Double life of Deacon Brodie

Respected tradesman by day; daring thief by night. This is the life that William Brodie led in the 16th century. Better known as Deacon Brodie, a man of power and honourability, William was a father, husband, locksmith and politician. He was a trusted pillar of the community in Edinburgh during his life from 1741 to […]

Respected tradesman by day; daring thief by night. This is the life that William Brodie led in the 16th century. Better known as Deacon Brodie, a man of power and honourability, William was a father, husband, locksmith and politician. He was a trusted pillar of the community in Edinburgh during his life from 1741 to 1788. The story goes that Brodie was looking to expand his revenue and so used his position and expertise to break into the houses of his customers at night, stealing one or two items of value. Residents of Edinbrugh soon began to notice that there was a thief amongst them and it was decided that an investigative committee was needed to stop this person in his tracks. Not one person doubted that the best idea was to give the most trustworthy member of the city the job as Chairman. This man was none other than Mr William Brodie.

It was from here that Brodie saw the opportunity to take more risks. When given a job at the Custom House he devised the most daring of all his plans. A group of renowned criminals was gathered together. One night, when the tax money was being held at the house, Brodie and his men broke in, one at a time, taking only as much as they could carry. Everything was going perfectly, until the last man greedily tried to grab too much. He tripped, fell, and was caught by the guard. This man gave up the name of every man in the team. All but Deacon Brodie. This made Brodie worry that they were biding there (their) time (to betray him?) that he fled to Holland where he hoped he would be able to escape to ‘the new world’. But he was not so lucky. The tale is told that he was caught just as he was stepping onto his escape boat. William Brodie was dragged back to Edinburgh and hanged on scales that he himself had designed. It is believed that the story of Deacon Brodie‘s two-faced-ness/deceptive nature influenced Robert Louis Stevenson when he created the character for his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Deacon Brodie is a well remembered character Edinburgh’s intriguing past. The story of his life is still told to those who visit the city. Brodie is one man the city will never forget. There is even a pub named after him, which can be found at 435 Lawnmarket, on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
Team Edinburgh September 2009

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