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    13 Fucking Gruesome Facts About Edinburgh That'll Horrify You

    It's basically built on piles of corpses. H/T Lost Edinburgh and Horrible Histories.

    1. The central part of the city used to be a fetid, overcrowded hellscape full of tall buildings. And poo. / Creative Commons

    In 1456, a defensive wall was built around the Old Town. Problem was, no one wanted to live outside it, so as the population grew, people were packed together in increasingly unsanitary, greasy, mouldy conditions. The only way to expand was upwards, so buildings got taller until they were up to 14 stories high, but had no toilets or running water. Residents would throw their waste out of their windows, shouting "gardyloo" as an advance warning, but it didn't always work, and passers-by would get covered in poo.

    2. And there were mounds of corpses underfoot.


    The lack of space meant that corpses had to be piled really high. In Greyfriars Kirkyard the ground is higher than the surrounding streets because it's jam-packed with at least 500,000 bodies. The top soil is thin too, which means that bones pop up from time to time...which is probably the real reason that Greyfriars Bobby was so keen on the place.

    3. Parts of Bruntsfield are built on old plague pits. / Creative Commons

    And Boroughmuir, too. There were several outbreaks of bubonic plague in the 16th and 17th centuries, and so the council tried to contain the disease by sending people suspected of being infected to be "clengit" (cleansed) on the "Burgh Muir" outside the city walls. People who didn't survive were buried in pits; also, many sufferers died en route and were buried by the wayside. We know this because their remains keep cropping up in people's private gardens. Argh.

    4. Bodies were also buried in mass graves on Leith Links.

    Flickr: 70454000@N00 / Creative Commons

    Over half the population of Leith died during the 1645 outbreak. At the time, Leith wasn't part of Edinburgh. It was a separate port town and therefore particularly vulnerable to plague outbreaks: Arriving ships would bring rats with them, and the rats in turn brought plague-carrying fleas, which then hopped on to shore.

    5. Other residents were simply walled up and left to die. / Creative Commons

    Pestilence spread particularly rapidly in the tenement-filled, poverty-stricken, unhygenic conditions of the Royal Mile, and the council reacted with particularly brutal measures. When an outbreak hit the crowded Mary King's Close, they ordered it to be bricked up, trapping over 300 infected and non-infected residents in their homes. The buried close was uncovered in the 1990s, and you can now visit it (if you dare).

    6. Princes Street Gardens used to be a stinking swamp. / Creative Commons

    It was called the North Loch, or Nor' Loch, and hugged the side of the castle rock. As the Old Town became more and more crowded, its collective filth had to go somewhere, and that place was the loch. It filled with sewage, blood, and even corpses. The smell rising from it mingled with the reek from the crowded city streets. In the 18th century, town leaders became so sick of the smell they drained the loch. Understandable.

    7. And people were put to death by drowning.


    Picture the scene: A frightened young man called Sinclair stands before a judge in 1628 and confesses to the crime of incest with his two sisters. Sinclair and his unlucky sisters are sentenced to death by drowning, although the youngest is later pardoned. Sinclair and his sister were placed into a heavy chest, and thrown into the stinking loch to slowly drown. Their remains weren't found until 1820.

    8. Over 300 "witches" were burned to death in the city.

    Michael White Productions / Python (Monty) Pictures

    There were several waves of stake burnings in Edinburgh between 1590 and 1662, but the burning wasn't even the worst part. Women were tortured to force them to confess; one of these punishments was called the "witches' bridle". The accused were pinned to the wall in an iron mask, which was equipped with sharp prongs that stabbed their mouths, and went through their tongue and cheeks.

    9. One "witch" was treated even worse than the others.


    Her name was Agnes Sampson, and in 1590 she was accused of trying to sink King James' ships by throwing live cats into the sea near Leith, and attempting to kill the king himself by making wax effigies of him, then melting them. She was also accused of making powder for spells from dead bodies, and the rendered fat of a dead child. She was tortured using a method called "thrawing": A rope was tied around her head and twisted tighter and tighter, crushing her skull. Horrible.

    10. Inchkeith Island was a prison for people with syphilis. / Creative Commons,

    Syphilis first reared its (very ugly) head in Naples in 1494, and quickly spread to Edinburgh. The town council decided to quarantine sufferers of this new, horrible disease (which causes horrific sores to form called "gummas", and eventual madness and death). They chose Inchkeith Island in the Firth of Forth, where people infected with "glandgore" were unceremoniously dumped to scratch a living, and then die.

    11. Victorian Edinburgh was the haunt of body snatchers. / Creative Commons / BuzzFeed

    During the 19th century, doctors at Edinburgh Medical College were crying out for corpses for use in medical research. So, two men called Burke and Hare stepped up. They started out by robbing graves, but that got a bit tricky as upset relatives started to watch over graves 24 hours a day. So Burke and Hare cut out the middleman and started to murder people instead. Burke was executed in 1829, and publicly dissected by medical students. His skeleton is still on display at the college.

    12. Edinburgh Castle's tunnels are said to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who was bricked up inside.

    Haxan Films /

    Edinburgh Castle is built on a towering volcanic rock, which has several very ancient man-made tunnels inside it, leading down to the Royal Mile. When these tunnels were first discovered, a young boy was sent down into them with his bagpipes so people above could track where the tunnels led. But abruptly, the piping stopped. No search party could find him, and the tunnels were bricked up. People say his music can still be heard under the castle and the Royal Mile. Nope.

    13. The castle was also the scene of a Game of Thrones-style betrayal and massacre.

    Wikipedia / Creative Commons

    It was called "The Black Dinner" and inspired George R.R. Martin's Red Wedding. In 1440, the adult guardians of 10-year-old King James II invited 16-year-old clan chief William Douglas (and his little brother) for a feast at the castle. After they'd finished, the king's men placed a black bull's head on the table – signalling their intention to kill the boys. Little King James screamed and shouted that he "forbade" the murder, but his guardians ignored him. William and David were tied up, dragged from the room, and beheaded.



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