Vandals topple headstone of Greyfriars Bobby’s master

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Vandals have attacked the gravestone of the master of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh just days before a memorial ceremony to honour the famously faithful dog.

The headstone of John Gray, better known as “Auld Jock”, at the city’s Greyfriars Kirkyard was toppled at the weekend causing damage to the stone and the pins that hold it in place.

Bert Hutchings, kirkyard tour guide, next to the stone.

Bert Hutchings, kirkyard tour guide, next to the stone.

This damage comes just days before a memorial ceremony on Sunday which will honour the life of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog that died on 14 January 1872.

Mr Gray was a night watchman with Edinburgh City Police in the 1850s and owned Bobby, the loyal Skye terrier. The pair forged a close bond over a two-year period.

Following Auld Jock’s death from tuberculosis in 1858, Bobby famously stayed by his master’s grave, refusing to shift despite the best efforts of the cemetery caretaker.

George Robinson, of the One o’Clock Gun Assocation, who is helping to organise the Greyfriars Bobby ceremony, said: “There are guys wandering round there totally out of their mind. You can’t control that.

“I’ve personally seen someone shooting up in the kirkyard.

“There’s a tour guide I know, Wallace Ferguson. He does great work there, going around picking up needles and the like.

“If you go up there you’ll find headstones are getting smashed. It’s an impossible situation to deal with. The police would need to be there 24/7.”

Steve Lister, operations manager at Greyfriars Kirk, stressed the vandalism was far from being an isolated incident but that closing the gates at night would only lead to more problems.

He said: “We’ve had awful vandalism, problems with drugs and all sorts of sordid human behaviour happen here, but if you close the gates at night-time it might actually make things worse. They might think that they can get up to even worse things than they do already.”

Mr Lister said persistent vandalism over the years has resulted in a large number of old headstones and memorials being cleared from the kirkyard, but it is thought this is the first time the gravestone of Mr Gray has been knocked over.

“The headstone looks as though it’s in one piece but there has been some damage,” said Mr Lister. “It’s the first time this particular headstone has been vandalised, but we do get a lot of vandalism in the churchyard.

“The main focus on Sunday is Bobby’s headstone, which has not been vandalised yet, but obviously people usually come to visit both.”

The future of the annual ceremony honouring Greyfriars Bobby had been under threat until the One o’Clock Gun Assocation stepped in at the last minute.

On Sunday dignitaries including Lord Provost Frank Ross will join members of the public to honour the life of the world-famous dog. A spokesperson for City of Edinburgh Council said that a repair of Mr Gray’s headstone was planned but that it would not take place in time for Sunday’s ceremony.

The spokesperson said: “The headstone has been made safe.

“We intend to re-erect it next week following the installation of new foundations. In the meantime signage will be put up to advise the public of these plans.”