The gory stories behind the names of Edinburgh’s most popular pubs

There are some cracking pubs in Edinburgh and the oldest ones have fascinating, if peculiar backstories.

Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 12:43 pm
The famous Deacon Brodie's Tavern on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

From wailing banshees to broth made of sheep’s heids, the names of the capital’s pubs reveal Edinburgh’s dark history in all its gory glory.

The World's End

The World's End is one of the most famous pubs in Edinburgh. Halfway between Holyrood and the castle, it was once on the site of the city's gated and walled boundaries. Outside the city, the roads were tariffed and so for those who couldn't afford to leave town, this pub was literally where their world ended.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The World's End in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Picture: Geograph / Simon Johnston

The Sheep Heid Inn

The Sheep Heid Inn is thought to be the oldest watering hole in Edinburgh and has survived in one form or other as a drinking place since the 14th century. The present building is 18th century and has an old-world charm with low ceilings, wooden paneling and a Victorian skittles lane. There are two explanations for the unusual name. Sheep's heid broth was a local speciality in the days when Holyrood Park was grazed by sheep. The other story goes that it's named after the ornate ram's head snuff box which was given to the landlord of the pub in 1580 by King James VI who was a regular.

Deacon Brodie's Tavern

Deacon Brodie's is one of the most famous pubs on the Royal Mile and is named after the character who inspired Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The real Deacon Brodie was a locksmith and council member by day and a thief who loved gambling and women by night. He was Deacon of the Guild of Wrights and a Freeman of the city until he was eventually caught by his Majesty's Excise Office and hanged on the Tolbooth gallows, which he himself had designed in 1788.

The interior of The Sheep's Heid Inn, Edinburgh. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

The Last Drop

The aptly-named Last Drop pub is where convicted criminals used to have their last ever dram of whisky before they were executed at the Grassmarket gallows across from the pub. The story goes that the pub is haunted by a little girl in medieval clothing who used to live in the tenements before it was converted into a pub. She's been spotted by employees over the years and has supposedly whispered their names when they were alone in the building.

The Banshee Labyrinth

The Banshee Labyrinth describes itself as “Scotland's most haunted pub” and is named after one spooky incident in which some workmen renovating the pub while it was closed saw a banshee. At first she appeared as a sobbing woman but when she looked up the workers saw she had eyeless sockets and let out a blood-curdling scream that made the workmen flee. This pub lives up to its labyrinthine name with sections of it making up part of the infamous underground vaults and a maze of rooms leading off from the main bar.

The Last Drop pub, Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Picture: Geograph / Nicholas Mutton

The Ensign Ewart

The Ensign Ewart is named after an Ayrshire-born military hero who won the Battle of Waterloo for the British in 1815. He famously captured the regimental eagle standard from the French at the battle. Ensign Charles Ewart can be seen in his colourful regalia on the pub's signage. Located at the top of the Royal Mile, it's the highest pub in Edinburgh.

The Diggers

When this Victorian bar first opened in 1897 it was called the Athletic Arms but it was always known as The Diggers because it was where the gravediggers congregated after working in the two nearby graveyards. Later the signage changed to The Diggers although it still retains the old name over the entrance. It's a very popular spot for Hearts fans.

The Ensign Ewart pub, Edinburgh. Picture: Facebook

The Conan Doyle

The Conan Doyle pub is near the site of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birth on Picardy Place in 1859. A statue of his famous creation, the character Sherlock Holmes, also stands near his birthplace. The pub was temporarily re-named the JK Rowling in 2018 as part of an art installation, causing controversy.