The Wizard of West Bow

Hello, Readers.  I can hardly believe we are already in mid October!  Where I live the weather has cooled down (mostly) and the trees are beginning to don their Autumn wardrobe.  I’ve switched out my own closet in favor of jeans and sweaters and have planted the pansies and mums.  The little pumpkins I purchased are sitting pretty in the garden, blissfully unaware that in another month or so they are going to become pies.  Poor little fellas.

In keeping with our October theme, today I would like to share with you a tale that is everything weird, disturbing, and strange.  As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. A perfect fit for Halloween, I think.

Today’s story is an extraordinarily puzzling one about a gentleman named Major Thomas Weir.  History remembers him better as The Wizard of West Bow.

James Skene|Public Domain

Major Weir was born in Scotland in 1599 and resided with his sister Jean in Edinburgh.  If you have read my previous blog post about The West Bow (now called Victoria Street), you will recall that the original road was narrow, steep, and Z-shaped, rising from the Grassmarket area to the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile.  This is the area that Weir and Jean (oddly also known as Grizel) called home.

Major Weir was by all accounts a highly respected, upstanding member of Edinburgh society.  He was a strict and devout Presbyterian, had been a Covenanter soldier, and at one time had even been appointed commander of the Town Guard.  Nothing about his pious life indicated that anything was amiss.  Which is why it must have come as a complete shock to his friends and acquaintances when in 1670 (at around 70 years of age) he began acting strange, and seemingly out of nowhere, confessed publicly to a secret life of heinous transgressions, including an incestuous relationship with his sister Jean, bestiality (yikes), demonic activity, and witchcraft.

Because his claims were so completely out of character, at first no one believed him.  I’m sure people must have thought he had gone positively mad!  But Jean validated his claims, adding that the walking stick Weir carried (topped with the carving of a human head) was a gift from the Devil himself.  She said that they were sometimes carried to Dalkeith by a demonic figure in a fiery coach.  Some say that Jean claimed their mother had also been a witch and that she and the Major had made a pact with the Devil years prior.  As I said earlier, Weir’s story is a puzzling one, for sure!

The pair was tried and found guilty of their crimes in April of 1670.  Jean was hanged in the Grassmarket where some say she stripped herself naked beforehand, willingly dying in shame.  Major Thomas Weir was strangled and then burned alive.  It is said that instead of begging for God’s forgiveness, his last words were, “Let me alone.  I have lived as a beast and I must die as a beast.”

After the executions, the Weir home remained vacant for over a century.  Tales of ghostly sightings and strange occurences (such as music, revelry, lights, and shadows coming from the home) were common.  Some residents even claimed to have seen a fiery coach pull up to the home.

For years it was believed that the Weir home had been demolished sometime in the mid to late 19th century.  However, recent discoveries have revealed that the house was not completely destroyed after all!  In fact, parts of the home were actually incorporated into what is today the Quaker Meeting House.

Quaker Meeting House (second story above the green storefront)

And if that’s not weird enough for you, then you will chuckle when I tell you that what was once the main part of the Weir home is now the location of the Meeting House’s toilets.  A fitting end to our story, indeed!

Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up!  I love it.

Thanks so much for popping by and reading.  I look forward to continuing our strange tales next time we meet.



The West Bow (or Victoria St.)


4 thoughts on “The Wizard of West Bow

  • I love this story on so many levels.
    I worked at Heriot Watt University, way back when it was situated in the Grassmarket, so I recognise West Bow, Victoria Street (a work of art in itself!) and the Grassmarket in your pictures.
    Great tale of Edinburgh’s dark underbelly.
    Even Rebus would walk warily there!

    • I really appreciate your comments. Edinburgh is such a fascinating place. History, architecture, literature, and of course, strange tales like this one. I can’t get enough. I took a quick peek at your site and your writing looks intriguing. I’ll take a closer look!

  • I spent a few days in Edinburgh a few years ago when my sister lived there. She took me to a restaurant somewhere in the centre that had at least one wall of solid rock. The atmosphere was odd – something about those enclosed places and their history. I had some really weird dreams that night! I guess the ghosts of these people still road the city.

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