Real Scrooge story to take centre stage in Edinburgh Christmas show

A GHOST of Christmas past is set to return to the Capital to read extracts from one his most celebrated novels.

Friday, 23rd November 2018, 5:58 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd November 2018, 6:04 pm
The Canongate Kirk graveyard. Pic: Paul Park

Charles Dickens, played by actor Nigel Miles-Thomas, will be reading from A Christmas Carol the end of November to help raise funds for the upkeep of the historic Tron Kirk.

One of the most famous Christmas characters of all time is thought to have been inspired by the misreading of a headstone in Canongate Kirk by the author in 1841.

Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, who died in 1836, was a rich corn merchant who had a reputation for generosity, wild antics – rumoured to have included impregnating a maid servant, who he was alleged to have “ravished” on a gravestone, and assaulting a countess by grabbing her buttocks in church – and his knack for throwing a good party.

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1951 film " SCROOGE " with Alastair Sim (right)

The inscription on his gravestone read “meal man” – a grain merchant – which was interpreted as “mean man” by the English author, who was killing some time with a walk in the Canongate ahead of a lecture he was giving to city notables.

Shaken by the damning inscription, Dickens wrote in his notebook at the time: “To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted.”

When Dickens published A Christmas Carol two years later, the misanthropic and mean-spirited character of Ebenezer Scrooge had been born.

The author always believed his creation was based on the truth. Later, he wrote that while Scots had a reputation for frugality, they were not mean. It must have “shrivelled” Scroggie’s soul, said Dickens, to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity”.

The tombstone that inspired countless Christmas nightmares was removed in the 1930s, thought to have been cleared to make way for a redevelopment of the graveyard.

Canongate Kirk’s burial ground is perhaps best known as the final resting place of 18th century political economist and philosopher Adam Smith, who happened to be Ebenezer Scroggie’s great-uncle. As a vintner and corn merchant, Scroggie secured the first contract to supply whisky to the Royal Navy offices at Leith, and even became the chief drinks supplier and caterer for King George IV’s famous visit to the Capital in 1822, the first British monarch to visit since Culloden.

Two bottles of “Scroggie’s Highland Brandie”, produced at the request of Sir Walter Scott for the royal visit, are said to survive.

In stark contract to his literary namesake, he was understood to be a jovial, warm man who enjoyed the finer things in life and was a big hit with the ladies.

He lived in the Grassmarket above what is now the Beehive Inn – a stone’s throw from Edinburgh’s main cornmarket at the time.

Born in Kirkcaldy but now lying in an unmarked grave, Scroggie will be remembered at the reading, organised by Edinburgh World Heritage, which takes places from 1pm to 6pm on November 24.

All proceeds from sales of Dickens memorabilia, gifts and books at John Kay’s Shop at the Tron will go towards the conservation of the 17th-century Kirk.