Photographer's Note

A simple photograph quickly taken yesterday in Edinburgh's "Royal Mile" during the busy Edinburgh Festival and showing "Deacon Brodie's Tavern" which lies only a short distance downhill from Edinburgh Castle. And this tavern is named after a man who certainly did have a very, very dark side to his life.

A highly respected member of Edinburgh's society, William Brodie (1741-88) was a skilful cabinet-maker and locksmith and also a member of Edinburgh City Council as well as "deacon" (or head) of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons. However, unknown to most gentlefolk, Brodie had a secret night-time occupation.

By day, Brodie was a respectable tradesman, part of his job in building cabinets being to install and repair their locks and other security mechanisms and also to repair door locks. He socialised with the gentry of Edinburgh, and met the poet Robert Burns and the painter Sir Henry Raeburn amongst others.

At night, however, Brodie became a burglar and thief. He used his daytime job as a way to gain knowledge about the security mechanisms of his clients and to copy their keys using wax impressions. As the foremost wright of the city, Brodie was asked to work in the homes of many of the richest members of Edinburgh society and so his burglary brought him rich pickings - which he certainly required to fund his extravagant lifestyle which included two mistresses and a severe gambling habit.

Brodie reputedly began his criminal career around 1768 when he copied keys to a bank door and stole £800. He continued in this same vein yet his downfall did not come for another twenty years when, in 1788, he organised, with accomplices, an armed raid on an excise office in Edinburgh's Canongate, a plan which went badly wrong with Brodie and one of his accomplices being arrested, tried and subsequently hanged in front of 40,000 spectators in Edinburgh's High Street (from where this picture was taken) on 1st October that year.

Popular myth holds that Deacon Brodie built the first gallows in Edinburgh and was also its first victim. That is almost certainly not true. But what is true is that the Scottish novelist and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father actually owned some furniture made by Brodie, wrote a play entitled "Deacon Brodie, or The Double Life", which was unsuccessful. However, Stevenson remained fascinated by the dichotomy between Brodie's respectable façade and his real nature and was inspired to write the still very famous novel, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886).

You can see a larger version of this photograph on "beta" TE here.

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Additional Photos by John Cannon (tyro) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1926 W: 427 N: 7228] (29022)
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