The dark secrets of 17th century Edinburgh’s house of horrors

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Today, the area surrounding Edinburgh’s West Bow is one of the city’s most picturesque locations, with pretty cobbled streets, colourful shops, and welcoming cafes.

But the West Bow is also hiding one of the Old Town’s darkest secrets.

The street was once home to a real life ‘haunted house of horrors’ – reminders of which can still be seen today.

West Bow resident, Major Thomas Weir was a Covenanter soldier and strict Presbyterian, who was a well-respected member of Edinburgh society.

Weir regularly held prayer sessions which would attract religious crowds from the local area, and in 1650 he was appointed commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard.

By all accounts, he seemed like an upstanding citizen.

But things began to change when Weir fell ill in 1670 and began acting strangely.

From his sickbed, the then 70-year-old Weir confessed to a secret life of sin and evil as an occultist.

He admitted to committing various terrible offences, including bestiality, incest, necromancy and witchcraft.

The authorities, including the Lord Provost, were so surprised by the claims that they initially refused to believe them.

But Weir’s confessions continued, and were also backed up by admissions from his sister, Jean.

Jean claimed that Weir had once been picked up from the house on West Bow by a demonic stranger in a fiery coach, and was taken to Dalkeith, where he was given “supernatural intelligence” by another of Satan’s minions.

She declared that Weir got his powers from his walking stick, which was topped with a carved human head and was a gift from the Devil himself.

Eventually, the pair’s claims were taken seriously, and they were interrogated in the Edinburgh Tolbooth.

Found guilty of committing a long list of sinful acts, both Weir and his sister were sentenced to death.

Weir was garrotted and burned alive (along with his demonic walking stick) at Gallowlee, approximately where Leith’s abandoned Shrubhill tram depot sits today.

Rather than begging for forgiveness, Weir’s last words reportedly were: “Let me alone. I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast”.

Jean was hanged in the Grassmarket.

Both of their bodies were buried at the base of the gallows at Shrubhill.

After the executions, the Weir house on West Bow lay empty for over a century.

Locals nicknamed Weir the Wizard of West Bow, and gossiped about what might have happened inside the house.

No one wanted to live in a place where such evil things had taken place, especially as it was thought to be haunted.

A couple purchased the house in the late 1700s, but the story goes that they managed only one night in the property before they were driven out by mysterious happenings and demonic apparitions.

The pair claimed to see a ghostly calf sitting in their bedroom, staring at them from the foot of the bed.

Over the years, there were many more reports of strange noises and music coming from the building, windows being lit up at night, and shadows moving around the rooms.

Some Edinburgh residents even claimed to have seen the mysterious coach, pulled by six fiery horses, outside the house several times.

It was widely believed that the Weir house was demolished some time during the 19th century to get rid of the stigma attached to the building.

Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1830, noted that Weir’s house was in the process of being torn down, and other reports claim the final demolition took place in 1878.

But, in reality, the house was never destroyed.

As recently as 2014, it was discovered that – rather than being torn down completely – parts of Weir’s house were instead incorporated into a new building, which is now a Quaker Meeting House.

It is thought that the main part of Weir’s house is located where the Quaker Meeting House’s toilets now are.

If you visit, you may even still be able to catch a glimpse of the Wizard of West Bow in his former home.

Staff members at the Quaker Meeting House have reported seeing Weir’s ghostly figure walking through walls, more than 300 years after his death.