Photographer's Note

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This is very much a "nothing special" photograph of a pub called "Maggie Dickson's" in an old street in the Old Town of Edinburgh called the "Grassmarket". The Grassmarket in times past was a place where farmers' markets took place with the buying and selling of farm produce as well as livestock: but it was also where the majority of Edinburgh's public executions took place.

Now, Maggie Dickson lived from about 1702 to about 1765. Born in Musselburgh, a few miles from Edinburgh, she married a fisherman but he quickly left the scene after (depending on the version of the story you read) either being press ganged into the Royal Navy or, perhaps, going to work on the fishing fleet in Newcastle.

Left alone with two young children and no means of support, poor Maggie, in 1723, managed to find work at an inn in Kelso but unfortunately "fell pregnant" after a relationship with the innkeeper's son. Maggie concealed the fact of her pregnancy and the baby duly arrived, but prematurely. It is unclear whether the baby was stillborn or died shortly after birth and, if the latter, how it died. Either way, Maggie, distressed at the loss of her newborn child, abandoned the dead infant on the banks of the River Tweed, where it was found the next day and reported to the police.

Maggie was quickly traced and arrested and subsequently tried in Edinburgh. Some sources say she was charged under the Concealment of Pregnancy Act but it seems more likely she was tried with causing the death of her child. Based on very questionable medical evidence that the child had been born alive, she was unfortunately convicted and sentenced to death.

Maggie was duly hanged at a public execution in Edinburgh's Grassmarket on 2 September 1724, right next to where this pub now stands. Her execution was followed by a near riot as friends and relatives fought with medical students for possession of her body because in those days there was great demand for fresh corpses for anatomical dissection. But the friends and relatives won and Maggie was placed in a coffin to be transported by cart to Musselburgh for burial. However, while the funeral party paused en route for refreshment in a roadside tavern, the lid of the coffin was seen to move, and Maggie was found to be alive. She was given food and drink and was well enough to walk the rest of the way to Musselburgh the next day.

As the sentence of the court had been carried out, Maggie was beyond further prosecution and she lived for another 40 years, known universally as "Half-Hangit Maggie" ("Half-hanged Margaret").

Just a few yards from here is another pub, "The Last Drop", referring to the last public hanging here in Edinburgh in 1864.

ISO 200, 1/60 sec at f/8, focal length 73mm.

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Additional Photos by John Cannon (tyro) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1927 W: 427 N: 7230] (29026)
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