The Heart of Midlothian is a granite mosaic heart, set into the road on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It marks the position of the Old Tolbooth, a building which stood there from the 15th to the 19th century. The Old Tolbooth was the administrative centre of Edinburgh, in the county of Midlothian, during that time. Hence, the name Heart of Midlothian. It was also a prison and site of public execution. If you look closely, you’ll find brass markers on the pavement, which show where the Old Tolbooth walls once stood.
So, why do people spit on it?
It is a local custom to spit on the Heart of Midlothian as you walk past. And, tourists are often encouraged to do so for ‘Good Luck’ on historical tours of the city. However, it did not start as a good luck tradition. The heart is in the place where the door to the Old Tolbooth prison once was. The infamous prison was known for its horrific conditions, and stories of terror, torture and execution surrounded it. When the building was destroyed in 1817, the granite heart served as a reminder of where it had stood. The custom of spitting on the heart started as an act of contempt for this dreaded site.
Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian
In 1818, Sir Walter Scott published his seventh Waverley Novel, later titled ‘The Heart of Midlothian’. It is widely regarded as one of Scott’s greatest works. The title refers to the Old Tolbooth. Today all that remains of it is a heart-shaped mosaic on the pavement. But, Scott’s stories have helped to keep the memory of this hated place alive, and the tradition of spitting on the Heart of Midlothian continues to this day.