Tag Archives: Greyfriars Cemetery

Harry Potter Connection

J. K. Rowling, the famed author of the Harry Potter series of books, wrote the saga while living in Edinburgh. Many of the characters’ names were consciously, or subconsciously, chosen from Edinburgh’s streets, landmarks and graveyards.

In Greyfriars Kirkyard near the George Heriot school gate is a tablet marking the grave of William Topaz McGonagall, (George Heriot’s school may have been the template for Hogwarts.) Professor Minerva McGonagall was the head of Gryffindor house at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry.

William Topaz McGonagall who was born in March 1825, died on 29 September 1902. He was a poet whose poems are considered the worst in English literature. Audiences threw rotten fish at him and his performances were banned leaving him a pauper when he died.


william mcgonagall tripadvisor

William McGonagall / Poet and Tragedian / Died 2nd September 1902 / Buried near this spot
“I am your Gracious Majesty
ever faithful to thee
William McGonagall , The Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee.”
W. McG. 6th. Sept. 1877

The grave of Thomas Riddell also in Greyfriars Kirkyard, was chosen as the real name of the Dark Lord Voldemort. This character appeared in the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was released in 1997.

Thomas Riddell, who died in 1806 aged 72, shares his gravestone with members of his family.

riddell Tom-Riddle-tombstone-375x500

Sacred / to the Memory / of Thomas Riddell Esq. / of Befsborough, / in the County of Berwick / who died in Edinburgh / on the 24. Novm. 1806, / aged 72 years.
ALSO / of Thomas Riddell Esq. his Son, / Captain of the 14. Regiment, / who died at Trinidad in the West Indies / on the 12. Septm. 1802, / aged 26 years.
AND / of Christian Riddell, / his Daughter, / who died in Edinburgh / on the 29. Oct, 1808, / aged 31 years.
ALSO / Maira Jane Riddell, / his daughter / died 5th Sept. 1819 / aged 47″

Contradictory feelings on notes have been left at the graveside by people from all over the world.

“RIP Tom, thank you for making us all believe in magic. You are an inspiration.”

“Dear idiots, you know there’s a difference between fiction and reality, right?”

Greyfriars Bobby

The Grave
A red granite stone commemorating a small dog was erected in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland in 1981. The inscription reads, Greyfriars Bobby / Died 14 January 1872 / Aged 16 Years / Let His Loyalty And Devotion / Be A Lesson To Us All / Erected By The Dog Aid Society / Of Scotland And Unveiled By H.R.H. / The Duke Of Gloucester C.C.V.O. / On 13th May 1981.


Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier, is a legend of questionable historical accuracy. The fact which cannot be disputed is that a little dog lived within the Kirkyard in the mid 19th century and was fed and given shelter by local residents often showing up at Traill’s Restaurant in Greyfriars Place as if summoned by the One O’Clock gun.

1860s_John Trailfamily
John Traill’s family with Bobby

In 1867 a by-law required that all dogs be licensed by their owners with the understanding that stray or unlicensed dogs would be destroyed. The popularity and public knowledge of Bobby persuaded Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers, a director of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to purchase a license and award him the Freedom of the City. He also purchased a dog collar inscribed with the words: “Greyfriars Bobby from the Lord Provost 1867 licensed.” The collar is now in the Museum of Edinburgh, Huntly House, on the Royal Mile.

bobby oneoclockgun

There are two versions of the legend of Greyfriars Bobby, a little dog with shaggy hair hanging over his eyes and a stumpy tail that died in 14 January 1872.


Legend 1: John Gray, an unemployed gardener, joined the police force as a night watchman and was assigned a dog named Bobby (the British nickname for a policeman) to cover an area of old Edinburgh that included Upper Cowgate, the Grassmarket, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Candlemaker Row, the grounds of Heriot’s Hospital and the Cattle Market. When Gray died in 1858, Bobby followed his master into Greyfriars Kirkyard and was found lying on the grave by the curator the next morning. As dogs were not allowed inside the churchyard he was regularly chased out but continued to return. The curator, James Brown, took pity on the little animal and gave him some food. He also gave him sackcloth to lie on and local residents created a shelter for him to stay warm. He kept vigil at the grave of his master for 14 years until he died. He was then buried just inside the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, not far from John Gray’s grave. (Another story relates that special permission was given to open the grave of John Gray to allow his faithful companion to be interred with him.)

Version 2: Bobby, a nuisance stray that frequented Heriot’s hospital, was chased out by the gardener and took refuge in Greyfriars Kirkyard. James Brown, the curator, became fond of him and began to feed him which encouraged the little dog to frequent the churchyard on a regular basis. Visitors to the churchyard who saw Bobby believed he was a devoted dog refusing to leave his master’s grave and encouraged the curator to tell the story of Greyfriars Bobby.

It is also believed that the original Bobby died in 1867. His story had become known nationwide, and to encourage visitation to the graveyard, he was replaced with a younger dog. The Curator continued to relate the story of Bobby in Traill’s Restaurant.

The legends appear to be a fabrication as proven by the blog below which references newspaper reports and minutes of Edinburgh Council meetings. https://roundthewatertrough.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/greyfriars-bobby-a-shaggy-dog-story/

Nevertheless, the gravestone has become a shrine and fetch sticks, toys and flowers are frequently left there.

The Fountain
On 15 November 1873 a drinking fountain with a life size statue of a dog was unveiled near Greyfriars Kirkyard at the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV bridge in Edinburgh. The red granite fountain offered drinking water to humans using stone drinking cups attached by chains until 1975. Dogs drank from an octagonal trough at ground level.

Image copyright City of Edinburgh Council, Capital Collections  www.capitalcollections.org.uk

Greyfriars Bobby_Lost Edinburgh

A plaque on the base reads A tribute / to the affectionate fidelity of / Greyfriars Bobby. / In 1858, this faithful dog followed / the remains of his master to Greyfriars Churchyard and lingered near the spot / until his death in 1872. / With permission / erected by the / Baroness Burdett-Coutts.


Inscribed on the statue is: Greyfriars Bobby, from the life just before his death and W.H. Brodie Sc RSA 1872.


The bronze statue of a terrier was sculpted by William Brodie, and donated by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the President of the Ladies Committee of the RSPCA.

The backdrop to the monument is Greyfriar Bobby’s Bar, previously known as Traill’s Restaurant. A plaque on the wall states: Greyfriars / “Bobby” / was fed here / from / 1858 to 1872.

wikimedia_kim traynor

The monument was listed a Category A historic building on 29 April 1977 and is Edinburgh’s smallest listed building.


When the fountain was first erected a gas street light stood behind the statue, and during the conversion to electricity of the city’s lights, the lamp was removed. It has now been duplicated using historic photographs and salvaged lamp columns with the assistance of a grant from Edinburgh World Heritage.

The fountain suffered damage due to vandalism and a car accident in 1984 which required repair. It was restored the following year. However, a recent custom of rubbing Bobby’s nose for luck removed the black finish and exposed the underlying brass. On 1st October 2013, Powderhall Bronze, a sculpture conservation and restoration specialist, was hired to clean, wax and re-patinate Bobby’s nose.

edinburghspotlight Greyfriars bobby

Martyr’s Stone

This monument known as the Martyr’s Stone is set into the north east corner wall of Greyfriar’s Cemetery in Edinburgh.

The tomb was erected in 1706. The original structure contained a triangular pediment and two columns with scroll capitals with a large slab of white marble containing text (documented below), and beneath a carving of an open bible containing text from the book of Revelation ending with these words, ‘This tomb was first erected by James Curie, Merchant in Pentland, and others, 1706, renewed 1771.

As can be seen in the photograph hundreds of years of neglect and fierce weather has damaged the monument.

Martyr's Stone
Martyr’s Stone

Halt Passenger, take heed, what you do see,
This tomb doth shew, for what some men did die,
Here lies interred the dust of those who stood
Against perjury, resisting unto blood
Adhering to the Covenants, and laws
Establishing the same, which was the cause
Then lives were sacrificed unto the lust
Of Prelatists abjured. Though here their dust
Lies mixed with murderers, and other crew
Whom justice justly did to death pursue
But as for them, no cause was to be found
Worthy of death, but only they were found.
Constant and steadfast, zealous witnessing
For the Prerogatives of CHRIST their KING.
Which truths were sealed by famous Guthrie’s head
And all along to Mr. Renwick’s blood.
They did endure the wrath of enemies
Reproaches, torments, deaths and injuries
But yet they’re those who from such trouble came
And now triumph in glory with the LAMB.
From May 27th, 1661 that the most noble Marquis
Of Argyle was beheaded to the 17th of February 1688
That Mr. James Renwick suffered, were one way
Or other Murdered and Destroyed for the same cause, about
Eighteen thousand of whom were executed at Edinburgh, about an
Hundred of Noblemen, Gentlemen, Ministers and Others, noble
Martyrs for Jesus Christ. The most of them lie here.
For a particular account of the cause and manner of their Sufferings, see
The Cloud of Witnesses, Crookshanks, and Defoe’s histories.

Note: The National Covenant was a protest by Scottish Presbyterians against Charles I’s preference for a High Anglican form of worship which was considered too Catholic. The most fervent and well known protestors being:
Archibald, Marquis of Argyle
James Renwick, a Presbyterian Minister
James Guthrie, a minister at Stirling.


A frequent feature on gravestones, the skull is a symbol of death, mortality, penitence, and sin. It appears in several formats.

Symbolic of crucifixion, death, and mortality.
The fear which this ancient symbol of death inspires led pirates to adopt it as an emblem upon their black flags and chemists to use it to denote poison. The combination when it appears on tombstones means, “He  is dead.”

Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland

See yonder flower that scents the air
How sweet it blooms
How swift it fades!
Just such is man in youth how fair
How chang’d his form when death invades!
Yet fades the flower to bloom again
And we shall rise with Christ to reign.

St. Nicholas, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

As measured notes of set music we pass in fast or slow marches to the grave.

St. Nicholas, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland
St. Nicholas, Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

Gently this spot in solemn silence tread
Let none disturb the relics of these dead
Their souls have waft themselves to God on high
But here all round this stone their bodies lie.

Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland

In my Father’s house are many mansions.

It is interesting to note that this skull is accompanied with only one bone. Curious and puzzling.

Athelstaneford Parish Churchyard, East Lothian,  Scotland
Athelstaneford Parish Churchyard, East Lothian, Scotland

Lo!  Lost remembrance drops a pious tear
And holy friendship stands a mourner here.

This sculptured panel contains only the crossbones, and they are intersected with workman’s tools; a pick, a shovel, and a spade.

Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
Greyfriars Cemetery, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord
They rest from their labours and their works do follow them.

The skull represented here also displays crossed arrows and an hourglass, both of which symbolize mortality.

Lasswade Cemetery, Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland
Lasswade Cemetery, Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland

I am the Resurrection and the Life
He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.

The badly eroded stone displays a dove flying above a skull and represents the resurrection of the soul.

Campbellville Burying Ground, Campbellville, ON, Canada

A winged skull symbolizes the ascension into heaven, and the flight of the soul from mortal man.
Sometimes called death’s heads or winged death, it represents the fleeting nature of life and impending death. It was once a common motif on New England tombstones.

80% of the carvings on gravestones in Copps Hill Cemetery, Boston, bear the winged skull symbol.

Copps Hill, Boston, MA, USA
Copps Hill, Boston, MA, USA

Skull lyes

No flat ring marble rules the traveler here
The spot is sacred to affections dear
He was in life what artful men pretend
Companion, parent, neighbour, Christian, friend. 1802

Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA
Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA

Hail sweet repose not shall we rest
No more with sickness be distressed
Here from all sorrows find release
Our souls shall dwell in endless peace. 1789

King's Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, MA
King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, MA

No longer was my  life
No longer was my breath
God called me home in early life
Because he thought it best. 1805

King's Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, MA
King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, MA

Though far from home in distant land
My flesh returns to dust
In hopes to rise when Jesus calls
And dwell among the just. 1808

Old Burial Ground, Brewster, MA
Old Burial Ground, Brewster, MA

Life’s painful toils are over
Its pilgrimage is ended
And to a  purer happier shore
Her spirit hath ascended. 1808