Edinburgh pubs: Here are some of the dark and gruesome stories behind a few of the Capitals most famous pubs

Edinburgh’s history is often dark and twisted, and memories of this can be seen in street names, buildings and of course, pubs.

By Rachel Mackie
Friday, 27th May 2022, 4:55 am

Deacon Brodies Tavern

William “Deacon” Brodie was an 18th century cabinet maker, a locksmith and Edinburgh city councillor, a revered member of the community, socialising with the great and good, including – allegedly - national bard Robert Burns himself.

However, beneath this veneer of respectability, he was a thief and a housebreaker.

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He used his useful profession as a locksmith to copy keys, not just to people’s homes, but to shops and banks too.

He would gamble away his stolen treasures at a tavern on Fleshmarket Close.

Brodie fled to Amsterdam after his partners in crime were caught and arrested, rightly thinking he would have little time before they spilt the beans.

He was pursued and caught just before he could board a ship to the United States, and returned to Edinburgh for trial, and eventually, the gallows.

Edinburgh pubs: Here are some of the dark and gruesome stories behind a few of the Capitals most famous pubs

Brodie and his accomplice were hanged at on October 1 1788.

A crowd of 40,000 turned up to the Old Tolbooth to watch the execution including, supposedly, Brodie's 10 year old daughter.

The Last Drop

A very literal name for the second pub on our list.

The Last Drop can be found in the Grassmarket, right next to the spot where the gallows stood.

The Grassmarket was a spot where farmers would come to sell their wares, and would have been a huge public meeting place in the 18th century.

The spot where the gallows stood is still clearly marked on the ground today.

The Diggers

The actual name of this pub is the Athletic Arms, but locally, it is still called The Diggers.

Founded in the late 19th century, this establishment can be found directly opposite a graveyard.

Predictably, it became the drinking hole of the gravediggers working nearby – hence the name.

The Conan Doyle

Less of a dark and grim one this time, but not one that could be left off the list.

The most famous author of the most famous detective of all time has his own pub, in the city of his birth.

Conan Doyle was born in a home on Picardy Place in May 1859, and went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

He was just 27-years-old when he wrote A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson story.

Maggie Dicksons

Named for Half Hangit Maggie, this story is iconic in Edinburgh’s dark history.

Maggie Dickson was an East Lothian woman, who had to the borders where she found herself pregnant.

It is not certain what happened to the baby, whether she suffered the trauma of a still birth, or whether the child died in their first few days.

Many say that she deliberately killed her child.

Whatever the truth, she was taken back to Edinburgh and made to stand trial.

She was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

After she was executed, her family arranged a casket to take her back to her home town of Musselburgh, when they heard knocking from the inside of the coffin.

Maggie was alive – she had not perished in the drop, and due to Scots law, could not be sentenced again.

Some say it was the will of God that saved her, others say she knew the rope maker, who fixed it so it wouldn’t kill her.

Either way, she was saved, and she went on to live a long and happy life.

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