Greyfriars Bobby & Kirk
The World Famous Scottish Tale
Greyfriars Bobby has become famous through an active legend in Edinburgh, through several books and films. Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier dog who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for, as legend tells us, spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself on 14 January 1872.
Read the Story of Greyfriars Bobby
The best-known version of the story is that Bobby belonged to John Gray, Constable No 90, who worked for the Edinburgh City Police as a night watchman. Out year round in all of Scotland’s roughest of winter weathers preventing thieves, grave robbers and unsavory crooks and nocturnal opportunists.
John Gray as was obliged to have a watch dog with him at all times. He chose a Skye terrier, about 6 months old, who he called ‘Bobby’ – after all he was a police dog! John Gray (known as ‘Auld Jock’) had served nearly five years as a night Watchman Police Constable; making him one of the longest serving Constables of his time, due to the harsh long nights and cold Scottish winter nights.
In October 1857, the nights were particularly stormy, cold and wet, and Auld Jock developed a bad cough. By November Auld Jock’s cough got much worse and he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. He became weaker over the December festive and by 8th February he was not able to rise from his bed. His loyal Bobby dog lay at his feet throughout, unwilling to leave Auld Jock’s side. That February evening Auld Jock sadly died, leaving his wife an son, and his loyal dog Bobby.
Auld Jock, John Gray, was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in the Old Town of Edinburgh, and one of the graveyards he and Bobby spent many a night protecting from grave robbers.
James Brown the keeper and gardener of the burial ground remembered John Gray’s funeral and he said the Skye terrier was one of the most conspicuous of the mourners. The grave was closed and the next morning James Brown the curator found the Skye terrier lying on the newly made mound of earth. Old James could not permit this, for there was an order at the gate stating that dogs were not admitted into the Kirkyard. Accordingly…Bobby was driven out.
Next morning the same thing happened again, Bobby was lying on the grave. The third morning was wet and cold; James Brown took pity on the faithful animal and gave him some food. Bobby dog had made the Kirkyard his home and remained on his masters grave for 14 years, until his own death in 1872.
Often in very bad weather, attempts were made to encourage him indoors, but he was not having any of that. At almost any time during the day, he would be seen in or around the Kirkyard. He had made many friends. A weekly treat of steak given by Sergeant Scott of the Royal Engineers from Edinburgh Castle. Punctually at the sound of the One O’clock time gun, Bobby would appear at the Coffee House for his dinner. In 1867 Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers—who was also a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—paid for Bobby’s licence, and gave the dog a collar now in the Museum of Edinburgh.
Bobby , himself was buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from John Gray’s grave. A year later, Lady Burdett-Coutts had a statue and fountain erected at the southern end of the George IV Bridge to commemorate him. Today, locals and tourists alike flock to touch the nose of the statue – which is said to bring Good Luck.
Several books and films have since been based on Bobby’s life, including the novel Greyfriars Bobby (1912) by Eleanor Atkinson and the films Greyfriars Bobby (1961) and The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby (2006). You can visit the Kirk of Greyfriars today free of charge.
The Kirk of the Greyfriars
The Kirk of the Greyfriars was the first Church built in Edinburgh after the Reformation of the Monks of the Franciscan Order (who came to Edinburgh in 1447). Taking its name from the Franciscan Friary, with permission from Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 the Edinburgh Town Council took over the grounds to use as a burial yard known today as containing one of the most impressive collection of tombstones and memorials in Britain. Progress in building the Kirk was slow, work started in 1602 but the Kirk did not open for regular use until Christmas 1620.