I've lived in Edinburgh for something like 15 years now and it truly is a beautiful and amazing city. My most recent book, Paranormal Edinburgh, looks at the Fortean side of Edinburgh. Here is one of my favourite stories from the book.
Major Thomas Weir
Major Thomas Weir or the Wizard of West Bow was a curious character – another candidate for the Jekyll and Hyde prototype! Born in Clydesdale in 1599 he moved to Edinburgh in 1649 after he retired from the army and in Edinburgh he initially settled in the Cowgate where he shared lodgings with a certain James Mitchell who was executed in 1678 for the attempted murder of Archbishop Sharp. At some unspecified date Major Weir moved and started to live in the West Bow area of the city and he was well thought of by all that knew him. He shared a house with his sister and was a religious pillar of the community, he was regarded as ultra pious by all his neighbours and they themselves were know as the Bowhead Saints so pious were they! So highly thought of was Major Weir that when he retired he was given the honorary position of Captain of the City Guard. There is an old Edinburgh legend about the antiquity of the City Guard, the claim goes that they were present at the crucifixion of Christ, perhaps more evidence that Comyns Beaumont was right in claiming that Edinburgh was in actuality Jerusalem! So that is the sort of person we're dealing with. Some remarked that Major Weir was more Angel than man, although they did comment that he seemed to be inseparable from his staff, a massive blackthorn affair. A contemporary description of the Major states “His garb was still a cloak, and somewhat dark, and he never went without his staff. He was a tall black man, and ordinarily looked down to the ground; a grim countenance, and a big nose “ So you can imagine the surprise that was felt when, aged seventy, he confessed to witchcraft, bestiality, incest and Satanism. The initial confession came at a prayer meeting when Major Weir was leading the prayers – a not unusual occurrence. But what was unusual was when he started listing foul and heinous crimes and then started to say from the pulpit that these crimes were his own. When he had finished his list of crimes he is reported to have said “Before God I have not told you the hundredth part of that I can say more, and am guilty of”. Fearing that Major Weir had lost his senses the congregation was even more surprised when Major Weir's sister confirmed her brother’s words. The congregation still believed Weir to be innocent and they managed to keep the affair hushed up for some six months but eventually the Lord Provost heard the details and had Major Weir inspected by doctors all of whom declared him to be of good health and sane. Both Weirs’ were eventually brought to trial. After his conviction in 1670 he was sentenced to death – to be strangled and then his body burnt. Major Weir's sister, Jean, was also convicted and she happily confessed to all charges and added for good measure that her brother had learnt the craft from their mother (also called Jean). She had learnt some lesser spells form their mother and had upon her brow a witches mark. When she pulled her hair back and frowned there was apparently an arrangement of freckles that would form themselves into the shape of a horseshoe, Thomas apparently had a similar mark on his back. Jean was hung in the Grassmarket (apparently trying to shock all to the last by removing her clothes as she stood on the scaffolding) but her parting words were to warn everyone about Thomas' staff. According to Jean, during her confession, the staff had been given to Thomas by the devil himself and it was the source of his power. A description of the staff exists from contemporary records “This Magical Staff was all of one piece, upon which were Engraved certain Symbols in the shape of Centaures, with a crooked head of Thorn-wood. She said he received it of the Devil and did many wonderful things with it; particularly that he used to lean upon it in his Hypocritical Prayers; and after they were committed she still desired it might be kept from him, because if he were Master of it again he would certainly grow obdurate, and retract the Confessions he had so publickly made. Apollonius Thyaneus had such a Magical Staff as this, which I am apt to believe was a Sacramental Symbol which the Devil gave to the Major, and the Court were not without some apprehensions of it for it was ordered by the judges to be burnt with his Body; and it was afterwards observed that his body did not fall into the Flames till that staff had first done so”.
When Thomas was about to be strangled he was given an opportunity to repent with his last breath. Instead he refused and his last words were reputed to be “Let me alone, I will not. I have lived as a beast, and I must die as a beast”. When his body was burnt the staff was thrown on the fire as well and it was supposed to have been very difficult to burn.
The staff may have been difficult to burn but it was even harder to get rid of. The staff haunted the Weir's house for the next one hundred years. It was seen in the house as well as being heard and it was also seen floating through the streets, apparently looking for its master. It wasn't until the Weir's house was pulled down at the during the nineteenth century that the staff eventually disappeared. For the first hundred years after the trial no one would live in the house and there were frequent reports of wild parties being held there and there are also accounts of people encountering a woman who stood the height of two normal women. The first person to live in the Weir house again did not move in until 1820 or so, he was a retired soldier by the name of William Patullo and he was ultimately tempted to do so by a criminally low rent. The first night that Patullo and his wife were in residence they were unable to get to sleep and whilst they lay awake they saw the form of a calf appear at the foot of their bed. The calf rested its head on the foot of the bed and just stared at them, eventually disappearing back into the void it had come from. Patullo and his wife did not spend a second night there.
No one ever lived in the house again, it was variously used as shops and storage areas until its eventual demolition. Major Weir's crimes were literally the stuff of legend – in his dwelling at Westbow he was said to have placed a spell on the stairwell such that anyone ascending to his house felt as if they were actually walking down the stairs. Jean spent many hours at a spinning wheel during her life and it was said that after her death the wheel could still be heard. The staff was supposed to run errands for the Major and after his death people reported that the staff would be with the Major when he went for walks – but the staff would be parading several feet in front of the Major himself. Witchcraft not withstanding the brother and sister had both sold their souls to the Devil and the court records tell us when this event took place (according to Jean's testimony), the date in question was the 7th of September 1648. The pair were transported from Edinburgh to Musselburgh in a coach pulled by six horses all of which seemed to be on fire. At Musselburgh the pair spoke to the Devil who told them of the outcome of a battle which would not be known in Edinburgh until nearly a week later. The pair have not been seen or heard of in Edinburgh since, but there was a reported sighting of them in 1909 in Lanarkshire where they were brought up.