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Grassmarket Attractions


The Grassmarket Area was where people from all over brought their livestock to sell at market. Cattle, horses, sheep and goats. There were many market stalls which would sell homemade and Homegrown goods.

The Grassmarket is the oldest market area recorded in British history and has been written about since circa 1370.

It was James the 3rd who first gave charter to a weekly market in 1477.

This Grassmarket area was first paved in 1543 from the West Port to the Upper Bow. 

Today there is a weekly Saturday Market with all kinds of goods. From early morning  to late afternoon there is a hive of activity. The Grassmarket has one road that runs through for traffic and the rest of the area

is pedestrianised with outside drinking and eating areas for all the family. 

Grassmarket South Side
Grassmarket North Side 2019

The Grassmarket was built on what was part of the south loch which was drained in the early 14th century.

It became a cattle market shortly after and was officially one on Edinburgh's main markets

under the ordinance of James III in 1477.

There were many taverns and Inns to satisfy the thirst of the cattle traders and farm hands

who brought their animals to market.

In 1560 the Corn Market was moved from the corner of Marlin’s Wynd to the east end of the Grassmarket.

The Gallows stood at the foot of the West Bow from 1660, near to where the Corn Market was situated.

This became the main gallows for executions in Edinburgh until the last hanging on the 4th February 1874. 

 when the gallows moved back to the High Street.

The animal market took place here up to 1911.

Two of the taverns still remain The Last Drop where it was said the person to be hanged would get his last drink.

The other is Maggie Dickson’s a famous story of how the law was changed from the sentence being ‘to be hanged’ to ‘to be hanged till dead’ As Maggie was hung and didn’t die.

North Side of the Grassmarket 1830 -2019

Grassmarket North Side 1830
Grassmarket North side Edinburgh

Grassmarket 500th Anniversary Plaque

This plaque was unveiled |on the 3rd of October 1977 by the | Rt. Hon. Kenneth Borthwick. | Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh | To commemorate the 500th anniversary | of a reorganisation of Edinburgh markets. | Authorised by King James III. | on the 3rd of October 1477. | The Cattle Market was situated at | the western end of the Grassmarket | and in King’s Stables Road | this are was then just outside the Burgh.

Grassmarket 500th anniversary Stone
Grassmarket 500th anniversary plaque.

The White Hart Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh

The White Hart Inn Edinburgh was established in 1516, The White Hart Inn is one of the oldest and most historic pubs in Edinburgh. Past visitors have included the poets Robert Burns and William Wordsworth. The murderers Burke and Hare also were regulars in the pub in the late 1820s, as this is where they were to lure their victims back to their nearby lodgings, where they were murdered and their bodies sold to Dr Knox for medical research and study by students of the University medical school. During the First World War, on 2 April 1916, a German Zeppelin bombing raid was mounted over Edinburgh. During the bombing, a bomb exploded on the pavement outside a Public House, injuring four, one of whom died of shrapnel injuries.

White Hart Inn Grassmarket Last place Robert Burns Stayed in Edinburgh
White Hart Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh

Zeppelin Airship Paving Slab Grassmarket Edinburgh

This Stone marks the site of a bomb dropped from Zeppelin Airship L14 on the night of 2nd April 1916 on that night 2 Zeppelin Airships dropped bomb on Leith and Edinburgh. Some of the places they were dropped in Edinburgh were; 39 Lauriston Place, 183 Causewayside, Marchmont Crescent, Belford Place, Lothian Road, the Castle Rock near the king’s Bridge, 16 Marshall Street, Nicolson Street, 69 St Leonards Hill, Royal Infirmary at Lauriston and Coltbridge Gardens. There were a number of deaths and injured plus substantial damage to property. 

zepplin slab World War 2 bombing Grassmarket

Grassmarket Mission Grassmarket Edinburgh

The Grassmarket Mission was founded by James Fairbairn in 1886. In 1930, the Mission purchased the building next door (at 96 Grassmarket) and constructed a new Mission Hall Alexander Barrie, was appointed Superintendent in 1916, Mission became known colloquially as “The Barries”. The Mission was there to help the poor and needy of the Grassmarket in 1989 the decision was made to sell the Mission Halls. The Grassmarket Community Project was incorporated and funded by The Grassmarket Mission in 2010 and is still going strong. The Plaque reads;

Grassmarket Mission | Undenominational | Erected in Memory of | James Fairbairn | Founder and First Superintendent |

Of This Mission | Died 3rd ay 1894 | “His works Do Follow Him “.

Grassmarket Mission Fairbairn plaque.
Grassmarket Smallest Pub in Scotland

The Grassmarket Gallows Grassmarket Edinburgh

The Grassmarket Edinburgh 1477 to 1911 was one of Edinburgh’s main markets for horse and cattle.

The Grassmarket was also a setting for public executions.

under Scots Law at that time, as she had served her punishment, she was free to go. Only later the words “until dead” were added to the sentence of hanging. You can find the pub named after her just a few yards from where she was hanged. The shadow of a gibbet is marked on the paving stones where the former gallows were. The inscription around the stone reads; On this Spot many Martyrs and Covenanters died for the Protestant Faith

Ancient image of Grassmarket Gallows Edinburgh
Grassmarket Gallows memorial stone
Grassmarket Gallows Edinburgh

Margaret Dickson

‘Half hang it Maggie Dickson’

One famous execution in 1724 was of a Margaret Dickson of Inveresk a young women separated from her husband.

(She was to be known as ‘Half hang it Maggie Dickson’).  Her crime was concealment of pregnancy in the case of a dead child. (Not to be her husbands). She was said to have killed and disposed of the child’s body.


Her execution was carried out by the hangman, after hanging for the prescribed time she was put into a coffin which the lid was nailed firmly closed. A fight broke out between the friends of Maggie and ae surgeon’s apprentices who wanted the body for investigation a regular thing in these times.  Her friends were successful and took the coffin on a wheelbarrow but the uneven roads caused shaking and banging of the coffin and at Peffermill her friends herd banging on the coffin and found Maggie to be alive. By the time they arrived in Musselburgh she walked the final distance to her home at Inveresk.  Maggie had served her sentence of hanging and lived a long life and had several children.

When Maggie went out people would look at her and shout out to her

“half hang it Maggie” when she walked past them in the street.

James Andrews Last Man to be Hanged in Grassmarket

Last Man Executed in Grassmarket

Inscription on the pavement reads; The last person to be hanged from the Grassmarket gallows was James Andrews on the 4th February 1784. the names and dates of others hanged are on the steel boards.

Grassmarket names of Hanged at Gallows

The Grassmarket Cross


Grassmarket Cross
grassmarket cross plaque
Grassmarket Cross Old St Paul's

Captain John Porteous Lynching Grassmarket Edinburgh

Captain John Porteous Lynching in 1736 after 10 years being Captain of the City Guard John Porteous was lynched on 7 September 1736. Three smugglers/robbers were caught and imprisoned for carrying out a robbery. William Hall, George Robertson and Andrew Wilson. At their trial William Hall was sentenced to transportation to the colonies for life, but Andrew Wilson and George Robertson were sentenced to hang and were imprisoned in the Tolbooth in Edinburgh’s High Street awaiting execution. George Robertson escaped and made his way out of Britain. However, Andrew Wilson was publicly hanged in the Grassmarket in April of 1736. As events unfolded a riot started and the City guard was called out, led by Captain John Porteous. Due to the rioting Captain John Porteous instructed his men to fire above the heads of the crowd this made the riot even more heated, the shots had killed onlookers who were at their windows of their houses. With the crowd getting even more violent, Captain Porteous gave the order to shoot into the crowd and more were killed. Later that day Captain John Porteous was arrested and charged with murder. At his trial on 5 July 1736, he was convicted by a unanimous decision and found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The execution took place in the Grassmarket on 8 Sept. 1736. 

Captain Porteous Town Guard Linching

Door Lintel Grassmarket Edinburgh

71 Grassmarket The Lintel above the door Inscription: 1889  VITAM (LIFE) DIRIGAT (DIRECT)

Prior to this building there were housing for the Knights Templar.

Door Lintel at 71 Grassmarket Edinburgh
71 Grassmarket Edinburgh Door lintel inscription

Old Grassmarket Dwelling

This is one of the oldest inscriptions in the Grassmarket dated 1634. The tenement originally owned in 1634 and inscribed 'Blessed be God for all his Giftis' between initials IL and GK, standing for James Lightbodie and his wife Geillis Kniblo. A Scottish custom for the newlyweds to inscribe their initials above the door of their house and the date they married or moved in.

Grassmarket wall inscribed 'Blessed be God for all his Giftis
Old Grassmarket Close Edinburgh

The Beehive Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh

Death Cell Door Calton Jail Edinburgh

The actual door of the death cell that was in the Calton Jail in Regent Road can be found on the first floor of the Beehive Inn.

Beehive Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh
Calton Jail Death Cell Door Bee Hive Inn Grassmarket Edinburgh

The Flodden Wall Grassmarket Edinburgh

From Granny Green Steps across to The Vennel in the west end of the Grassmarket is where the Flodden Wall stood as a protection against invading armies. The Flodden Wall is the name given to the defensive wall which was built to surround the City of Edinburgh in 1513. The pictures below show the Flodden Wall as it is today. The first part of the wall visible is in The Vennel and the final part still standing is in The Pleasance. It was in 1513 that the Scots waged a disastrous attack on the English at Flodden Field. James IV was killed in the action, along with 10,000 other Scots. The Flodden Wall was built to defend Edinburgh from English attacks. Many parts of the wall survive to this day. The wall starts at the Castle goes down Granny Green Steps to the Grassmarket across the Grassmarket to the Vennel Steps where you can find the ‘Flodden Tower’ where the Flodden wall joins the Telfer Wall. This extension was to protect the Heriot Hospital, now Heriot’s School. John Taillefer was the master mason who built and named the Telfer Wall (1628 – 1636). At the corner of Lauriston Place and Heriot Place turn left and follow Heriot’s School wall until you reach a further part of the Telfer Wall. Continue round into Forrest Road where there is a plaque on the wall. This is where the wall would have crossed to the Bristo Gate on your right. Continue on and you will come to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where there are many interesting things to see including parts of the Telfer Wall and where it joins with The Flodden Wall. Click on title in blue to get the Flodden Wall 

Granny Green Steps Flodden Wall Grassmarket Edinburgh
Flodden wall markers Grassmarket Edinburgh
Miss Jean Brodie Steps Vennel Grassmarket

New Greyfriars Mission Buildings Grassmarket Edinburgh

The Greyfriars Mission building was built in 1884 as a part of the Robertson Memorial Mission Buildings.  The three buildings were a church a shop and housing. The wall tablet Inscription reads New Greyfriars Mission Buildings to the glory of God and in loving memory of the Rev. William Robertson DD, for nearly 40 years minister of this Parish. AD 1884. The Church building is now a bar restaurant and brewery.

Grassmarket Mission Buildings.
Church Memorial Tablet Grassmarket Edinburgh

Castle Wynd South

Castle Wynd South is a path and steps that gives access to Johnston Terrace from the Grassmarket. The Steps are named after Patrick Geddes (biologist, sociologist, geographer, and philanthropist) Best known as a town planner.   A further set of steps Castle Wynd North gives access to Castlehill and the entrance to Edinburgh Castle.

Castle Wynd South Grassmarket Edinburgh

Heriot Bridge Grassmarket Edinburgh

Heriot Bridge in the Grassmarket was an access road to Heriot Hospital (school) when it opened in 1628. The Heriot Bridge has long since been block by other school buildings. Heriot’s when built had its main entrance facing the Castle and then the Old Town of Edinburgh as Heriots School stood outside the city walls.

George Heriot's Hospital | School Edinburgh
Heriots School Front Elevation facing Edinburgh Castle

Grassmarket Regulars

The infamous Burke and Hare who lured women from the pubs of the Grassmarket to murder them and sell their bodies to Dr Knox of the Medical School for use in autopsies for the students.

Burke and Hare Death Masks Scottish Nati
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