The Raw always smelled of fish but then Newhaven was a fishing village. Wattie Wilson lived at No 4 The Raw. He had retired from being a pilot in 1901, the year the old Queen died, and now he spent his days resting one hand on the bannister of his outside stairs. He dressed each day as if he was still in charge of his pilot cutter with his peaked cap pulled down almost over his eyes, looking out for anyone coming or going on the street. He would intimidate them with demands to know their business. Most folk were too frightened to stand up to Wattie and just gave him an answer. Not so Teeny Liston, the fishwife at No 11. When Wattie challenged her with - “Wha’s this walkin up the wynd?” She would laugh back at him, “Nane o yer business, Wattie”and give him a line or two from one of her songs. “Up the Raw for rags and bones, up the Raw for herrin” or "The oysters are a gentle kin’, They winna tak unless ye sing."
Folk regarded him as an eccentric if intimidating figure, - the “Bully of The Raw”. However, after a few drinks on a Friday night, Wattie’s demeanour changed. He became the animated story teller holding forth with tales from his seafaring past. His local was not so local - The Old Chain Pier Bar on Trinity Crescent. To get there he had to walk to the very boundary of the village right passed the Cut (Craighall Road) to where the chain pier used to stand. The pub building had originally been the booking office for steamer trips before sailings ended. Arthur Moss ran the pub in Wattie’s day and it stayed in the Moss family until the redoubtable Bet Moss died in the 1970s. Bet was reputed to call time by brandishing a cutlass or a gun to cajole stragglers to drink up. Arthur was a more subdued figure.
On a Friday night, Wattie would take his seat to the right of the double doors as you entered so you wouldn’t see him until you reached the bar and turned round. The air was thick with tobacco smoke and a stale smell of beer and spirits. This particular Friday, Wattie had a new tale for the regulars, one they had not heard before. He had spied a stranger in the Raw and challenged him as usual. But there had been something very unsettling about this figure and his appearance. “I saw him as clear as I see old Tam Logan ower there in the corner. He was nae mair than twenty feet awa”. When he told the same story the following week, the stranger was “nae mair than ten feet awa”. By the third week of telling, he was “staunin richt fernent me, giein oot a sweet reek o rum”.
Wattie painted a vivid portrait of the man. He wore a canvass doublet and breeches and a ‘motley’ cotton waistcoat of blue, yellow and green. “Fittin for a man who sailed with a motley crew.” He bellowed with laughter at his own joke. On his head a knitted Monmouth cap, on his feet silver buckled shoes. He had a thick belt around his midriff and over his shoulder a bright red silk sash. Any chance that this was merely a rather flamboyant sailor was dispelled by the jangling of his silver bracelets, two on each wrist, the rings on his fingers and a single gold earring. “Yes” said Wattie triumphantly. “A pirate had visited the Raw.” Wattie enjoyed many a dram for the telling of this tale until folk tired of hearing it. He would still recount the tale in a booming voice but no one was really listening any more.
A very different Wattie Wilson could now be found slouched against his bannister each day. His peaked cap had gone, leaving his long white hair to follow the bidding of the wind. His dress had become dishevelled, whereas he used to be neatly turned out. He no longer challenged anyone on the street. His gaze seemed fixed far off, somewhere towards the old harbour. Children would dare each other to run down the Raw shouting pirate things like -“pieces of eight”; “yo ho ho”; “shiver me timbers”. Wattie was oblivious to the ridicule, quietly singing to himself old sea shanties and pirate songs.
When a week went by with no sighting of Wattie, a delegation of Free Fishermen, the Preses, the Boxmaster and the Secretary, were dispatched to investigate. When they forced his door they were met with a rancid/sweet smell and they found Wattie dead in his bed surrounded by some curious artefacts. Laid out on the bed was a bright red silk sash and scattered around the bedroom were four silver bangles and a gold earring, a knitted Monmouth cap and an empty bottle of Bumbo. This was a version of Navy grog favoured by Pirates, made by mixing rum and water with sugar and nutmeg. The Free Fishermen were also all members of the Ancient Order of Rechabites and therefore pledged to temperance. As such they had no direct knowledge of Wattie’s pirate story recounted every week in the Old Chain Pier, but everyone, drinker or teetotaller, had heard of it. As befits an order that values privacy and secrecy, they thought it best to say no more about what they found. They simply reported back to the Bow-Tows the sad news of Wattie’s death. The Boxmaster was given the job to boost the society funds by selling off the artefacts collected from the house.
In 2017, the Edinburgh Evening News reported the discovery of a skeleton in the school playground of Victoria Primary. Archaeologists had concluded it could be that of a 17th century pirate.
“Council workers found the remains at the city's oldest primary school while carrying out survey work to build an extension. Victoria Primary School is close to Newhaven's harbour, where workers had expected to find remains of the original marina but instead made the gruesome discovery. Archaeologists have since studied the bones and initially thought they were Bronze Age because they were in such poor condition. But during carbon dating they were found to be from the 17th century. The skeleton is believed to belong to a man in his fifties - probably a pirate. Newhaven dockyard at that time was home to a gibbet - commonly used to execute witches and pirates. Experts think the man could have been killed on this device for piracy, before his body was dumped in nearby wasteland.
The condition of his bones and his burial site close to the sea rather than in any of the nearby graveyards suggests that after his execution the man's body was left displayed in sight of ships to deter other pirates. His burial in a shallow, unmarked grave also suggests he had no relatives or friends in the Newhaven area. The archaeologists are however puzzled by their find, alongside the bones, of what appears to be the remains of a peaked cap of the kind worn by maritime pilots about a hundred years ago. ”