Sunday, 26 August 2012

Angelic Thomas Weir the Wizard of West Bow

The old preacher stood up and his audience eagerly listened for his condemnation of everything ungodly. Instead they heard him confess to a list of sins that must have left their jaws dropping. Perhaps some even heard of new sins. Of course they decided he was mad. But when his sister confirmed his story and added even more details he ended in court and was then burned at the stake together with the staff he habitually carried with him. But Major Thomas Weir did not rest quietly in his grave.

Major Thomas Weir

Thomas was born in 1599 in Carluke in South Lanarkshire and belonged to one of the oldest and most powerful families in the county, the Weir-Deveres ( No relation to werewolves I think). Lieutenant Thomas Weir served in Ulster during the 1641 Irish Rebellion and Major Thomas Weir retired in 1650 and became Comander of the Edinburgh Town guard.

At some point he became a Covenanter, which means he signed the covenant of 1638 to maintain Presyterianism as the sole religion of Scotland. This would have been mandatory for all Scots citizens after 1640. And he got religion. Nowadays he would be called a fanatic. It was said that whenever four divines were together in Edinburgh he would be one of them. He was a tall man who always wore a long black cloak and carried a black thornwood staff carved with the heads of satyrs. A powerful orator he would say passionate prayers to huge audiences.

The Confession
In 1570 Weir was leading a prayer meeting when he confessed to committing incest with his sister, with home he lived, practicing witchcraft and sorcery and other crimes and accused his sister of being a witch.

Naturally people thought he had gone insane: an old man with dementia. But his sister confirmed his statements and said he got his powers from his staff. She also said they had learned magic from their mother. Apparently both had physical peculiarities that they and others believed were witchmarks. Believing them innocent but insane the congregation managed to hush the matter up for six months till the Lord Provost heard of the matter and had him examined finding him to be in good health and sane.

The two were executed by burning. Some say this was at Greenside, others that it was near Pilrig Street. Thomas refused to repent, saying he had lived as a beast and had to die like a beast. Not many would take such responsibility for their actions at any time, especially one feels, in the 21st Century. It was said he and his staff were difficult to burn.

After the executions his house gained a reputation for being haunted with ghostly party sounds at midnight. His staff was seen floating in front of the building and a Phantom coach was seem to pull up in front of the door allegedly to take the Weirs to Hell. Sometimes, the major was seen emerging from the alley astride a headless black horse galloping in a whirlwind of fire. Sir Walter Scott visited the house shortly before it was demolished and testified to its eerie atmosphere. The Weir residence, located between Edinburgh Castle and the Grassmarket, was torn down in the 1800s but people have seen strange lights and heard sounds of revelry in its former site. 

It would be impossible to say whether Weir and his sister committed the crimes to which they confessed but their house stood close to GreyFriars Kirk with its unseen attacker and evidence of various crimes was found in a neighbouring house so perhaps the whole incident was orchestrated by a malevolent force in the area. Or perhaps the hauntings are hust what people expected to see.


The house is gone, it stood halfway up West Bow, and the street is occupied by little shops and an Irish Pub. The Grassmarket, once the scene of hangings is full of restaurants and bars, including the ambiguously named Last Drop tavern. From West Bow you can walk to GreyFriars Kirk or George the Fourth Bridge. A bit further you come to the Royal Mile. Here History lies under every stone. But there are some good bars, cafes and Restaurants in the area.

If you happen to choose the Badjao Bed and Breakfast for your stay in Edinburgh we recommend you take a bus to West Bow because the local council make life hard and parking expensive for drivers in the city.

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