The Ghosts & Gore Tour
In the Summer months, the spirits of Edinburgh become more restless than ever. Some of the Old Town’s ghostly denizens are even known to venture out during the hours of daylight! (Well, early evenings – they don’t want to get too tanned.) The closes and courtyards of the Royal Mile are home to an eclectic collection of departed souls; here we present a Spotter’s Guide to some of the better-known specimens.
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Alexander Clapperton (1781-1849)
Alexander Clapperton was an extremely successful merchant, and director of several companies. As a Town Council member, he was also given a position as director of Edinburgh’s public cemeteries. Unhappily, he had the misfortune to hold this post during the infamous “bodysnatching” scandals (where recently-buried bodies were illegally exhumed and sold to the medical schools), and his mismanagement of the affair lead to the creation of Edinburgh’s first privately run cemeteries.
His remains are (securely) buried in the St Cuthbert’s Church graveyard, and a stained-glass window dedicated to him graces St. Giles’ Cathedral, though some say he still paces the streets of his beloved City…
Jimmy Tamson (1620-1646)
When the Black Death swept into Edinburgh for the last time in 1645, it killed tens of thousands in the space of eighteen months. The Town Council (which had wisely decided to move to Stirling for the duration) employed men such as Jimmy Tamson as Foule Clengers (plague cleaners), to bury the infectious dead in plague pits outside the City walls.
Despite the protection of their characteristic masks, a Clenger was not expected to live longer than a few months in such close proximity to the dead, and almost all of them died without collecting the huge wages offered them by the Council. They were however permitted many perks, such as laying claim to the possessions of those they buried, so perhaps it wasn’t such a dead-end job after all.
Some say that Tamson’s haunting cry, “Bring oot yer deid!”, can still be heard echoing through the narrow closes running off the Royal Mile…
William Bain (1598-1645)
William spent much of his life as a secretary to the King. Sadly, he suffered a severe paper-cut in 1621. Even more tragically, it became infected, and prevented him from writing again.
Fortunately, King Charles II gave him a livelihood as a Royal Blue-Gowned Beggar, with the privilege of begging wherever he wished throughout Scotland (this was a considerable boon, since even the lowest beggar required a licence to ply his trade).
Yes, William was indeed a lucky beggar, though many locals claim he may have over-extended his dispensation, as he can still be seen spare-changing locals and tourists alike along the Royal Mile…
Rhuari McLeod (1713-1746)
A fearsome Highland warrior who helped to capture Edinburgh for Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stewart) during the 1745 Jacobite uprising, Rhuari McLeod died when he unfortunately caught a cannonball in the face, just prior to the battle of Culloden in 1746. It was thrown at him by his friend, Malcolm, during a dispute over the length of the latter’s dirk (short sword).
Some locals suggest that he may have returned after death to the scene of his greatest victory, to strike fear into the hearts of those who now inhabit this city…