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The Grassmarket, with Edinburgh Castle towering above it

The Grassmarket is an historic market square in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland. In relation to the rest of the city the area lies in a hollow, well below surrounding ground levels.


The Grassmarket is located directly south-east of Edinburgh Castle with the castle dominating views northwards from the space. It adjoins the Cowgate and Candlemaker Row to the east, the West Bow (leading to Victoria Street) to the north-east, King's Stables Road to the north-west and the West Port to the west. Leading off the Grassmarket from its south-west corner is the Vennel, on the east side of which can still be seen some of the best remaining parts of the Flodden and Telfer city walls.

It forms part of the main east-west vehicle arteries through the city centre.


Western end of Grassmarket, painted in 1845

First mentioned in the Registrum Magni Sigilii Regum Scotorum in 1363 as "the street called Newbygging (new building) under the castle", the Grassmarket was, from 1477 to 1911, one of Edinburgh's main markets for horse and cattle (the name apparently deriving from livestock grazing in pens beyond its western end).[1]

The Grassmarket was also a place of public executions. A popular story in Edinburgh is that of Maggie Dickson, a fishwife from Musselburgh who was hanged in the Grassmarket in 1724 for murdering her own baby. After the hanging, her body was taken back to Musselburgh in a coffin. However, on the way there she awoke. Under Scots Law she had served her punishment. Only later were the words "until dead" added to the sentence of hanging. It was also to some extent seen as divine intervention, and so she was allowed to go free. [2] In later life (and legend) she was thereafter referred to as Half-Hangit Maggie. There is now a pub named after Maggie situated on the Grassmarket.

Maggie Dickson's Pub

For most of its history the Grassmarket was one of the poorer areas of the city, associated in the nineteenth century with an influx of poor Irish. The character of the area was reflected in a number of hostels for the homeless (including that of the Salvation Army for women, now a backpackers hostel) which existed here until the 1980s. From the 1980s property prices started to rise sharply. The area is, and always has been, dominated by a series of public houses. In recent years many have become more family-friendly, and include dining areas. The council has recently further encouraged this to spill onto the pavements, giving a more European atmosphere to the space.


The old market area is surrounded by pubs, clubs, local retail shops, and two large Apex Hotels. Many students live in the Grassmarket, though its openness (due to the large market space) and proximity to the centre of town now tend to increase house prices.

Most buildings are Victorian but some, such as the White Hart Inn and its encompassing tenement are early 18th century. Several modern buildings on its southern side disrupt the unity of the otherwise old streetscape.

North-east corner of the Grassmarket

Modern developments[edit]

Shadow of the gibbet

The Grassmarket was subject to a streetscape improvement scheme carried out 2009/2010 costing £5 million. Measures aiming to make the area more pedestrian-friendly included the extension of pavement cafe areas and the creation an "events zone".

The "shadow" of a gibbet was added in dark paving on the former gallows site (next to the Covenanters' monument).

The line of the Flodden Wall was also delineated at the west end of the Grassmarket, linking from the Vennel to the newly created Granny's Green Steps.


  1. ^ S Harris, The Place Names Of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright Publishing, Edinburgh 1996
  2. ^ Executions in Edinburgh 1400 to 1900 (folio, National Library)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°56′51.26″N 3°11′45.59″W / 55.9475722°N 3.1959972°W / 55.9475722; -3.1959972