Edinburgh’s infamous Maggie: hanged twice and survived!

If you’ve ever wandered around Edinburgh, you’ve certainly seen this pub in the Grassmarket area:


But whom’s is the pub named after? Who’s this Maggie Dickson? First thing you should know: she survived hanging. Quite impressive, isn’t it?

Let’s start from the beginning though. Maggie, from Musselburgh, .lived in the Early Eighteenth century as a fishwife. She’s remembered as an outspoken, promiscuous and vituperative woman who slept with men for pleasure or money, and looked after her two bairns’. Her “adventure” began when her mariner husband abandoned her, so that she in turn had to abandon her children to a friend and move further south to Kelso near the Scottish Borders. Here, she worked for an inkeeper in return for basic lodgings.

There she met the innkeeper’s son, William Bell: she was completely fascinated and seduced by this tall and attractive young man, yearned for him and finally begged for his attention. Bell walked away knowing she was married and off limits. Her forbidden love festered to the point where Maggie completely lost her mind and finally got to have him.

Unfortunately she found herself pregnant with William’s child and not wanting the innkeeper to discover this as it would surely lead to her instant dismissal she concealed her pregnancy as long as possible. However the baby was born prematurely and died within a few days of being born. Still hiding the baby’s existance she planned to put the baby into the River Tweed, but couldn’t bring herself to and finally left it on the riverbank.

The baby was discovered by a local fisherman and traced to Maggie. She was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and she was taken back to Edinburgh for Trial and execution – the latter taking place in public in the Grasssmarket on the 2nd September 1724.

After the hanging she was pronounced dead and her body was bound for Musselburgh where she was to be buried, however while the funeral party in charge of the corpse stopped at a tavern for refreshments, two passing joiners heard noises coming from inside the coffin and informed the father and friends. When the lid was taken off the corpse stood up, alive! Spectators run for their lives but her father was mad with joy. She was taken to Musselburgh and recovered full health.

The law saw it as God’s will and she was freed to live for a further forty years, free from her marriage too (you know, the until death do us apart thing). She became something of a local celebrity and the locals gave her the nickname ‘Half Hangit’ Maggie.’

Some said that she had seduced and manipulated the ropemaker, to engineer a weaker noose.

A pub in the Grassmarket is named Maggie Dickson’s after her memory and ir’s said that she used to mock those sentenced to death saying things like “Don’t worry! That’s not that hard, I’ve done it!”


Header picture: google images

10 Replies to “Edinburgh’s infamous Maggie: hanged twice and survived!”

  1. That is quite a story. I live in the South of England and I love how each village has its own stories. My little town has at least 10 different legends and it’s so nice to listen the locals talking about them and imagine the tales.

    Mi piace


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