Grassmarket mural inspired by faces of passers-by

Artist Chris Rutterford. Picture: Jane Barlow

Artist Chris Rutterford. Picture: Jane Barlow

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IT chilled the spines of the baying crowd who watched the condemned woman “rise from the dead”.

But while the 18th century mob recoiled in horror at the botched hanging of Maggie Dickson, sightseers today have flocked to the execution site in a bid to relive the grisly scene.

A huge mural depicting Half Hangit Maggie’s final drop features scores of passers-by who stopped to watch Capital artist Chris Rutterford at work in the Grassmarket.

Now money is being sought to purchase a massive display case to exhibit the Maggie Dickson mural on the very site of her execution.

The hanging of the alleged child killer alarmed the chattering classes in 1724 and became enshrined in Edinburgh folklore after the 22-year-old 
resurrected in her coffin hours after dangling from the noose. She was subsequently pardoned.

Almost every face peering out from the 32ft-long canvas belongs to an interested onlooker who chatted with the artist during his month-long commission wanting to be airbrushed into history. And they all tell a story.

“A woman came and was in tears because her dog had only recently died and it was unexpected so I said we could draw him in, sitting by the well,” said the artist, 40.

“I think she was happy to have him immortalised.

“Someone else came to me with a court drawing of a relative who had actually been hanged at the Grassmarket. He obviously didn’t learn from her mistakes and was strung up himself but now he’s standing a few rows behind Maggie in the crowd scene. That was an odd moment and a wee bit creepy.”

The real-life characters bring “history to life”, said Mr Rutterford who was commissioned to celebrate the history of the Grassmarket.

“I’ve literally been grabbing people and putting a bonnet on them or a tricorn hat and they suddenly look like they’re from the 18th century,” he said.

“I think it gives a real flavour of what the Grassmarket was –and still is – all about,” he said.

“There are so many individual stories in it, I’ve ended up with such a rich tapestry.”

Georgia Artus, project manager of business improvement group Greater Grassmarket, which commissioned the work, said: “The Grassmarket has always home to characters and full of stories and it still is to this day. That is what we wanted this to represent.

“That said, I had no idea it would be as individualised as it is. It is amazing how Chris has got so many personalities into it. His energy really inspires people and has resulted in this incredible mural.”

If no permanent site for the double-sided canvas is found it may be cut into sections and mounted in the windows of vacant shops to brighten up the properties.

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com