An incredible tale of how an elephant was once kept in an Edinburgh house has emerged in city archives, reports Sandra Dick.

Rowdy behaviour has become a major bugbear for Edinburgh residents fed up with tourists taking up temporary residence in neighbouring flats.

But if they think the city’s red-hot holiday let industry has brought turmoil, noise and litter into their lives, it’s nothing compared to a remarkable ‘elephant in the room’ tale just uncovered by the city’s archivists.

Proof that Edinburgh’s problem with unwanted short-term guests disrupting the city’s peace and quiet is far from new has just emerged in a fascinating document unearthed in the capital’s city council archives which reveals the misery of an Old Town baker whose life and business was being wrecked by a very unwanted upstairs guest.

In it, the frustrated Edinburgh shop owner laments the arrival of an elephant in the upstairs property, apparently brought to the city by its Dutch keeper to show off to fascinated city residents, and which had settled in the room above his bakery.

As if the image of a fully-grown elephant squeezing through the doors of a creaky 18th century Edinburgh tenement wasn’t enough, the furious baker went on to complain to city fathers about the “dung and water coming down into his space”, leaving his shop and oven covered in elephant poo.

The bizarre letter of complaint to the Edinburgh Dean of Guild Court was penned in November 1705 at a time when discussions were taking place in the city over the Treaty of Union, decades before the explosion of talent that would usher in the age of Scottish Enlightenment and when Old Town life was cramped and stinking at the best of times.

Written in Scots and in elaborate handwriting, the letter from baker – or ‘baxter’ - Adam Kerr petitioned the Guild Court to visit upstairs tenant Abraham Sever, a Dutch man who he said had been keeping an elephant.

In it, the baker warned that the elephant’s waste was entering his vault, spoiling his goods and putting the vault at risk. He concluded with a plea to the council to visit the site and “remove the said eliphant”.

He wrote: “Adam Kerr baxter, burgess of Edinburgh humbly complaine upon Abraham Seybour (Sever) a Dutchman owner of the eliphant that where I having ane shop and oven at the head of the fishmercat close with a back vault to the south thereof…who keeps his eliphant therin and exposes the same his Dung and water thereof comes so doun upon my said vault that it has spoylt the same… and comes doun in great quantities upon the vault and spoyle and abuses the concerned goods’.”

According to city archivist Vikki Kerr, further research revealed the owner of the elephant had also raised a petition with the Town Council, asking for permission to parade his animal for the pleasure of the city’s residents.

“It’s the first time we’ve found that kind of petition in the Town Council minute and shows that people at that time were getting the chance to see something quite different and exciting as an elephant walking down the High Street,” she said.

The elephant is said to have been kept within a building near Fleshmarket Close, named after a nearby meat market. A stone’s throw from the Royal Mile, the Old Town area around the close is now popular for short-term holiday lets and Airbnb properties.

Ms Kerr added: “It’s hard to imagine an elephant going up a narrow set of stairs, so we can only think that the bakers’ shop and oven were on a lower level and the elephant might have entered at street level.

“Most of the letter is quite legal and pompous, and we haven’t been able to find out what happened next, although I suspect the Dean of Guild would have wanted to visit to see it for themselves.”

Indeed, the female Indian elephant had already endured an unhappy life before reaching Edinburgh, having apparently been shuffled around various European cities after first being shown at a trade fair in Leipzig in 1688 when she was already around 10 years old.

Over the course of the next 20 years, she was displayed across Europe, travelling between Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and France accompanied at times by an “African Jungle-Donkey” – thought to be a mandrill or an aardvark – and a bizarre three-legged animal.

She eventually arrived in London in 1701 and was touring England when her owner, Bartel Verhagen died. His will stipulated that his prized elephant should be passed into the care of assistant Jan Janszoon, however, she ended up being rented out to Mr Sever.

From the time of her original owner’s death to her own demise, the elephant is said to have earned 7603 guilders, compared to an ordinary Dutch labourer’s earnings of around 200 guilders a year.

Despite the financial benefits of keeping her alive, Mr Sever’s lack of experience in elephant handling – and a decision to trek her north to Aberdeen in late winter – left her starving, exhausted and frail.

But while her death in a ditch just outside Dundee may have been sad, it also led to the first dissection of an elephant in Britain, carried out by surgeon, botanist and anatomist, Dr Patrick Blair.

Historian and author Andy Drummond, who researched the ‘Dundee elephant’ in his book Elephantina, said the discovery of the letter is another fascinating insight into the elephant’s unfortunate life.

“She gave a demonstration to the Duchess of Hamilton in 1706 and then trampled off to Aberdeen in March and towards Dundee,” he said. “The elephant keeled over in Broughty Ferry because of the weather and lack of food.

“It’s a little sad, but at the same time people benefitted greatly, such as Dr Blair.”

His pioneering scientific study of the animal's internal organs and skeleton brought him fame and recognition at the highest level.

“He couldn’t believe his luck,” added Mr Drummond. “He basically took it apart bit by bit, while someone documented all the things he pulled out of the elephant in drawings.

“He then had a very long scientific paper published in the journal of The Royal Society in London.

"According to Dr Blair, the elephant stood just over 8 feet high and 10 feet from nose to tail. He doesn't given an overall weight, but the total weight of all the bones was 312 lbs."

However, it’s not the only time an unusual animal has cropped up in the Capital - a puma is said to have attacked drinkers in a Leith bar in the mid-1970s.

The animal is thought to have been originally offered for sale as a ‘home bred and hand-reared’ pet before being kept in a cage at a used car dealership and eventually homed at the port’s former Merrymaker bar.

It pounced on a man and woman in the bar, resulting in the bar owners being charged with recklessly disregarding public safety and landing a fine of £150.