|Research has revealed that the house was incorporated into the current Quaker Meeting House at Victoria Terrace.|
The house of horrors belonged to Major Thomas Weir, known as the Wizard of West Bow.
Once a pillar of the community, he shocked the city after admitting crimes including bestiality, incest with his sister and communicating with the dead.
After his prompt execution in 1670, his West Bow abode was shunned for two centuries – said to be haunted by several ghosts.
It was presumed to have been destroyed in 1878 after a number of dilapidated old houses at the head of the West Bow were demolished.
But through painstaking historical research, Cardiff University historian Dr Jan Bondeson claims it was not razed and was in fact incorporated within a newly built chapel – today the Quaker Meeting House at Victoria Terrace.
The senior lecturer has written about the spooky find in this month’s Fortean Times, a magazine for lovers of the unexplained. He said: “Major Weir’s house in the West Bow was recognised as the most haunted in Edinburgh. Although no person dared live there, its windows were lit up at night, with weird shapes flitting past the dirty panes and strange music coming from inside.”
Many children – including the father of Robert Louis Stevenson – were told to avoid the Major’s residence and to be wary of a ghostly coach pulled by six fiery horses.
Dr Bondeson said: “Contrary to local belief, Major Weir’s house still stands today.
|Major Weir`s home before re-development|
Manager of the Quaker Meeting House Anthony Buxton was amazed at the revelation. He said: “This was the first time I had been told Major Weir’s home was actually here. I have to say, from my reading of its history I thought it had been demolished by people who did not want anything to do with it. That said, one of my staff some years ago said he had seen Weir walk through the wall. If Dr Bondeson is right, his house is in our toilet – which seems quite appropriate.”
Historian Des Brogan, the director of Mercat Tours, described Major Weir as a “larger than life character”.
He said: “Weir was like an early Jekyll and Hyde and when he was executed it was a great cause célèbre in Edinburgh. When Weir was burned the staff he used to carry was also thrown in to the fire and it wriggled about like a snake.”
‘Right ingredients to become hot spooky tourist draw’
The new discovery makes the Weir residence a key rival to two other spots for the title of Edinburgh’s most haunted.
Mary King’s Close has become a huge tourist draw thanks to its supernatural heritage. But the sealed off Old Town street struggles to compete with Greyfriars Kirk – said to be one of the most haunted spots in Britain. Home to a violent spook called the Mackenzie Poltergeist, between 1990 and 2006 there were 350 reported attacks and 170 reports of people collapsing.
One tourism source said: “This new discovery is interesting. The Weir home has all the right ingredients to become a hot spooky tourist draw.”
About Major Weir
Major Thomas Weir (Carluke, South Lanarkshire 1599 - Edinburgh 1670) was a Scottish soldier and presumed occultist, executed for witchcraft.
Weir was a Covenanter who professed a particularly strict form of Presbyterianism. His spoken prayers earned him a reputation for religiosity which attracted visitors to his home in Edinburgh. He served under James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, as a lieutenant in the Army of the Covenant. He was known as the "Bowhead Saint", because his residence was near the top of the West Bow, off the Grassmarket, and "saint" was a popular epithet for Calvinist zealots.
Weir was a native of Carluke (Kirkstyle) in Lanarkshire, descendant of one of the most powerful and ancient families of the County, the Weir-de Veres. He was the son of Thomas Weir, Laird of Kirkton, and his wife Lady Jean Somerville who was reputed to possess clairvoyant powers. His grandfather was William Weir, or Vere, of Stonebyres Castle who married Lady Elizabeth Hamilton. Weir was a signatory to the Solemn League and Covenant and an officer in the Scottish anti-Royalist army. As a Lieutenant, he served in Ulster during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. In 1650, he obtained the post of commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard, thus acquiring the rank of major. When the defeated royalist general Montrose—branded a traitor for changing sides—was brought to Edinburgh for execution, Weir notoriously mocked and abused him during his custody.
Following retirement, Weir fell ill in 1670, and from his sick-bed began to confess to a secret life of crime and vice. The Lord Provost initially found the confession implausible and took no action, but eventually Weir and his spinster sister, Jean Weir (known to her friends as 'Grizel'), were taken to the Edinburgh Tolbooth for interrogation. Major Weir, now in his seventies, continued to expand on his confession and Grizel, having seemingly entirely lost her wits, gave an even more exaggerated history of witchcraft, sorcery and vice.
She related how many years before a stranger had called in a "fiery" coach to take her brother to Dalkeith and how during the short trip another man had given him "supernatural intelligence" (Chambers) of the Scots' defeat at Worcester that same day. (In fact, Cromwell's Commonwealth Commissioners in Scotland had been based in Dalkeith and would have been among the first to know the outcome of the battle—though not, of course, on the same day.) Grizel maintained that Weir derived his power from his walking stick, topped by a carved human head, giving rise to later accounts that it had often been seen parading down the street in front of him.
Whilst as a high-ranking public figure Weir was not believed at first, his own confession together with that of his sister sealed his fate. Both were quickly found guilty at their trial and sentenced to death.
While awaiting execution, they were confined in the former leper colony at Greenside below the Calton Hill. Weir was garrotted and burned at the Gallowlee (literally, "gallows field") on the road between Edinburgh and Leith (a site later occupied by the Shrubhill tram depot, then bus garage, near Pilrig on Leith Walk). His last words, while being urged to pray for forgiveness, were reported as, "Let me alone—I will not—I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast". Weir's stick was consigned to the flames after him, reportedly making "rare turnings" in the fire. Shortly before his end Weir had made a further public confession of incest with his sister, who was executed in the Grassmarket. The remains of the Weirs were buried at the base of the gallows at Shrub Hill, as was the custom of the time.
The Weirs' house in the West Bow stood empty for over a century because of its reputation for being haunted. It was said that one of Weir's enchantments made people ascending the stair think they were descending in the opposite direction. It was eventually bought cheaply in about 1780 by an ex-soldier William Patullo who moved in with his wife. They are said to have fled the house on their first night there after experiencing a strange apparition of a calf approaching them in the night, propping itself up with its forelegs on the bed-end and staring at them in bed.
According to Walter Scott, the house, which remained unoccupied after the incident, was demolished in 1830. However, recently the house was found to have actually been at least partially incorporated into the Quaker Meeting House at No. 7 Victoria Terrace.
The story of Weir has been proposed as an influence on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The 2000 novel The Fanatic by James Robertson features Weir as a character and uses the events surrounding him as a central aspect of the novel's narrative and themes.