Sawney Bean

14th C. - 15th C. Alleged Cannibal, the story of Sawny Bean is a hideous account of a mass-murderer and his family. It says that he was born in the late fourteenth century (other accounts state that it was much later than this), in Lothian.

The son of a hedger and ditcher, Alexander Bean was said to have been lazy and dishonest and married to a woman with a similar reputation. The couple were forced out of their native area and settled eventually in a cave near Ballantrae in Ayrshire. It is said they had many children and eventually through incest, their family increased in size to almost fifty. The rocky and inaccessible coastline where they lived meant that there existence went almost unnoticed.

The local authorities accused and executed several inn-keepers and vagrants during this time in the local area as travellers (some stories talk of hundreds of people) began going missing, without any sign of the disappearances stopping. It had, of course, been the Beans. Having murdered and robbed the travellers, they then allegedly butchered and ate their bodies or smoked them to eat later.

After one potential victim escaped and reported the incident, a full scale search for the family got underway. Once their lair was discovered it is said that money, possessions and the human remains of hundreds of victims were retrieved from the cave and the Bean family were taken to Edinburgh in chains to be executed. The story tells of the men having their limbs hacked off and being left to bleed to death, while the women and children were burned at the stake: a gruesome finale to a gruesome fable.

It may be a shock to learn that there is absolutely no evidence to support the Bean myth. No official account exists and of the many caves along the Ayrshire and Galloway coasts no traces of the family has ever been found. In fact the first accounts of these atrocities started appearing in newspapers in London in the mid-eighteenth century, during the Jacobite uprisings and the stories may have been no more than a cheap attempt to defame the character of the Scottish people. The tale remains however, an enduring slice of local folklore.

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