Greyfriars Bobby: I Want that Doggy in the…Graveyard?

There’s a grave in Edinburgh, Scotland, that attracts visitors and lovers of loyalty from all over the globe. And it’s not the grave of a human.

Greyfriars Bobby

Let me tell you the legend of Greyfriars Bobby, a little Skye terrier who supposedly proved his loyalty and love beyond comprehension!

The Kirk of the Greyfriars is a church and cemetery that was completed in 1620 and named for the monks of the Franciscan Order that preceded it. (“Kirk” means “church.”)


Greyfriars Kirkyard


The nearly hidden entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard

In this kirkyard is buried a man named John Gray.

From here, we leave the realm of fact and drift into legend – my favorite place to dwell!

John Gray, or “Auld Jock” as he was known (because he had a son also named John), was a police night watchman. Constables in those days were required to have a watchdog, and John’s second dog was named “Bobby.” Get it?! Because cops are called “bobbies” over there! Too cute for words.

Via tumblr.com.

Via tumblr.com.

Unfortunately, Auld Jock suffered from a long illness, no doubt exacerbated by the frigid nights he and Bobby spent on patrol. In 1858, when the weather turned cold, old…I mean Auld…Jock passed away.

Sleep tight.

Sleep tight.

It is said that Bobby followed the funeral procession all the way to the kirkyard and was found laying on his master’s grave the next morning. For several days, he was driven out of the kirkyard by the caretaker – after all, there were laws about dogs hanging around graveyards.

Ironically, there still are.

Ironically, there still are.

But even after being drive out, Bobby returned every morning to lay by Auld Jock’s grave. People started to pity him, giving him food and trying to entice him indoors during bad weather. But Bobby wouldn’t budge.

Just outside the kirkyard is the site of the old Eating House, where John and Bobby used to eat, and where Bobby got his regular dinner after John’s death. (Today there’s a bar there called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar. I know, the plural/possessive combo is getting annoying.)

Bobby's bar. The old lush!

Bobby’s bar. The old lush!

It’s also said that one Sergeant Scott lived in one of the houses overlooking the kirkyard.

Talk about quiet neighbors.

Talk about quiet neighbors.

Scott had duties that included priming the one o’clock gun that fires from Edinburgh Castle every day (to this day). So Scott trained Bobby to recognize the gun as a sign to come get dinner. Pretty impressive!

But Bobby’s life wasn’t all luxury. About 10 years after John’s death, there was a violent epidemic among the dogs of Edinburgh that gave rise to a new licensing law. Dogcatchers reigned, and unlicensed dogs were put to sleep. Poor Bobby was surely doomed, having no owner to buy him a license.

Until the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Chambers, heard of Bobby’s plight and paid the licensing fee himself. (He also gave him a collar!)

This made Bobby, officially, the dog of the city!

Bobby's collar. Via www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk

Bobby’s collar.
Via www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk

Fourteen years after John’s death, at the glorious old age of 16, Bobby passed away. John Traill, the owner of the Eating House at that time, buried Bobby in a little plot of unconsecrated land in the kirkyard.

Dogs couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground, so Bobby couldn’t rest with his master forever. Super sad, I know. (I’m not crying, I swear.) But the good news is that the little law meant that he got a prime location for eternity – the first grave you’ll see upon entering the kirkyard.

Bobby's prime real estate.

Bobby’s prime real estate.

About a year after his death, a fountain was unveiled for Bobby just outside the kirkyard, at the top of Candlemaker’s Row. A statue and numerous paintings had been done from life, as Bobby was famous even in his lifetime. The fountain aptly featured a drinking place for humans as well as a lower-down fountain for dogs.

In the twentieth century, the water to the fountain was turned off, and the statue replaced. The original, as well as Bobby’s collar, can be seen in the Museum of Edinburgh.



Bobby’s statue today.

So, cute story, huh? Do you believe it?

There are plenty of problems with the legend. Like the fact that a terrier would make just about the worst police dog ever.

There’s also the fact that dogs were pretty common visitors to graveyards in those days. Big open field, people to throw them scraps, stray dogs loved ’em! People-visitors would often see the pups and assume they were waiting around for their masters. (What romantic imaginations we humans have!)

So, some people theorize that the legend of Bobby began about a stray dog that just happened to like the grass near John Gray’s grave. And then, of course, that story probably spiralled out of control.

One “scholar” even suggests that there were two Bobbies. That some locals conspired to keep the hoax going for tourist/money purposes. So when the first Bobby died, they went out and got one that looked just like him! I swear I’ve seen that in a Disney Channel movie.

The truth? We’ll probably never know. But that doesn’t keep tourists from placing sticks for fetch on Bobby’s grave.


C’mon guys! Let him rest!

As for me, I don’t think a magical story about a man and his dog could hurt anybody. And not a bad lesson for us humans, either!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Annie Cosby

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  1. Great story about yet another of man’s best friends…

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