The gruesome tale of ‘half-hangit Maggie’


Since medieval times – and perhaps even before – Edinburgh’s Grassmarket was the site of the city’s public executions, and there is a plaque to commemorate this fact in the middle of the street. During the Reformation period hangings were particularly common, and one pub here – you may see it on the left-hand side of the street – is named The Last Drop, referring to the favoured execution method in medieval times.

One true – and particularly poignant – story refers to Maggie Dickson, who has also had a pub named after her. You’ll see the pub on the left-hand side of Grassmarket. Maggie was a fish-seller in Edinburgh, who left the city in the early 1700s after being deserted by her husband. She later became pregnant, though the child died during childbirth. Because Maggie did not have enough money for a proper burial, she did it herself – but was found out and charged with concealment, which carried the death penalty. Her execution was planned for the Second of September, 1724.

Following the hanging – and, reportedly, a near-riot as relatives fought medical students for possession of the body, Maggie was placed in a coffin and taken for burial. Amazingly, there was a banging noise from inside the coffin and Maggie emerged – still alive. Under existing laws Maggie could not be hanged twice for the same crime twice – and she lived for many more years, becoming known as ‘half-hangit Maggie’. Various stories offer theories for Maggie’s survival; the most likely being that she in some way ‘befriended’ the ropemaker who supplied the city hangman, who ensured the rope was flawed.

Find out more about Grassmarket on our Edinburgh tour. Click here for more information

Leave a comment