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On This Day... 22 February 1452: From Douglas to Dug-Least

By Alexander Clapperton, February 22, 2015 - 11:14pm
King James II, seen here about to cut a fool for fronting.

In the evening of this date, King James II resolved his differences with William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, by stabbing him a couple of dozen times and throwing him out of a window. It may be understating matters to say that the two had many long-standing grudges against one another.

Ooh! You gonna call, ghost-bug stars?

By Web Monster, February 10, 2015 - 3:44pm
Trainee webmonster, The Mad Monk of the Cowgate, hard at work

It's now just over four months since our great big revamp of this very website, and the ghosts have just about gotten the hang of using it by now. Our much-expanded collection of goodies are flying off the virtual shelves, and our Byzantine Booking System is leading more brave souls than ever down the dark path that leads to a Witchery Tour.

On This Day... 27 January 1591: Dr. Fian, the Women!

By Alexander Clapperton, January 27, 2015 - 2:02pm
Illustration of the case from the contemporary pamphlet, Newes from Scotland - declaring the damnable life and death of Dr. John Fian

Doctor John Fian, alias John Cunningham, is "worriett" [strangled and then burned] on the Castlehill for witchcraft. He was alleged to have been the leader of a coven of witches based in North Berwick who had conspired to take the life of King James VI and his new bride, Princess Anne of Denmark by raising terrible storms in the North Sea during the royal newlyweds' return voyage.

On This Day... 4 January 1587: Spring-cleaning the Gallows

By Alexander Clapperton, January 4, 2015 - 8:29pm
The Gallows (from Bewick's "History of British Birds", 1804)

From the Burgh Records of January 1587, we learn that Edinburgh Town Council starts the new year pragmatically (as do we all) with a bit of a tidy-up, and so:

"Ordanis James Ros, thesaurer, to caus red the rowme of the awld gallows; baynes, deid corssis and all."

["Orders James Ross, treasurer, to have cleared the space around the old gallows; bones, dead corpses and all."]

On This Day... 20 December 1681: The Elusive Earl of Argyll

By Alexander Clapperton, December 20, 2014 - 1:47pm
Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll

On this date in 1681 Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, made an implausibly brazen escape from Edinburgh Castle, where he was being held awaiting death for treason against King Charles II.

On This Day... 10 December 1595: Give It a Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen

By Alexander Clapperton, December 10, 2014 - 4:14pm
Portrait of James VI in 1595, looking suitably austere.

At this time of year, as we all start to bemoan the crowds out Christmas shopping (easily avoided by shopping online, by the way), we should perhaps reflect on how much better we have it than our ancestors did. Back on this day in 1595, Scotland was in the grip of severe famine, and starving people were flocking to the cities for shelter. Ever the man of action, King James VI wrote to his Parliament, commanding them to enact and enforce new laws in order to feed the people:

On This Day... 25 November 1861: Joseph McIvor, Disaster Survivor.

By Alexander Clapperton, November 25, 2014 - 3:45pm
The aftermath of the Heave Awa' disaster

In the early hours of this morning in 1861, an entire tenement block on the Royal Mile collapsed, killing almost half of its residents. This event is recalled today as the Heave Awa' Disaster, after the words of one of the few survivors, twelve-year-old Joseph McIvor.

On This Day... 16 November 1824: The Great Fire of Edinburgh

By Alexander Clapperton, November 16, 2014 - 3:29pm
The Great Fire, as seen from the Lawnmarket

Over the course of this evening in 1824, Edinburgh’s most destructive accidental fire reached its climax. It had broken out at around 10pm the previous evening in the workshop of engraver James Kirkwood at the top of Assembly Close, where a pot of linseed oil had been overheated, spilled and set fire to a stack of paper. By morning, the fire had spread most of the way along the close it began in, and by its peak it had spread as far down the Royal Mile as Tron Square, reached uphill to Parliament Square, and extended down Fishmarket Close as far as the Cowgate.

On This Day... 6 November 1828: The real Mary Paterson

By Alexander Clapperton, November 6, 2014 - 3:56pm
A contemporary illustration of Mary Paterson (not drawn from life)

On the evening of the 5th of November 1828, a woman by the name of Janet Brown read in the Edinburgh Courant of the arrest of William Burke and William Hare on suspicion of murder. She was shocked, both men being known to her, and with growing dread recalled that it was in their company that she had last seen her friend, Mary Paterson, six months previously.

How about Trick AND Treat?

By Adam Lyal, October 31, 2014 - 5:30pm
Some racketeering villains, earlier this evening

Hallowe'en is here again!

As darkness falls across Edinburgh's Old Town, my macabre minions and I are preparing to scare the wits out of more willing victims than any other night of the year. As is usually the case, there will be many extra ghosts lurking up closes and down gloomy stairs to help us along; and of course, we also have the benefit of thousands of unpaid extras haunting the streets as well!