Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde

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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!

Deacon Brodie Edinburghs Real Life Jekyll and Hyde title meme

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.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde tavern sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – one of two tavern signs

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 Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde second sign
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – alter ego

The 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.

Deacon Brodie Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde painting
Deacon Brodie Edinburgh’s Real Life Jekyll and Hyde – painting

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. Hydein 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 Edinburgh's Real Life Jekyll and Hyde drinks
Drinks and a meal at Deacon Brodie’s Tavern.

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Day 227: Shopping on the Royal Mile, Fringe and Saying Goodbye

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Today marked our return to Edinburgh and our last full day in Scotland. We said a fond “See you again soon” to Wilson, who made our stay in Lauder so pleasant. And boarded the bus bound for the city.

As if blessing us, the sun shone all day, occasionally sliding behind a fluffy cloud for a moment, only to reappear and stream golden light onto us and Edinburgh. It’s the only day we had here without rain.

Arriving in Edinburgh we made our way to the Hilton near the airport, in preparation for flying out tomorrow at noon. But this was not a day of relaxing. After we dropped off our luggage we took a bus back to Old Town. We wanted to savor every moment of our time left in Scotland, and each of us had a list of purchases to make. Mindy and I also wanted one last afternoon tea in this bonnie land.

When we first arrived in Edinburgh, from Glasgow, I didn’t notice a big difference in the feel of this city, other than an ancientness in Old Town that I didn’t feel as deeply in Glasgow. However, after spending several days in Lauder and the Borders, where life moves at a wee bit slower pace, I immediately felt the shift in energy when the bus pulled into the bus station. It wasn’t a bad energy, but a surge of strong busy energy, connected to thousands of people.

Nowhere is this bustling energy more apparent right now than on the Royal Mile in the heart of Old Town. The Fringe Festival is still going strong, continuing until August 25. It is the largest art and entertainment festival in the world and has been held each August for the last 67 years. Performers from all over the world showcase their talent in more than 3,000 shows. While venues for shows are all over Edinburgh, many performances take place in buildings along the Royal Mile or in the open air in the streets in and around the Mile. Performances range from singing and mime to plays, comedy routines and musicals, from the spectacular to the downright weird!

As we approached the Royal Mile on foot, the bustle and busyness and noise came out to meet us, rolling over us like a wave. Thousands of people were shoulder to shoulder on this famous strip of road as performers took to the streets, sidewalks and makeshift stages. We divided up. Harry headed to a store he wanted to visit while Mindy and I started on our shopping lists. Amazingly, our first two stops provided exactly what we were searching for.

Mission accomplished, except for buying Scottish tea to bring home, we gathered Harry and began the search for a spot to settle for afternoon tea. This proved more challenging than we thought it would! As Harry would gladly testify, we walked a long time, looking for just the right place, only to push through the throng and discover we’d made a huge circle, back to where we had started. Not finding a new shop to try, we returned to a restaurant we had eaten dinner at earlier in the week and had a late lunch followed by a simple tea. It was perfect actually. After our light meal we had a cup of tea and a bite of bakewell tart, which was a deliciously tart cake with fruit filling and almond flavoring.

We again split up to complete our shopping, Harry to buy a book while we girls headed to a tea store. We are serious about continuing afternoon tea when we return home. We previously bought Scottish cookbooks and today we bought Scottish tea. I can’t wait to have afternoon tea in my garden at home.

I have to admit a pang and tear filled eyes as we walked away from the Royal Mile. It’s not because I don’t want to return home. I do! And I’m exited to see my family and friends and jump back into the real estate business. No, the brief moment of sorrow is in feeling the separation from this beautiful place I love so much. But more than sorrow, I feel gratitude and joy for this wonderful journey that has so deeply connected me with my roots, with this amazing country and with new friends. I drank in all that I could and the trip feels completed. I’ll carry this experience in my heart no matter where I am. I look forward to my next visit, and bringing others with me who want to share the journey!

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