Lost Edinburgh: The Heart of Midlothian

The Heart of Midlothian which marks where the Tolbooth Prison once stood. Picture: TSPL

The Heart of Midlothian which marks where the Tolbooth Prison once stood. Picture: TSPL

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There can’t be many football clubs in the world named after a dancehall, a novel, or an early 19th century jail, but Heart of Midlothian Football Club can claim all three.

When Edinburgh’s much-feared Old Tolbooth prison was demolished in 1817, the town’s inhabitants seemed determined that its legacy would not be forgotten.

World-famous pen swinger, Sir Walter Scott, managed to salvage one of the jail’s doors for his Abbottsford home and made mention of the Old Tolbooth numerous times in his novel ‘The Heart of Midlothian’ (1818) which detailed the Porteous Riots of 1736. The title of the book was a direct reference to the Old Tolbooth, which had become known to all and sundry as the Heart of Midlothian since the 18th century. The precise location on the High Street was later marked out using granite setts in the shape of a heart. It has since become a local custom to spit on the heart for good luck – much to the bewilderment and disgust of the unwitting tourist.

Fast forward to 1874 to a group of young Edinburgh men who wished to translate their fine footwork on the dancefloor to that of the football pitch. The Old Town dancehall which they frequented was called the Heart of Midlothian and it was this name which they ‘borrowed’ for their new football club. Their legacy and the legacy of the Old Tolbooth continues to this day.

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