... or, more precisely, on the land where the New Town currently stands.
In 1717, prior to the development of Edinburgh's grand new housing development, the area to the north of the valley where Princes Street Gardens are today was an area of field, farmland and parks. On some maps the area is referred to as Barefoot Park - it was largely undeveloped space, and a prime location for the New Town development which would follow toward the latter end of the eighteenth century.
At that time, in the valley where Waverley Station stands today, was the village of Calton, and from it a rough track led over Multrees Hill (roughly where Multrees Walk - home of Harvey Nicols and Louis Vuitton - is today) and down the hill to the north, toward the village of Silvermills.
It was along this track that a young man called Robert Irvine was walking on 28 April 1717, accompanied by the two boys to whom he was employed as a tutor.
The boys, aged around 9 and 11 years old, were the sons of James Gordon, who lived in the Old Town. As well as being the boys' tutor, Irvine was also in relationship with a maid from the household.
Upon learning, from the boys, that Irvine and the maid were conducting a relationship under his roof, Gordon dismissed the maid from his household and cast her out. She was immediately made unemployed and, potentially, unemployable, as she would be unable to provide a reference or recommendation to a future employer.
After the maid's dismissal, Irvine was instructed in no uncertain terms that he was not to have a relationship with any member of the household staff. Irvine was enraged, not just at the loss of his love, but of the treatment of his paramour. He may also have been jealous of Gordon's power over the household, and humiliated by the intervention of Gordon in his private life.
He also resolved to have his revenge upon the family.
And so it was, on this bright spring day at the end of April, that Irvine was bringing the boys for a picnic in the park. As they passed along the path, he took a penknife from his pocket. The boys, taking fright, ran from Irvine, but being older and faster he quickly caught up with them. Holding the younger boy down with his knee, he cut the throat of the older boy, before killing the younger boy too.
It was a bloody and violent act, and Irvine probably would have had the fortune to get away with it, had he not been observed by a witness watching from the castle, viewing the events through a telescope.
Irvine was quickly arrested and brought to trial. He was found guilty of the double murder, and sentenced to be hanged, on 1 May 1717. Before they hanged him, his hands were cut off using the knife he had used to kill the boys. Irvine went to the gallows with his own severed hands hanging on a string around his neck.
Today, the stretch of path along which the events are believed to have occurred runs behind the Cafe Royal, immediately opposite the Balmoral Hotel, off the east end of Princes Street. It became known as Gabriel's Road, possibly after the angel Gabriel who would have come down to escort the souls of the two dead children up to heaven...
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