Tuesday, 3 June 2014


Our dear author, Stuart Miller-Osborne and his wife Caron have been celebrating the birth of their second granddaughter, Lily Iris Rose.  She was born on 17th May in Paulton near Bath.  The managers, staff and stallholders at Hungerford Arcade send our congratulations to Stuart, Caron and their family.

Here is a wonderful story written by Stuart after a recent visit to Edinburgh.  It is a beautiful story which tugs at the heart strings.

As far as I can see, Greyfriars Bobby has no connection to Hungerford, although I would imagine that a number of residents have visited his small statue when in Edinburgh. But who was Greyfriars Bobby?

If I asked the average child in the town about the story of Greyfriars Bobby then it is likely that they would not know of the small dog. Today its all apps and electronic games as well as graphic novels. Most children are totally unaware of the book written by Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson (1863-1942) about the little Skye Terrier.

If you can remember England winning the World Cup in 1966 then it is likely that you would have read Greyfriars Bobby or at least have received it as a Christmas or birthday present. I was given a copy aged five and I can remember it being read to me, although my mother experienced serious difficulties with the dialect. 

The story in short is that of a Skye Terrier named Bobby who spent the next fourteen years after his owner's death guarding his masters grave until the dog himself died on the 14th January 1872.

Bobby, I am told was buried not far from his master near the gate in Greyfriars Kirkyard which is the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk (a very interesting church to say the least).

When I was in Edinburgh recently I found the small statue of Greyfriars Bobby (a Category A listed building believe it or not) which sits on the corner of Candlemaker Row and the George IV  Bridge. I will not give you directions as you will most likely end up in Dundee. Most local people will know where the statue is but if you head in the general direction of the Museum of Scotland you will find it.

The statue itself was unveiled in 1873 and was originally designed as a drinking fountain. The waters were available until 1975 when a bacterial scare closed the facility (The dreaded Health & Safety were with us even then). If my memory serves me, I believe that the waters in Bath were inhibited at around the same time for the same reason. 

Sadly the statue had suffered mild vandalism and was hit by a car in 1984 which left it in a very poor state. Happily, a very sympathetic restoration took place and the statue and its base are as good as new. Although the dog did have a very shiny nose when I visited it.

Whether the story is true or not is immaterial. The more cynical have pointed out that stray dogs hung around graveyards (no bone jokes please) where they were often fed by the concerned. This is as true as with the cats and dogs that hung around bomb sites after the war. Animals are logical, if there is a reliable food source then they are not going to stray far. 

But that takes away the romance of the story. That John Gray a night watchman with the Edinburgh City Police owned Bobby and that they both were great pals and when John died in 1858, Bobby spent the rest of his life guarding his masters grave. 

Even before the book by Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson the story would have travelled through an oral tradition. The British love sentimental animal stories and her book just cemented the legend of the dog.

Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson
Strangely Eleanor was an American from Indiana who never visited Edinburgh. Some of her geography in the book is a little out but Eleanor certainly had an ear for dialect, although by no means am I an expert. 

Wally Cox - 1962
Aside, an interesting fact about this now forgotten author was that her grandson was the actor Wally Cox (1924-1973) who I remember from The Adventures of Hiram Holliday (1956-1957) an American sitcom which I rather liked as a child. He was a great friend of Marlon Brando (1924-2004) and I have read that his ashes were mixed with those of Brando and another close friend prior to disposal. 

But what of Greyfriars Bobby and Hungerford? Well if you look hard you might find a copy of Eleanor’s book, although to date I have not seen a copy in the Arcade. It is likely that various Victorian trinkets and souvenirs were produced although I have yet to see any. I did find a contemporary postcard of Bobby in a copy of The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans a year or so ago but that does not really count.

When I do locate a copy of Eleanor’s book then I will purchase it and when they are of age, will read it to both Ada and Lily (my granddaughters) with the hope that the magic of the tale will rub off on them. 

If you are in Edinburgh and have the time, then do visit Bobby (there is an excellent pub opposite) and if you are hooked, visit his grave (I sadly did not). 

The city does not sell the attraction heavily which is refreshing but I did see modern copies of the 1912 book and DVDs of the two prominent films that were made, Greyfriars Bobby (1961) starring Gordon Jackson and the later one, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby (2006) starring Gina McKee, for sale around the city.

But for the moment I will wait for an early copy of Greyfriars Bobby to show up, hopefully in Hungerford and after practising my dialect I will read the story to my granddaughters, one of whom visited Bobby's statue with me a few weeks ago when we occasioned a visit to his home city.

Greyfriars  Bobby Headstone
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