Edinburgh is well-known for its tales of supernatural occurrences and not-of-this-world presences - whether you believe in ghosts or not, there have certainly been some pretty spooky goings on in the city over the last few hundred years!
I was intrigued to come across this story of a pretty low-profile kind of a ghost, one that hasn't yet made it into the tales told at Edinburgh Dungeon (although their latest attraction, telling of Edinburgh's 'Green Lady' is an especially chilling tale...). Recounted in the Caledonian Mercury, a now defunct local newspaper, the story is dated this day, March 30, 1815.
In the story, a local man has appeared in court charged with circulating a story about a ghost that he has seen haunting a property in Jamaica Street, in the New Town. The effect (and alleged purpose) of him propagating such a story was that the proprieter of the premises was having difficulty letting them out, and this was having a negative and damaging effect upon his business and income.
Certainly many properties in the city today pride themselves on their ghostly inhabitants, and indeed trade upon the fact that they are haunted for the benefits of publicity and atmosphere! How different the spiritual climate must have been two centuries ago, that a reputed haunting could have such a detrimental effect upon a person's business that they are moved to take the teller of the ghostly tale to court!
The gentleman in question, in 1815, defended himself at the trial, insisting that he had not only seen the ghost but had spoken to it and engaged it in conversation "on several occasions". He declined to disclose the content of these conversations, however, on the grounds that the ghost had sworn him to secrecy... It certainly sounds like one of the strangest defences ever mounted in a Scottish court of law!
The magistrate hearing the case issued a curious judgement - the defendant was bound over to keep the peace (ie. not to tell any further ghost stories) for a year, under threat of a £5 fine. At this juncture the defendant asked a special permission from the magistrate - since the ghost had previously agreed that it would speak with him again on a future occasion ("to partake of his hospitality," as the article puts it...), could he have formal legal permission to engage the ghost in further conversation, if he agreed to simply not to speak of it to anyone?
The Caledonian Mercury states that in this highly unusual matter of ghost vs. commercial interest, "We, for our part, are of the opinion, that the ghost ought to have been called into Court for its interest".
For more tales of Edinburgh's past, book one of my Up-Close and Personal Tours of the city.
Inspired by an entry in Michael TRB Turnbull's Edinburgh Book of Days.
Edinburgh Expert is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh with 18 years of experience living and working in the city.