are now numbered, as we have stated, among the things that were.
At the head of Liberton’s Wynd three reversed stones indicate where, on this and on other occasions, the last sentence of the law was carried out.
1 James Grant is maybe being respectful of his readership’s sensibilities here but Balfour says more than that about “Robert Grhame” in 1437:
“Robert Grhame was tayed with ropes in a cairte, quherin wes a heigh loge of wood, quherone wes nailled that hand that strake the King, with a naile of burning hote iron; the quhole musckells of hes bodey being cut in longe slitts, was fristed with flaming hote irone pincetts, by tuo executioners; and after the lyffe was quyte out of him, his bodey was dewydit in 4 quarters, and erected one gibetts at the end of the 4 most publick wayes of the kingdome; and his head was sett ouer the west port of Edinbrugh.”
2 Image entitled “Edinburgh Castle, from the King’s Mews, 1825. (After Ewbank).”