The Grassmarket – The Mart of 1477 – Margaret Tudor – Noted Executions – “Half Hangit Maggie Dickson” – Italian Mountebanks – Grey Friary Founded by James I. – Henry VI. of England a Fugitive – The Grey Friars Port – New Corn Exchange – The White Horse Inn – Carriers – The Castle Wynd – First Gaelic Chapel there – Currie’s Close – The Cockpit – Story of Watt and Downie, “The Friends of the People” – Their Trial and Sentence – Execution of Watt.
THE Grassmarket occupies that part of the southern valley which lies between the eastern portion of the Highriggs and the ridge of the Castle Hill and Street. It is a spacious and stately rectangle, 230 yards in length, communicating at its south-east corner with the ancient Candlemaker Row and southern portion of the old town, and at its north-east angle with the acclivitous, winding, narrow, and more ancient alley, the West Bow, or that fragment of it which now runs into Victoria Street, and the steps near the (now demolished) Land of Weir the wizard.
The Grassmarket is darkly overhung on the north by the precipitous side of the Castle Esplanade, the new west approach, and the towering masses of Johnstone Terrace and the General Assembly Hall, but on the south is the gentler slope, crowned by the turrets of Heriot’s Hospital and the heavy mass of the Greyfriars churches.
The western end of this rectangle was long closed up and encroached upon by the Corn Market, an unsightly arcaded edifice, 80 feet long by 45 broad, with a central belfry and clock, now swept away, and its eastern end, where the old Corn Market is shown in Edgar’s map, is deeply associated with much that is sad, terrible, and deplorable in Scottish history, as the scene of the fervid testimony and dying supplications of many a martyr to “the broken covenant,” in defence of that Church, every stone of which may be said to have been cemented by the blood of the people.
Now the Grassmarket is the chief rendezvous of carriers and farmers, and persons of various classes connected with the county horse and cattle markets, and presents a remarkably airy, busy, and imposing appearance, with its infinite variety of architecture, crow-stepped gables, great chimneys, turnpike stairs, old signboards, and projections of many kinds.
The assignment of this locality as the site of a weekly market dates from the year 1477, when King James III. by his charter for the holding of markets, ordained that wood and timber be sold “fra Dalrimpill yarde to the Grey Friars and westerwart; alswa all old graith and geir to be vsit and sold in the Friday market before the Greyfriars lyke as is usit in uthir cuntries.”
In 1503, on the marriage of Margaret of England to James IV., the royal party were met at the western entrance to the city by the whole of the Greyfriars – whose monastery was on the south side of the Grassmarket – bearing in procession their most valued relics, which were presented to the royal pair to kiss; and thereafter they were stayed at an embattled barrier, erected for the occasion, at the windows of which appeared angels singing songs of welcome to the English bride, while one presented her with the keys of Edinburgh.
In 1543 we first hear of this part of the city having been causewayed, or paved, when the Provost and Bailies employed Moreis Crawfurd to mend “the calsay,” at 26s. 8d. per rood from the Upper Bow to the West Port.
In 1560 the magistrates removed the Corn Market, from the corner of Marlin’s Wynd (where Blair Street is now) to the east end of the Grassmarket, where it continued to be held until within the last few years.
It was not until about a century later that this great market place began to acquire an interest of a gloomy and peculiar character, as the scene of the public execution of many victims of religious intolerance, who died heroically here, and also as the spot where many criminals met their doom.
Prior to the adoption of this place for public executions, the Castle Hill and Market Cross had been the spots chosen; and a sword, as in France and elsewhere on the Continent, was used, before the introduction of the Maiden, for beheading. Thus we find that in 1564, the magistrates, because the old beheading sword had become worn out, received from William Macartnay “his tua-handit sword, to be usit for ane heiding sword,” and gave him the sum of five pounds therefor.
Among some of the most noted executions in the Grassmarket were those of the fanatic Mitchel in 1676, for attempting to shoot Archbishop Sharp in 1668; of Sergeant John Nisbett, of Hardhill, in 1685, who had received seventeen wounds at the battle of Pentland, and fought at Drumclog, according to the Wodrow Biographies; of Isabel Alison and Marion Harvey – the latter only twenty years of age – two young women, for merely having heard Donald Cargill preach. The human shambles in this place of wailing witnessed executions of this kind almost daily till the 17th of February, 1688, when James Renwick, the celebrated field preacher, and the last martyr of the Covenant, was found guilty, on his own confession, of disowning an uncovenanted king, and executed in the twenty-sixth year of his age. Most of the hundred and odd pious persons who suffered for the same cause in Edinburgh breathed their last prayers on this spot. Hence arose the Duke of Rothes’ remark, when a covenanting prisoner proved obdurate, “Then let him glorify God in the Grassmarket” – the death of that class of victims always being accompanied by much psalm-singing on the scaffold. In the time of Charles II., Alexander Cockburn, the city hangman, having murdered a King’s Bluegown, died here the death he had so often meted out to others.
In 1724 the same place was the scene of the partial execution of a woman, long remembered in Edinburgh, as “Half-hangit Maggie Dickson.” She was a native of Inveresk, and was tried under the Act of 1690 for concealment of pregnancy, in the case of a dead child; and the defence that she was a married woman, though living apart from her husband, who was working in the keels at Newcastle, proved of no avail, and a broadside of the day details her execution with horrible minuteness: how the hangman did his usual office of dragging down her legs, and how the body, after hanging the allotted time, was put into a coffin, the cooms of which were nailed firmly to the gibbet-foot.
After a scuffle with some surgeon-apprentices who wished to possess themselves of the body, her friends conveyed it away by the Society Port, but the jolting of the cart in which the coffin lay had stirred vitality and set the blood in motion. Thus she was found to be alive when passing Peffermiln, and was completely restored at Musselburgh, where flocks of people came daily to see her. She had several children after this event, and lived long as the keeper of an ale-house and as a crier of salt in the streets of Edinburgh. (“Dom. Ann.” III., Stat. Acct., Vol. XVI).
In the account of the Porteous Mob (Vol I., pp. 128-131), we have referred to the executions of Wilson and of Porteous, in 1736, in this place – the street “crowded with rioters, crimson with torchlight, spectators filling every window of the tall houses – the Castle standing high above the tumult amidst the blue midnight and the stars.” It continued to be the scene of such events till 1784; and in a central situation at the east end of the market there remained until 1823 a massive block of sandstone, having in its centre a quadrangular hole, which served as the socket of the gallows-tree; but instead of the stone there is now only a St. Andrew’s Cross in the causeway to indicate the exact spot.
The last person who suffered in the Grassmarket was James Andrews, hanged there on the 4th of February, 1784, for a robbery committed in Hope Park; and the first person executed at the west end of the old city gaol, was Alexander Stewart, a youth of only fifteen, who had committed many depredations, and at last had been convicted of breaking into the house of Captain Hugh Dalrymple, of Fordell in the Potterrow, and Neidpath Castle, the seat of the Duke of Queensberry, from which he carried off many articles of value. It was expressly mentioned by the judge in his sentence, that he was to be hanged in the Grassmarket, “or any other place the magistrates might appoint,” thus indicating that a change was in contemplation; and accordingly, the west end of the old Tolbooth was fitted up for his execution, which took place on the 20th of April, 1785.
In 1733 the Grassmarket was the scene of some remarkable feats, performed by a couple of Italian mountebanks, a father and his son. A rope being fixed between the half-moon battery of the Castle, and a place on the south side of the market, 200 feet below, the father slid down it in half a minute. The son performed the same feat, blowing a trumpet all the way, to the astonishment of a vast crowd of spectators.
Three days afterwards there was a repetition of the performance, “at the desire of several people of quality,” when after sliding down, the father made his way up to the battery again, firing a pistol, beating a drum, and proclaiming that while up there he could defy the whole Court of Session.
The whole of the south side of the Grassmarket had been pulled down and re-built at intervals before 1879.
Among the oldest edifices that once stood here were unquestionably the Temple tenements and the Greyfriars Monastery. In describing the execution of Porteous, which took place in front of the former, Scott says:- “The uncommon height and antique appearance of these houses, some of which were formerly the property of the Knights Templar and the Knights of St. John, and still exhibit on their fronts and gables the iron cross of their orders, gave additional effect to a scene in itself so striking.” These houses were not so old, however, as the order of the Templars, but having been built upon their land, and being also the heritage of the Hospitallers, and forming, as such, a portion of the barony of Drem, had affixed to them the iron cross in remembrance of certain legal titles and privileges which are to this day productive of solid benefits.
With the Temple Close, which was entered by a narrow arch beneath them, they have been entirely swept away since 1870.
Immediately to the westward of them was one of the most modern houses in this quarter, through which entered Hunter’s Close, above the arch of which was inscribed ANNO DOM. MDCLXXI., and it was from the dyer’s pole in front of this tenement that Porteous was hanged in 1736. “The long range of buildings that extend beyond this,” says Wilson, writing in 1847, “presents as singular and varied a group of antique tenements as either artist or antiquary could desire. Finials of curious and grotesque shapes surmount the crowstepped gables, and every variety of form and elevation diversifies the skyline of their roofs and chimneys, while behind the noble pile of Heriot’s Hospital towers above them, as a counterpart to the old Castle that rises majestically over the north side of the same area. Many antique features are discernible here. Several of the older houses are built with bartizaned roofs and ornamental copings, designed to afford their inmates an uninterrupted view of the magnificent pageants that were wont of old to defile through the wide area below, or of the gloomy tragedies that were so frequently enacted here between the Restoration and the Revolution.”
Towards the south-east end of the market place stood the ancient monastery of Grey Friars, opposite where the Bow Foot Well, erected in 1681, now stands. James I., a monarch, who by many salutary laws and the encouragement of learning, endeavoured to civilise the country, long barbarised by wars with England, established this monastery. In obedience to a requisition made by him to the Vicar-General of the Order at Cologne, a body of Franciscans came hither under Cornelius of Zurich, a scholar of great reputation. The house prepared for their reception proved so magnificent for the times, says Arnot, that in the spirit of humility and self-denial they declined to live in it, and could only be prevailed upon to do so at the earnest request of the Archbishop of St. Andrews; consequently a considerable time must have elapsed ere they were finally established in the Grassmarket. There they taught divinity and philosophy till the Reformation, when their spacious and beautiful gardens, that extended up the slope towards the town wall, were bestowed on the citizens as a cemetery by Queen Mary.
That the monastery was a sumptuous edifice according to the times, is proved by its being assigned for the temporary abode of the Princess Mary of Gueldres, who after her arrival at Leith in June, 1449, rode thither on a pillion behind the Count de Vere, and was visited by her future husband, James II., on the following day.
In 1461, after the battle of Towton, its roof afforded shelter to the luckless Henry VI. of England when he fled to Scotland, together with his heroic Queen Margaret and their son Prince Edward. The fugitives were so hospitably entertained by the court and citizens, that in requital thereof, Henry granted to them a charter empowering the latter to trade to any part of England, subject to no other duties than those payable by the most highly favoured natives of that country, in acknowledgment, as he states, of the humane and honourable treatment he met with from the Provost and burgesses of Edinburgh. As the house of Lancaster never regained the English throne, the charter survives only as an acknowledgment of Henry’s gratitude. How long the latter resided in the Grassmarket does not precisely appear. Balfour states that in 1465, Henry VI., “having lurked long under the Scotts King’s wing as a privat man, resolves in a disgyssed habit to enter England.” His future fate belongs to English history, but his flight from Scotland evidently was the result of a treaty of truce, in Feb., 1464.
Some English writers have denied that Henry was ever in Edinburgh at any time; and that the Queen alone came, while he remained at Kirkcudbright. But Sir Walter Scott, in a note to “Marmion,” records, that he had seen in possession of Lord Napier, “a grant by Henry of forty merks to his lordship’s ancestor, John Napier (of Merchiston), subscribed by the King himself at Edinburgh, the 28th August, in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, which exactly corresponds with the year of God, 1461.”
Abercrombie, in his “Martial Achievements,” after detailing some negociations between the Scottish ministry of James III. (then a minor) and Henry VI., says, that after they were complete, “the indefatigable Queen of England left the King, her husband, at his lodgings in the Greyfriars of Edinburgh, where his own inclinations to devotion and solitude made him choose to reside, and went with her son into France, not doubting but that by the mediation of the King of Sicily, her father, she should be able to purchase both men and money in that kingdom.”
That a church would naturally form a most necessary appendage to such a foundation as this monastery can scarcely be doubted, and Wilson says that he is inclined to infer the existence of one, and of a churchyard, long before – Queen Mary’s grant of the gardens to the city, and of this three proofs can be given at least.
A portion of the treaty of peace between James III. and Edward IV. included a proposal of the latter that his youngest daughter, the Princess Cecilia, then in her fourth year, should be betrothed to the Crown Prince of Scotland, then an infant of two years old, and that her dowry of 20,000 merks should be paid by annual instalments commencing from the date of the contract. On this basis a peace was concluded, the ceremony of its ratification being performed, along with the betrothal, “in the church of the Grey Friars, at Edinburgh, where the Earl of Lindsay and Lord Scrope appeared as the representatives of their respective sovereigns.”
The “Diurnal of Occurrents” records that on the 7th July, 1571, the armed craftsmen made their musters “in the Gray Friere Kirk Yaird,” and, though the date of the modern church, to which we shall refer, is 1613, Birrel, in his diary, under date 26th April, 1598, refers to works in progress by “the Societie at the Gray Friar Kirke.”
In 1559, when the storm of the Reformation broke forth, the Earl of Argyle entered Edinburgh with his followers, and “the work of purification” began with a vengeance. The Trinity College Church, St. Giles’s, St. Mary-in-the-Field, the monasteries of the Black and Grey Friars, were pillaged of everything they contained. Of the two latter establishments the bare walls alone were left standing. In 1560 the stones of these two edifices were ordered to be used “for the bigging of dykes;” and other works connected with the Good Town; and. in 1562 we are told that a good crop of corn was sown in the Grey Friars’ Yard by “Rowye Gairdner, fleschour,” so that it could not have been a place for interment at that time.
The Greyfriars’ Port was a gate which led to an unenclosed common, skirting the north side of the Burgh Muir, and which was only included in the precincts of the city by the last extension of the walls in 1618, when the land, ten acres in extent, was purchased by the city from Towers of Inverleith.
In 1530 a woman named Katharine Heriot, accused of theft and bringing contagious sickness from Leith into the city, was ordered to be drowned in the Quarry Holes at the Greyfriars’ Port. In the same year, “Janet Gowane, accused of haiffand the pestilens apone hir,” was branded on both cheeks at the same place, and expelled the city.
This gate was afterwards called the Society and also the Bristo Port.
Among the edifices removed in the Grassmarket was a very quaint one, immediately westward of Heriot’s Bridge, which exhibited a very perfect specimen of a remarkably antique style of window, with folding shutters and transom of oak entire below, and glass in the upper part set in ornamental patterns of lead.
Near this is the New Corn Exchange, designed by David Cousin, and erected in 1849 at the cost of £20,000, measuring 160 feet long by 120 broad; it is in the Italian style, with a handsome front of three storeys, and a campanile or belfry at the north end. It is fitted up with desks and stalls for the purpose of mercantile transactions, and has been, from its great size and space internally, the scene of many public festivals, the chief of which were perhaps the great Crimean banquet, given there on the 31st of October, 1856, to the soldiers of the 34th Foot, 5th Dragoon Guards, and Royal Artillery; and that other given after the close of the Indian Mutiny to the soldiers of the Ross-shire Buffs, which elicited a very striking display of high national enthusiasm.
On the north side of the Market Place there yet stands the old White Hart Inn, an edifice of considerable antiquity. It was a place of entertainment as far back perhaps as the days when the Highland drovers came to market armed with sword and target, and no gentleman took the road without pistols in his holsters, and was the chief place for carriers putting up in the days when all the country traffic was conducted by their carts or waggons. In 1788 forty-six carriers arrived weekly in the Grassmarket, and this number increased to ninety-six in 1810. In those days the Lanark coach started from George Cuddie’s stables there, every Friday and Tuesday at 7 a.m.; the Linlithgow and Falkirk flies at 4 every afternoon, “Sundays excepted;” and the Peebles coach from “Francis McKay’s, vintner, White Hart Inn,” thrice weekly, at 9 in the morning.
Some bloodshed occurred in the Castle Wynd in 1577. When Morton’s administration became so odious as Regent that it was resolved to deprive him of his power, his natural son, George Douglas of Parkhead, held the Castle of which he was governor, and the magistrates resolved to cut off all supplies from him. At 5 o’clock on the 17th March their guards discovered two carriages of provisions for the Castle, which were seized at the foot of the Wynd. This being seen by Parkhead’s garrison, a sally was made, and a combat ensued, in which three citizens were killed and six wounded, but only one soldier was slain, while sixteen others pushed the carriages up the steep slope. “The townsmen, greatly incensed by the injury,” says Moyse, “that same night cast trenches beside Peter Edgar’s house for enclosing of the Castle.”
Latterly the closes on the north side of the Market terminated on the rough uncultured slope of the Castle Hill; but in the time of Gordon of Rothiemay a belt of pretty gardens had been there from the west flank of the city wall to the Castle Wynd, where a massive fragment of the wall of 1450 remained till the formation of Johnstone Terrace. On the west side of the Castle Wynd is an old house, having a door only three feet three inches wide, inscribed:
BLESSIT . BE . GOD . FOR . AL . HIS . GIFTIS.
16. 1637. 10.
The double date probably indicated a renewal of the edifice.
The first Gaelic chapel in Edinburgh stood in the steep sloping alley named the Castle Wynd. Such an edifice had long been required in the Edinburgh of those days, when such a vast number of Highlanders resorted thither as chairmen, porters, water-carriers, city guardsmen, soldiers of the Castle Company, servants and day-labourers, and when Irish immigration was completely unknown. These people in their ignorance of Lowland Scottish were long deprived of the benefit of religious instruction, which was a source of regret to themselves and of evil to society.
Hence proposals were made by Mr. William Dickson, a dyer of the city, for building a chapel wherein the poor Highlanders might receive religious instruction in their own language; the contributions of the benevolent flowed rapidly in; the edifice was begun in 1767 and opened in 1769, upon a piece of ground bought by the philanthropic William Dickson, who disposed of it to the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. The church cost £700, of which £100 was given by the Writers to the Signet.
It was soon after enlarged to hold about 1,100 hearers. The minister was elected by the subscribers. His salary was then only £100 per annum, and he was, of course, in communion with the Church of Scotland, when such things as the repentance stool and public censure did not become things of the past until 1780. “Since the chapel was erected,” says Kincaid, “the Highlanders have been punctual in their attendance on divine worship, and have discovered the greatest sincerity in their devotions. Chiefly owing to the bad crops for some years past in the Highlands, the last peace, and the great improvements carrying on in this city, the number of Highlanders has of late increased so much that the chapel in its present situation cannot contain them. Last Martinmas, above 300 applied for seats who could not be accommodated, and who cannot be edified in the English language.”
The first pastor here was the Rev. Joseph Robertson MacGregor, a native of Perthshire, who was a licentiate of the Church of England before he joined that of Scotland. “The last levies of the Highland regiments,” says Kincaid, “were much indebted to this house, for about a third of its number have, this last and preceding wars, risqued (sic) their lives for their king and country; and no other church in Britain, without the aid or countenance of Government, contains so many disbanded soldiers.”
Mr. MacGregor was known by his mother’s name of Robertson, assumed in consequence of the proscription of his clan and name; but, on the repeal of the infamous statute against it, in 1787, on the day it expired he attired himself in a full suit of the MacGregor tartan, and walked conspicuously about the city.
The Celtic congregation continued to meet in the Castle Wynd till 1815, when its number had so much increased that a new church was built for them in another quarter of the city.
The Plainstanes Close, with Jamieson’s, Beattie’s, Currie’s, and Dewar’s Closes on the north side of the market, were all doomed to destruction by the late City Improvement Act.
In the vicinity of the first-named alley, whose distinctive title implied its former respectability as a paved close, was a tenement, dated 1634, with a fine antique window of oak and ornamental leaden tracery, and an adjacent turnpike stair has the same date, with the common legend, “Blissit . be . God . for . all . his . Giftis,” and the initials, “L. B. G. K.”
In Currie’s Close was an ancient door, only two feet nine inches broad, with the half-defaced legend:
GOD . GIVES THE… RES…
and the initials, “G. B.” and “B. F.” and a shield charged with a chevron and something like a boar’s head in base.
In 1763 such a diversion as cockfighting was utterly unknown in Edinburgh, but in twenty years after, regular matches or mains, as they were technically termed, were held, and a regular cockpit for this school of gambling and cruelty was built in the Grassmarket, and there it was that, on the 12th of December, 1793, so many members of the memorable British Convention were seized and made prisoners, with several English delegates, when holding a political meeting for revolutionary purposes and correspondence with the French Republic.
In these transactions and meetings, Robert Watt, a wine merchant, and David Downie, became so deeply involved that they were condemned to death for high treason. After the dispersion of the British Convention in the Grassmarket, they became active members of a “Committee of Union,” to collect the sense of the nation, and of another body styled “the Committee of Ways and Means,” of which Downie, who was a goldsmith in the Parliament Close, and an office-bearer of his corporation, was appointed treasurer. In unison with the London Convention, the “Friends of the People” in Edinburgh had lost all hope of redress for their alleged political wrongs by constitutional means, and designs of a dangerous nature were considered – wild schemes, of which Watt was the active promoter.
Their first attempt was to suborn the Hopetoun Fencibles, then at Dalkeith, and under orders for England, but they failed to excite mutiny; yet a plan was formed by which it was expected that the Castle and city would both fall into the hands of the Friends of the People, who were secretly arming. The design was this:-
“A fire was to be raised near the excise office, which would require the attendance of the soldiers, who were to be met on their way by a body of the friends of the People, another party of whom were to issue from the West Bow, confine the soldiers between two forces, and cut off all retreat. The Castle was next to be attempted, the judges and magistrates were to be seized, and all the public banks to be secured. A proclamation was then to be issued, ordering all farmers to bring in their grain to the market as usual, and enjoining all country gentlemen unfriendly to the cause to keep within their houses, or three miles of them, under penalty of death. Then an address was to be sent to his Majesty, commanding him to put an end to the war, to change his ministers, or take the consequences!” Similar events were to take place in Dublin and London on the same night.
Before this startling scheme could be effected, arms of all descriptions were necessary, and a third committee of “Sense and Money” was formed to procure them. Two smiths, named Robert Orrock and William Brown, who had enrolled, received orders to make 4,000 pikes, some of which were actually completed, delivered to Watt, and paid for by Downie in his capacity as treasurer.
Meanwhile the trials of Skirving, Margarot, and Gerald, had taken place, for complicity to a certain extent in the same movements; but it was not until about the 15th of May, 1794, that Watt and Downie were apprehended. On that day it chanced that two sheriff officers when searching the house of the former for the secreted goods of a bankrupt, found some pikes, which they conveyed to the sheriff’s chambers. A warrant was issued to search the whole premises, and in the cellars a form of types from which the address to the troops had been printed, and a great quantity of pikes, were discovered, while in the house, thirty-three in various stages of completion were found. Hence, early on the morning of June 2nd, Watt, Downie, and Orrock, were conveyed from the old Tolbooth to the Castle, as State prisoners, and lodged in the strong apartment above the portcullis.
True bills of indictment being found against Watt and Downie, they were brought to trial respectively in August and September, and the facts were fully proved against them. A letter from Downie, treasurer of the Committee of Ways and Means, to Walter Millar, Perth, acknowledging the receipt of £15, on which he gave a coloured account of the recent riots in the theatre on the performance of “Charles I.” was produced and identified; and Robert Orrock stated that Downie accompanied Watt to his place at the Water of Leith, where the order was given for the pikes.
William Brown said that he had made fifteen of these weapons, by order of Watt, to whom he delivered them, receiving 22s. 6d. for the fifteen. Other evidence at great length was led, a verdict of guilty was returned, and sentence of death was passed upon the prisoners – to have their bowels torn out, and to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. The punishment of Downie was commuted to transportation; and on the royal clemency being announced to him he burst into tears, and kneeling on the floor of the vault above the portcullis he exclaimed, in ecstasy, “Oh, glory be to God, and thanks to the king! Thanks to him for his goodness! I will pray for him as long as I live!” He had a wife and children, and for years had enjoyed the reputation of being a sober and respectable mechanic.
Previous to his execution Watt made a full confession of the aims and objects contemplated by the committees and their ramifications throughout Britain. He was in his thirty-sixth year, and was the natural son of a gentleman of fortune in Angus. He was executed on the 15th October, 1794. The magistrates, Principal Baird, the city guard, and town officers, with their halberds, conducted him from the Castle to the place of death at the end of the Tolbooth about two o’clock. The sheriff and his substitute were there, in black, with white gloves and rods. The hurdle was painted black, but drawn by a snow-white horse. It was surrounded by constables and 200 of the Argyle Fencible Highlanders, stepping to the “Dead March.”
Watt was a picture of the most abject dejection. He was wrapped up in an old great-coat, and wore a red night-cap, which, on the platform, he exchanged for a white one and a round hat; but his whole appearance was wretched and pitiful in the extreme, and all unlike that of a man willing to die for conscience, or for country’s sake. After his body had hung for thirty minutes, it was cut down lifeless and placed on a table; the executioner then came forward with a large axe, and with two strokes severed from the body the head, which fell into a basket, and was then held up by the hair, in the ancient form, by the executioner, who exclaimed, “This is the head of a traitor!”
The crowd on this occasion was slow in collecting, but became numerous at last, and showed little agitation when the drop fell; “but the appearance of the axe,” says the Annual Register, “a sight for which they were totally unprepared, produced a shock instantaneous as electricity; and when it was uplifted such a general shriek or shout of horror burst forth as made the executioner delay his blow, while numbers rushed off in all directions to avoid the sight.” The remains were next put into a coffin and conveyed away. The handcuffs used to secure Watt while a prisoner in the Castle were, in 1841, presented by Miss Walker of Drumsheugh to the Antiquarian Museum, where they are still preserved.