The People’s Heritage: Face To Face With History in Unique Storytelling Events

Come hear Coconut Tam’s famous cry selling coconuts and meet some of Edinburgh’s greatest historical and fictional characters in a specially commissioned programme for TradFest in the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology 2017.

A series of portraits have been produced, photographed by Colin Hattersley, depicting four key characters from 19th century Edinburgh to highlight the unique opportunity to come face to face with our heritage, from the colourful cries of fishwives to the seedier underbelly of crime, from Sat 29 April to Sun 7 May.

The People’s Heritage presents Edinburgh’s storytellers live on location introducing key characters and unique tales from the city’s popular history, as Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland Director, Donald Smith, explains:
‘Edinburgh’s past is rich in engrossing stories of wonderful people and events, as well as a crucial backdrop for lots of fictional characters who represent the fascinating and varied history of this vibrant city. That’s what we wanted to put across with a series of impromptu performances in situ, from Leith to Calton Hill, showcasing through storytelling the people who populated these areas before us, unveiling fascinating insights to the resilience of some quirky characters, all for free too, so get outside and discover the steps of history you tread every day.’

Gillan Paterson portraying Newhaven FishwiveThe Portraits

Fishwife (portrayed by Gillian Paterson)

Fishwives from Newhaven would have been a familiar sight on the streets of Edinburgh for hundreds of years, bringing the day’s catch in creels on their backs to sell. They used distinctive calls as an alert that fish were for sale, which inspired the song ‘Caller Herrin’. They had a reputation for hard work and sharp wits and were famous for their brightly coloured traditional outfits, robust statures and handsome faces.

Peter Berry portraying New Town BurglarNew Town burglar (portrayed by Peter Berry)

House breaking would have been a common occurrence in the New Town 150 years ago. A popular technique was to carefully drill out a door panel and send in a small boy to steal easily sold items like jewellery. Some New Town residents made the job considerably easier by putting a card in their front windows telling delivery boys that they were out of the country.

Half-Hangit Maggie (portrayed by Claire Druett)

Claire Druett as Maggie DicksonMaggie Dickson is unique in the annals of Edinburgh crime, miraculously coming back to life after being pronounced dead and cut down from the Grassmarket gallows. Perhaps it was a form of poetic justice as her “crime” was concealing the birth of her baby, who unfortunately did not survive. The fish hawker and barmaid was saved from returning to the gallows when her tapping from inside the coffin was seen as an act of god, although some said that she had seduced and manipulated the rope maker to engineer a weaker noose.

Coconut Tam (portrayed by Ron Fairweather)

Ron Fairweather as Coconut TamCoconut Tam was a colourful character of the 19th century Royal Mile, with accounts recording him as Edinburgh’s best-known street vendor, famed for his hump-backed stature and distinctive street cry, “Cocky nit, cocky nit, come and buy, ha’penny the bit.”  Selling fruit, including coconuts, from his barrow near John Knox House, he was born Thomas Simpson in Strichen’s Close on the High Street and died in nearby Potterrow, aged 71.

The Sessions | Sat 29 April – Sun 7 May
1pm – 3.30pm Daily | Free (non ticketed)

Sat 29 Apr: Calton Hill
1pm – 3.30pm | Meet at the National Monument

Meet the handmaiden to the May Queen, a guard of the Green Man, John Commonweal – a character in the play ‘The Three Estates’ performed on Calton Hill in the 1500s – and many more who have assembled and performed through the centuries on the People’s Hill. Activities radiate out from the National Monument, in association with the Beltane Community Open Day.

Sun 30 Apr: Leith Shore & Kirkgate
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at Trinity House

Meet a host of nautical heroes and rogues with tales from the gossipy fishwife amidst songs and net making. Discover Long John Silver and the Leith pirates, Master Mariner John Hay and John Doig the powder monkey, who was the youngest person to fight at Trafalgar.

Mon 1 May: Royal Mile – Canongate
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at Museum of Edinburgh

Meet the Gaberlunzie Man, a medieval licensed beggar and wandering storyteller who introduces the lives of Canongate folk in times gone by.

Mon 1 May: Royal Botanic Gardens
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at Botanic Cottage

Meet the Beltane Bard for Beltane season in the Botanical gardens as he shares the lore of Scotland’s native plants and trees, from the times when everyone had to look to natural cures and healing.

Tue 2 May: New Town – Charlotte Square & George Street
1pm, 1.30pm,2pm, 2.30pm & 3pm | Meet at Georgian House, Charlotte Square

Meet a New Town burglar, Scotland’s first children’s author Catherine Sinclair and Sir Walter Scott, as they all stroll along about their own business.

Tue 2 May: Edinburgh Castle Esplanade
1pm | Meet at Celtic Cross on Northern side of Castle Esplanade

Meet Svend, the Norse runemaster and storyteller as he introduces the fascinating journey of an ancient, 1000 year old runestone. With a walk to Prince’s Street Gardens (with some steep paths) to look at the stone and solve the mystery of the written runes, Svend will unveil the tail of the Swedish runestone tradition. Organised through the Society of Antiquaries.

Wed 3 May: Royal Mile – Makars’ Court & Lawnmarket
1pm, 2pm, 2.30pm & 3pm | Meet at The Writer’s Museum

Meet Jekyll and Hyde, William McGonagall, Robinson Crusoe and his creator Daniel Defoe, amidst a host of Edinburgh’s literary ghosts.

Thu 4 May: Royal Mile – Castlehill
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at Scots Whisky Heritage Centre

Meet Dr Guthrie’s ragged school girls and hear a tale from a child of the Ragged School., meet notorious characters Agnes Sampson, executed as a witch and enjoy Susan McIver’s Georgian cookery class on essential Scottish ingredients.

Fri 5 May: Grassmarket
1pm, 1.30pm, 2pm, 2.30pm, 3pm | Meet at Covenanters’ Monument, Victoria Street

Meet the legendary ‘mountebank’ street performers – Italian, Romany and other guises – Sir Walter Scott’s Jeanie Deans, Edinburgh’s premier hero, and Half-Hingit Maggie who survived the gallows.

Sat 6 May: Royal Mile – Netherbow
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at John Knox House

Meet a series of characters from the Robin Hood mayday games including maid Marion, Robin, Little John, and the Abbot of Unreason, along with the Old Town Gaberlunzie Man. Be quick before the May Day revellers get banned and barred once more at the Netherbow Port!

Sun 7 May: Royal Mile – Tron Kirk
1pm, 2pm & 3pm | Meet at the Tron Kirk

Meet Coconut Tam, the Royal Mile’s infamous street vendor, caddies and all the street bards and penny gaffs of old, in a special gala performance for TradFest.

 Specially commissioned for TradFest in the Year of History Heritage and Archaeology 2017.