This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.
There’s a fun, popular pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Called Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, the pub serves up classic Scottish and British fare, an assortment of cask ales and a rich history. The tavern bears the name of one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating residents, William Brodie. A respectable cabinet maker by day, Brodie led a sordid secret life by night.
In fact, he’s commonly referred to as Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde.
Read his stranger than fiction story!
Who is Deacon Brodie?
Born in Edinburgh on September 28, 1741, William Brodie was the son of a successful cabinetmaker and the grandson of two renowned lawyers.
William grew up in the trade, becoming a fine craftsman specializing in domestic furniture such as cabinets and cupboards. Additionally, he was a skilled locksmith.
Because of his talents and his family connections, Brodie served as a representative, or deacon, of the guild and a city councillor. This position of influence brought him respect throughout the city…and a great deal of business.
Brodie socialized with the gentry of Edinburgh. He met poet Robert Burns and painter Henry Raeburn and enjoyed a membership at Edinburgh Cape Club.
When his father died in 1768, young Brodie inherited 10,000 pounds, a fortune in those days, along with four houses and the family cabinetmaking business.
A Dark Secret
While Deacon Brodie garnered respect during the day, at night he shifted into a darker life of crime.
Because of his work he gained access to the homes of Edinburgh’s wealthy citizens. Making wax impressions of the household keys allowed him to fashion duplicates, which meant he could return at night or while the owners were away, and commit robbery.
For more than a decade he led a double life, craftsman by day and thief at night. However after his father’s death, he took his criminal activities up a notch.
In spite of his inheritance, Brodie required more and more money to fund his gambling habits and expensive lifestyle. He also supported two mistresses and five children that he kept hidden from society. As he continued to run up debts at night, his respectable daytime business failed to keep up.
Deacon Brodie teamed up with three other criminals. Together they preyed on businesses and large private homes in Old Town. Growing bolder, they eventually attempted to steal the revenues of Scotland, at the Excise Office in Chessel’s Court.
The botched robbery resulted in only 16 pounds and the gang disbanded. One of the members turned in two of the others for a reward, while Brodie fled the country. Authorities found him hiding in a cupboard in Holland. He returned to Edinburgh to stand trial.
Deacon Brodie stood trial for theft, along with one of his accomplices. The trial lasted 21 hours.
Found guilty, he was hung on October 1, 1788, in Lawnmarket, just steps from his birthplace and childhood home. A sizable crowd of 40,000 gathered for the hanging.
Deacon Brodie appeared for his execution in high style, sporting fine, tailored clothes and a powdered wig. One tale suggests Brodie also wore a silver tube around his neck, beneath his finery, in an attempt to survive the hanging. He supposedly bribed the hangman to ignore the tube and arranged for others to quickly remove his body and revive him.
The plan failed. Brodie’s body rests in an unmarked grave at St. Cuthbert’s Chapel. He was 47 years old at the time of his death.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father owned furniture made by Deacon Brodie, wrote a play called Deacon Brodie, The Double Life. Although the play was unsuccessful, Stevenson remained intrigued by Brodie’s double life. This paradox between the cabinetmaker’s light and dark personalities inspired him to write the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in 1886.
This tale became a classic, adapted throughout the years into films, musicals and plays.
In Edinburgh Deacon Brodie is remembered with the pub on the corner of Lawnmarket and Bank Street, and a close (covered alleyway) off of the Royal Mile called Brodie’s Close. The family’s residence and workshops were there.
Visit Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for a hearty, traditional meal and fascinating bits of Edinburgh’s darker history. The girls’ group I traveled with enjoyed a fun, leisurely dinner there and a couple of rounds of ale and cider.
The pub also serves breakfast and a delightful afternoon tea.
Have you heard of Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s real life Jekyll and Hyde?
Deacon Brodie finds from Amazon:
Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.