Lost Edinburgh: Greyfriars Bobby has been in the wars before

A workman cleans Bobby after vandals threw paint over him in April 1979. Picture: TSPL
A workman cleans Bobby after vandals threw paint over him in April 1979. Picture: TSPL
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Topic of the week for anyone with one eye on Edinburgh heritage matters has been the plight of the city’s favourite dog and his fast-disappearing muzzle.

Over the past five years a new tradition has emerged whereby visitors to our city are encouraged to rub the famous canine’s nose for good luck, much to the infuriation of some locals. The diminutive statue, as everyone knows, is supposed to have a uniform black patina covering it from head to paw, but at the moment his face is in a bit of a state. The patina around this area has been rubbed off so extensively that the bronze beneath is clearly visible. The phenomenon was started in 2012 by a tour firm keen to add value to an already brilliant wee tale. Tourists were told that good fortune was to be had if they gave Bobby a wee rub on the snout. The practice spread like wildfire and forced the council to spend a good few bob repairing the damage. The restoration proved to be short-lived when the new patina was forcibly removed in an acid attack.

Passsers-by examine Bobbys empty plinth after he was stolen by students in 1963. Picture: TSPL

Passsers-by examine Bobbys empty plinth after he was stolen by students in 1963. Picture: TSPL

Of course this tradition of touching a public statue for good luck is not a new thing. The round bits of Dublin’s Molly Malone are a very different shade to the rest of her body and in the Vatican, St Peter’s feet resemble a pair of microwaved shoe horns after being eroded away by generations of eager worshippers.

Here in Edinburgh, rubbing David Hume’s big toe is said to bring good vibes - a fact that sculptor Sandy Stoddart is said to love, yet a superstition that the famous philosopher would probably have abhorred - while the statue of Wojtek the solider bear in Princes Street Gardens already has a lovely bright nose despite being erected very recently.

Interestingly, however, there seems to be far less outcry over the touching of these two statues. Greyfriars Bobby, it seems, is a very different matter.

For all my life I can never remember this wee dog looking so bad, and I think that’s the real problem. Edinburgh residents are not famed for embracing change too readily unless it is perceived to be a definite improvement, and this change certainly isn’t.

But, since he was installed in 1872, this act of vandalism (if we can actually call it that), is nowhere near the worst the dug has encountered.

In June 1954, Bobby was knocked down in a hit ‘n’ run that took chunks out his handsome marble plinth, and in 1963 he was even stolen by a group of university students. 1979 and 1981 also saw vandals douse the poor pooch in paint.

Like many others, I may not agree with all this Bobby rubbing, but I suppose there are far more pressing matters to be concerned with. I just hope wee Bobby isn’t slowly turning into Edinburgh’s version of the Sphinx.