Thousands of pairs of feet walk over a series of brass bricks that run along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Unbeknown to many of these milling pedestrians, they’re passing over former mid-15th-century structures that once peppered this thriving and bustling High Street. These buildings were what was referred as “Luckenbooths,” or lockable booths.
They were what would be more commonly known today as market stalls. Dozens of these booths were originally constructed to house the wares of artisans who traded in gold and silver trinkets. They eventually encompassed other merchants, such as toymakers, printers, and various other goods and services.
These buildings tended to congregate around St. Giles Cathedral and the the notorious Tollbooth Gael (Jail). Several notable personalities had businesses in these structures. William Creech was a publisher who printed the works of poets such as Robert Burns and Adam Smith. The first book lending library operated by Allan Ramsey was located along here. An interesting character named Peter “Indian Pete” Williamson, so named because he wore Native American attire, ran the first Penny Post from here.
Eventually, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare became too congested and the city planners decided the Luckenbooths had to be removed. By the mid 1800s, they were all demolished.
Now, brass markers are all that remain. Across from the David Hume sculpture there is a brass “H” that indicates were public executions took place. These include the notorious Deacon Brodie and George Bryce, the last criminal to be publicly hanged, in 1874.
Located around the entrance to the World’s End is the outline of what once was the Netherbow Gatehouse. Just up the street from this infamous pub is John Knox’s House, where visitors can see the last remaining Luckenbooth. It’s situated across from the Service Desk, adjacent to the windows looking out onto the Royal Mile. You can also see a model of how the Luckenbooths looked on the second floor of the Museum of Edinburgh.
Know Before You Go
During the summer months, especially in August when the Fringe Festival is happening, the Royal Mile can be quite congested. This will obscure the visibility of the brass bricks which can normally be visible 24/7.