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Process Notes 3: The Dreaded Deadline Doom


Will Pickering is incommunicado until further notice.


Process Notes 2: Confession Time

According to crime historian and professional Irishman Owen Dudley Edwards, William Burke took the sacrament of holy absolution while in Calton Gaol. It was administered by a Father William Reid, who apparently served for many years as assistant to the Vicar-General for Scotland* before retiring to a parish in Dumfries, where he died in the 1840s.

I've done my best to find authentic likenesses of all the background characters in the Burke and Hare comic, but inevitably there's quite a few who remain maddeningly obscure, and in such cases I've had to improvise.

*The Catholic episcopacy in Scotland had been abolished during the Reformation, and would not be recreated until 1878. Ironically, this meant that the surviving Catholic mission in the country was more dependent on direct Papal authority, not less. Doh!


Process Notes 1: Bringing It All Back Again

By the time Newington Place appears on the 1843 Ordnance Survey map, it's clearly recognisable as the terrace of townhouses that's still there today, half-hidden behind a row of shops and redesignated as 1-17 Newington Road (odd numbers only: the OS map shows it as 1-9 running in the opposite direction).

The anatomist Robert Knox lived at 4 Newington Place in 1829, as confirmed by contemporary reports of the angry mob that besieged his house in the aftermath of the Burke trial; but was it the same house that was there 15 years later, or an earlier building in the same general vicinity?

I need to go further back.

West Newington House, just across the road, was built in 1805, as part of a development scheme initiated by the then landowner, the surgeon Benjamin Bell (grandfather of Joseph Bell, whose observational and deductive skills famously inspired Conan Doyle – in Edinburgh, everything connects to everything else!), but progress round about seems to have been reasonably slow: Thomson's Atlas of Scotland for 1820 shows no structures on the Newington Place plot, and a feu map as late as 1826 just shows an empty field assigned to a Mr Reid. Arniston Place, the next block south, does appear on both maps, which suggests that it's not just an oversight by a lazy cartographer.

Thus, in conclusion: yes, the current No.11 Newington Road, behind the New China Town Cantonese restaurant, is indeed the former home of Robert Knox, who must have bought it as a suburban newbuild sometime in 1826-1828. Here's his front door:

It was a relief to work that out. One of the nice things about Georgian architecture is that because it's all so mathematically regular, the whole original design can easily be extrapolated from even a partial view:

Reconstructing the chaotic vernacular buildings of the Old Town is a whole other barrel o' rollmops...