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Edinburgh’s landmark – The Tron Kirk

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The Tron Kirk originally known as Christ’s Kirk at the Tron was built between 1637 and 1647 for the North-West parish, one of the four parishes of Edinburgh, prior to the Kirk’s construction parishioners of the North-West parish worshipped in St Giles Cathedral. King Charles I ordered the Tron Kirk’s to be built when he decided that St Giles’ was to become the cathedral for the new see of Edinburgh. The land was purchased by the parish from Dr. William Scott, MD, for £1000 Scots and the Kirk was constructed by royal master mason, John Mylne, who modelled it on fashionable Dutch designs mixing both Palladian and Gothic features. It has one of Scotland’s two surviving hammerbeam roofs and the clock for the tower was salvaged from the old Weigh House at the head of West Bow and was installed in 1658.

The name Tron Kirk came from the fact that there was a Tron positioned outside the Kirk, a Tron was a public weighing beam used to measure goods to be sold at market, and the word Kirk is Scots for church.

Petty criminals would be punished at this site, quite often corrupt merchants and thieves. They would be nailed to the supporting post of the weighing beam, left there all day receiving abuse and missiles then with the nail still intact, taken by the ankles and ripped of the post.

The building was reduced in size in the late 1700’s when the east side was demolished to make way for the South Bridge being built followed by the west side being demolished to make the building more symmetrical. On the 16th November 1824, the Kirk spire and clock were destroyed in the Great Fire of Edinburgh, the spire was rebuilt by R & R Dickson and a new clock was ordered from James Clark of Edinburgh.

The Kirk used to be the focus of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations for at least 200 years, the citizens of Edinburgh would gather on Hunter Square next to the Tron and bring in the New Year on the stroke of midnight from it’s famous old clock. The event grew in popularity and gravitated to the more accommodating city centre with the City Council’s organised Hogmanay Street Party.

Beneath the Tron Kirk are archaeological remains of Marlin’s Wynd, the earliest paved street in Scotland, some of Marlin’s Wynd’s tenement buildings were demolished to make way for the kirk’s construction. The foundations of 16th century buildings were found when excavations took place under the church, from within, in 1974. Documentation from the 15th century about Marlin’s Wynd has been found along with archaeological evidence dating from the 16th and 17th century, leading archaeologists to believe the buildings had been redeveloped during the late 15th/early 16th centuries, leaving just a trace of the earlier structures.

In 1697, Thomas Aikenhead became the last person in Scotland to be executed for the crime of blasphemy after he blasphemed outside the Kirk. On a particularly cold night he was reported to have said “I wish I were in that place Ezra calls hell so I could warm myself” he was only 18 years old.

The Tron Kirk has survived structural damage, social unrest, the threat of demolition and has had a variety of uses. It closed as a church in 1952 and was acquired by the City of Edinburgh Council. The building is currently leased to Edinburgh World Heritage, they have an exhibition within the atmospheric 17th century former Kirk themed on the historic Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, as well as Scotland’s other five World Heritage Sites. The exhibition highlights what makes Edinburgh’s heritage so important, as well as pointing out some of the issues associated with preserving it. The Tron Kirk is still standing but it is in a poor state of repair and is included on the Historic Environment Scotland Buildings at Risk Register. The objective of the Edinburgh World Heritage is to save the Tron from deteriorating further and to ensure this nationally significant building has a future.

Heave Awa’ Hoose

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On the 24th of November 1861, a 16th century dilapidated seven-story building situated between Bailie Fyfe’s Close and Paisley Close in Edinburgh’s Old Town suddenly collapsed in its entirety.

The disaster happened at ten past one in the morning, with at least 77 inhabitants of the tenement safely tucked up in bed or so they thought. The hugely overcrowded, harrowing living conditions and decaying ruinous state of the buildings in Edinburgh was an inevitable accident waiting to happen and happen it did, on an epic scale.

Two police officers were passing the site when they heard an almighty rumbling crash as the building disintegrated and rendered itself to the ground right in front of them, once the eardrum perforating noise had subsided they could then hear the blood curdling sound of muffled, anguished, desperate screams of the victims trapped under the rubble. Rescuers worked tirelessly throughout the night and into the next day extracting bodies and badly injured survivors. As a consequence of the catastrophe 35 people died either at the scene or later in hospital….

Horrendous I know, but there are one or two happy endings to the story.

Just as the sun was rising, a foot was seen protruding from the wreckage, the foot belonged to 12 year old Joseph McIvor. As rescue workers started clearing the rubble surrounding him they heard a spirited little voice shout… “heave awa’ lads, ah’m no’ deid yet”. Now for those of you who aren’t fluent in Scots dialect this translates as, “heave away lads I’m not dead yet”, a variation of this desperate but comical statement was carved onto the lintel of the replacement building above the entrance to Paisley Close, the building is now affectionately known as Heave Awa’ Hoose.

Another positive outcome was in 1867 when, as a result of the tragedy being the last straw regarding the city’s appalling housing and living conditions, The City Improvements Act was passed by the Lord Provost William Chambers and by the end of the century many of the ancient semi-derelict hovels of the Old Town had been demolished and replaced.

The MacKenzie Poltergeist, Greyfriars Graveyard, Edinburgh

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The MacKenzie Mausoleum in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Graveyard became the final resting place of Sir George MacKenzie in 1691. During his lifetime ‘Bloody MacKenzie’ was the Lord Advocate for Scotland during the reign of Charles II. He was responsible for the persecution and abominable treatment of the Presbyterian Covenanters during a period in history known as the killing times. In total 18,000 Covenanters lost their lives for their faith. After the Covenanters fought and lost a battle with government troops at the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679, 1,200 Presbyterian prisoners of war were incarcerated in the infamous Covenanters Prison. The Covenanters Prison was heavily fortified but open-aired and is regarded one of the world’s first concentration camps. The conditions were appalling and prisoners were treated with utter brutality and cruelty, as a consequence most of them perished due to maltreatment or were executed. The prison used to be located directly next to the graveyard, but the site is now situated within the graveyard, following a later expansion of the burial grounds. The MacKenzie Mausoleum is positioned right next to what was the boundary wall. George MacKenzie requested this site for burial, his reason being that he was very proud of what he had accomplished in his persecution of the Covenanters.

Greyfriars Graveyard

The MacKenzie Poltergeist and the tormented souls of his victims are said to haunt Greyfriars. There are literally hundreds of accounts of sightings of ghostly apparitions, strange phenomena and poltergeist attacks, with many visitors to the graveyard having encountered some sort of paranormal activity, sustaining bruises, bites and scratches, having the sensation of being followed, and/or being knocked to the ground sometimes resulting in the individual being rendered unconscious. Even homes built next to the graveyard are plagued by crockery smashing, objects moving and unidentified laughter. The hauntings are said to have intensified in more recent years following the Mausoleum being broken into several times and George’s burial chamber and remains being disturbed. One incident in 1999 involved a homeless man breaking into the Mausoleum. He descended the staircase to the lower burial chamber containing the MacKenzie family coffins to seek shelter, he tripped in the pitch darkness, fell and crashed straight through the weak floor. He fell some distance and landed on something bumpy, not knowing what was around him he flicked on his lighter and realised to his horror he had fallen into a hidden room below, an ossuary filled with unidentified skeletons speculated to be a plague burial pit.

Want to hear more fascinating stories about the remarkable 16th century Greyfriars Graveyard? There are many tales to tell, some gory, some surprising and some endearing. Our expert guides will walk you around this legendary cemetery and share the intriguing and sometimes sinister history behind the time-worn tombstones. Following this, onward to the infamous and most haunted Niddry Street underground vaults, once an innocent subterranean street of shops and workshops, it soon fell from grace and descended into a filthy overcrowded slum and a playground of the destitute, prostitutes, criminals and witches….

Join us on one of Edinburgh’s most popular walking tours, The Vaults and Graveyard Tour… Make your booking at https://www.auldreekietours.com/our-tours/

Deacon Brodie, the real life inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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The legendary Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating characters, the real life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

Living a polar opposite double life, on the surface he was a respected gentleman, a city councillor, Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and a professional cabinet maker and locksmith with a wife and children. Beneath the surface he drank and gambled excessively, had two mistresses and 5 illegitimate children. This hidden life was expensive to maintain, having drained his inheritance and running out of money he turned to crime to fund it… 

Part of his professional life involved him fitting and repairing locks, he would use this knowledge to burgle his wealthiest customers. One technique was to take their keys and impress them into putty so that he could later make a copy for himself to gain access to their properties. For long enough he went undetected, no one suspected such a respected member of society until one night he got greedy…

Brodie along with accomplices made a botched attempted to rob The Excise Office in Chessel’s Court. This led to his down fall, the game was up, he fled to Amsterdam but was arrested there and brought back to Edinburgh. With evidence mounted against him, he was trialed, convicted and sentenced to hang on the 1st October 1788 age 47 at the old tollbooth jail.

In an ironic twist of fate, he was executed on a new more effective style of hangman’s gallows, the new structure was of Brodie’s own design.

One of the stops in our Hidden Secrets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and Sinister Old Town Tour, is Brodie’s Close, his old workshop and home. Well, one of his homes. Do you want to know why this was only one of his homes? Join us for the tour, and you will find out more about this legendary burglar.

The mosaic heart on Royal Mile, UK No.1 spitting spot?!

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Ever wondered why there is a mosaic heart on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and why it is traditional to spit on the heart as you walk past? 

This is the Heart of Midlothian.

Situated next to St Giles Cathedral, this was the site for over 400 years until its demolition in 1817 of Edinburgh‘s infamous, hated and much feared Tollbooth Jail. As well as being imprisoned in appalling conditions often falsely accused, criminals were brutally tortured and executed here. The balcony of the prison served as a means to carry out punishments and executions publicly. Criminals body parts would then be displayed on spikes protruding from the jail as a warning and deterrent, also on public display were offenders chained up in iron collars attached to the outer walls. Many notable figures of Edinburgh’s past were incarcerated here, such as Deacon Brodie, Major Thomas Weir, Sawney Bean, James Douglas 4th Earl of Morton and John Porteous of the Porteous riots along with witches… lots of witches. 

This building wasn’t just a jail, it was also a booth for collecting tolls hence the name, a court house, council chamber and meeting place for Parliament. It’s a wonder these latter mentioned institutions could concentrate for the the shrill of anguished screams! 

So why spit on the heart? The criminals used to spit on it to show their contempt for the atrocities that went on here for centuries… But nowadays, people spit on it purely for good luck! It’s not the most hygienic way to get good luck, but this is the only place in Britain where it’s legal to spit in public. So if you want to, please feel free to spit away!

In our Hidden Secrets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile Tour, as well as our Sinister Old Town Tour, our professional costumed tour guide will tell you more gory stories about the infamous Old Tollbooth Jail and those “legendary” prisoners…

An authentic Wiccan Witches Coven in South Bridge’s vaults

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A true hidden gem in Auld Reekie’s vaults…

A perfectly preserved witch temple

A time capsule…

If you’ve never been on our tours, you probably don’t know, in Auld Reekie’s vaults, there is a GENUINE witch coven.

As part of our vaults inclusive tours you will see the AUTHENTIC Wiccan Witches Coven named The Source Coven of The Blue Dragon. Now inactive it remains in the same condition with the alter and space set for ritual, untouched like a time capsule following the death of the High Priest George Cameron aka The Hermit. George and his High Priestess, Lady Felina, officiated the UK’s first legal Wiccan marriage in these vaults in 2004 following the the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in 1951. The Source Coven is truly one of our capitals hidden gems. Situated in a subterranean underworld, once you have visited and heard the tales, you will never forget this place….

Please note, in order to protect the coven, visitors are not allowed to step inside this specific vault. But you can get close enough to see all the details that are left untouched. The dragon on the wall, the alter, the cauldron and all the “magic potions”… So many things to look at.

As a matter of fact, this is not the vault that George Cameron first picked! He picked another vault just a little bit further up the street, aptly named “The Stone Circle Vault”. So what changed his mind? And why do we ask people NEVER to step inside the stone circle?

You will find out on our tours….

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