With a rich and diverse history, Edinburgh is home to a multitude of interesting facts and titbits. It’s why we’ve put together 10 interesting facts about Edinburgh you may not know you needed to know. To find out more about this riveting city and explore all it has to offer, check out our Edinburgh city guides.
Reeking of history
Contrary to popular belief, Edinburgh’s well-know nickname, Auld Reekie, was not coined as a result of the stench of open sewers in medieval times. In fact, it refers to the smoke emitted by coal and wood burnt in the city’s buildings and homes.
Trial and error
Famed for its beautiful blooms, Princess Street Gardens was once a large body of water known as ‘Nor Loch’. Heavily polluted with sewage, the loch is thought to be the location of around 300 witch trials. Women suspected of practicing witchcraft were cast into the watery depths to determine their guilt. If they could float their fate was sealed and they were executed as witches. If they couldn’t, they were presumed innocent … even though they met the same bitter end.
Hair raising remedies
Our list of interesting facts about Edinburgh would not be complete without a strange superstition or two of the city’s locals. In the 17th century, Edinburgh residents believed that rubbing the burnt ashes of dove’s droppings onto their heads would cure baldness.
A bitter pill to swallow
Renowned for spearheading medical science, the Edinburgh Medical College was in dire need of fresh cadavers in the 19th century. Two enterprising Irish migrants, William Burke and William Hare, decided to take the supply and demand of cadavers into their own hands. They murdered at least 17 people in what would become known as the ‘West Port Murders’. Their reign of terror finally came to an end when a body was discovered under Burke’s bed. In 1929, Burke was executed, and in an ironic turn of events, the famous body snatcher was dissected in the most well attended lecture in Edinburgh’s history.
Caddying for Edinburgh
Scotland is known the world over as the home of golf. It’s not surprising then that the word ‘caddie’ is believed to have its roots in Edinburgh too. Apparently, the word was originally used to describe the men who were hired to carry pails of water up to tenement flats in Old Town – proof that there is no handicap on the endless interesting facts about Edinburgh.
The Stone of Destiny is the traditional coronation stone of Scottish and English royalty. Despite its unremarkable appearance, the simple slab of sandstone has had a turbulent history. For over 700 years it has been fought over, hidden and captured. Today it is kept in Edinburgh Castle with the crown jewels of Scotland.
Mons Meg is one of two surviving “bombard guns” presented to King James II in 1457. The 6 ton mammoth cannon is capable of firing solid stone cannon balls three times the size of an average human head and weighing nearly 400 pounds. Impractical for battle, the cannon was retired to Edinburgh Castle in the 1650’s, and is still on display today.
Long before tapping phones and bugging homes, ancient kings of Scotland had their own method of listening in on unsuspecting gossipers. Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall has a small window high above the fireplace known as “laird’s lugs” that allowed ancient monarchs to eavesdrop on conversations in the Hall below.
Elementary dear Watson
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the legendary author, was born in Edinburgh. Many believe he based his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes, on Professor Joseph Bell – President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Another literary great, Charles Dickens, invented the legendary character of Scrooge after misreading a tombstone in Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the inscription “Meanman” on the successful Edinburgh merchant, Ebenezer Scroggie’s, tombstone. The tombstone actually read “Mealman” in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader, and so a legendary character was mistakenly born.