Heart of Midlothian: Why do people spit on the iconic spot in Edinburgh? What does it have to do with the Old Tolbooth?

Spitting on the Heart of Midlothian is a local tradition in Edinburgh – but why?

The Heart of Midlothian can be found next to St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile.

Tradition dictates that pedestrians spit on the mosaic, but this wasn’t always to bring luck, but to show disdain.

The heart marks the spot where the Old Tolbooth used to stand – the prison where inmates would be tortured, often before facing the hangman’s noose.

The structure existed for over 400 years before it was demolished in 1817, and held many famous faces including Deacon Brodie, Captain John Porteous and Agnes Sampson.

The execution spot in Edinburgh used to be in the Grassmarket, but moved to the Old Tolbooth in 1785.

Inmates were hanged on a gallows built on top of the two storey building to make it easier for the public to attend, and see the “event" in full.

18th century historian Hugo Arnot described the prison in details, explaining: “All parts of the jail were kept in a slovenly condition; but the eastern quarter of it...was intolerable.

Heart of Midlothian: Why do people spit on the iconic spot in Edinburgh? What does it have to do with the Old Tolbooth?

"In the second [room], which is called the iron room, which is destined for those who have received sentence of death, there were three boys: one of them might have been about fourteen, the others about twelve years of age.

"They had been confined about three weeks for thievish practices.”

A year after the building was demolished, famed author Walter Scott, wrote The Heart of Midlothian, which heavily featured the Old Tolbooth.

He even purchased the old iron gaol door which he installed in his mansion in the borders.

Hearts of Midlothian football team takes its name from the mosaic that sits on the spot of the prison, and locals spit on it for good luck, although traditionally it’s thought that people spat on it to show their anger and contempt for the cruelty that occurred on that spot.

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