Tales about Burke and Hare, Agnes Finnie, Sawney Bean and others
Scotland's history is seeped in tales of murder, torture and brutality. Edinburgh alone attracts millions of people every year and its ominous history is one of the main draws. From cases of witchcraft and sorcery to cave-dwelling cannibals, we take a look at some key character who have helped shape Scotland's dark history that you might just meet on a visit to Edinburgh Dungeon.
Elizabeth Elphinstone (The Green Lady) One of Edinburgh's greatest ghost stories is set in 1715 in Morningside, one of the city's more prestigious areas at the time. Sir Thomas Elphinstone had bought a home here after his wife passed away, but it wasn't long before his new wife, young Elizabeth Pittendale moved in. Elizabeth had previously fallen in love with a young army officer called Jack Courage, but the couple had ended things when Jack was placed overseas.
Not long into their marriage, Thomas told Elizabeth that they would be getting a visit from his son who was returning home after serving in the military overseas. Rumour has it that the son who appeared at the door was Jack Courage, the man who Elizabeth had fallen in love with. It wasn't long before their relationship picked up where it left off, and Thomas realised what was going on. In an argument with his son, Thomas accidentally murdered Elizabeth and heartbroken, took his own life not long after. John moved out of the house and rented it to a new tenant and it was then that the ghost of The Green Lady appeared.
The Torturer Edinburgh's hidden underground tunnels and chambers are where torture implements from the 1400s through to about 1850 were carried out. Devices used by the torturer include the tongue tearer – an instrument that was heated before being clamped down on the tongue, twisting it several times before pulling it straight out. Thumbscrews were also a popular method of torture which would grip fingers and toes, tightening the screws to crush and break the bone. Butchers hooks were often used to punish traitors, hooked into the base of the neck to lift them off the ground.
Agnes Finnie There are several accounts that link the Edinburgh shopkeeper and moneylender, Agnes Finnie to witchcraft. Agnes lived in and worked in Potterrow, and it was in this neighbourhood where most of the allegations took place. The son of William Fairlie passed Agnes in the street one day and shouted her nickname 'Agnes Winnie!', which led Agnes to curse him publically in the street. The next day, the boy had no feeling in the left side of his body and he passed away the following week, which medical physicians said was the result supernatural causes. After several cases, Agnes was arrested in June 1644 on 20 counts of witchcraft and sorcery, and she was executed on Castle Hill in March the following year.
Burke and Hare William Burke and William Hare were the culprits behind the infamous Burke and Hare murders which took place in Edinburgh in 1828. When a resident of Hare's lodging house passed away in 1827, the pair sold the body to reclaim money owed by the resident. Doctor Robert Knox bought the body for dissection at his anatomy lectures, as few corpses were being allocated to his medical school at the time. From then on, body snatching flourished, and Burke and Hare stopped waiting for their victims to die of natural causes, and so began the series of murders. The situation became so worrying for families with recently buried relatives, that the bodies would be watched 24 hours a day until they were no longer of any use to the body snatchers. Many of Edinburgh's graveyards even installed high walls and watchtowers, like St Cuthberts Church at the top of King Stables road.
Sawney Bean The story behind Alexander 'Sawney' Bean and his clan of 48 cannibals is one of the more gruesome tales of Scotland's past. Sawney Bean was born in East Lothian during the 1500s, but later moved to Ayrshire with his wife and settled in a coastal cave in Bennane Head. The couple began robbing passers by, murdering the victims and butchering the bodies to feed on. As their family grew, so did their appetite for human flesh, so the group started to target larger groups of people. Eventually, the clan's place of residence was revealed and they were taken in chains to Edinburgh and Glasgow where they were executed without trial. Some Historians question the authenticity of the Sawney Bean legend and others struggle to believe that he even existed, but myth or no myth, the story of the cave-dwelling cannibal continues to petrify.
Tucked away behind Waverley Station, the Edinburgh Dungeon is a gruesome entertainment venue that allows visitors to experience the murkier side of Edinburgh’s history. Among the attractions are 11 actor-led shows and two rides: one simulating a…