Deacon Brodie, the real life inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

By August 28, 2020Short stories

The legendary Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), one of Edinburgh’s most fascinating characters, the real life inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

Living a polar opposite double life, on the surface he was a respected gentleman, a city councillor, Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and a professional cabinet maker and locksmith with a wife and children. Beneath the surface he drank and gambled excessively, had two mistresses and 5 illegitimate children. This hidden life was expensive to maintain, having drained his inheritance and running out of money he turned to crime to fund it… 

Part of his professional life involved him fitting and repairing locks, he would use this knowledge to burgle his wealthiest customers. One technique was to take their keys and impress them into putty so that he could later make a copy for himself to gain access to their properties. For long enough he went undetected, no one suspected such a respected member of society until one night he got greedy…

Brodie along with accomplices made a botched attempted to rob The Excise Office in Chessel’s Court. This led to his down fall, the game was up, he fled to Amsterdam but was arrested there and brought back to Edinburgh. With evidence mounted against him, he was trialed, convicted and sentenced to hang on the 1st October 1788 age 47 at the old tollbooth jail.

In an ironic twist of fate, he was executed on a new more effective style of hangman’s gallows, the new structure was of Brodie’s own design.

One of the stops in our Hidden Secrets of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and Sinister Old Town Tour, is Brodie’s Close, his old workshop and home. Well, one of his homes. Do you want to know why this was only one of his homes? Join us for the tour, and you will find out more about this legendary burglar.

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