William Brodie

Brodie advertising figure on Edinburgh's Royal Mile

William Brodie (28 September 1741 – 1 October 1788), more commonly known by his prestigious title of Deacon Brodie, was a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild and Edinburgh city councillor, who maintained a secret life as a burglar, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling.


  • Career 1
  • Capture and trial 2
  • Popular culture 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


By day, Brodie was a respectable tradesman and Deacon (president) of the Incorporation of Wrights, the head of the Craft of Cabinetmaking, which made him a member of the Town Council. Part of his job in building cabinets was to install and repair their locks and other security mechanisms and repair door locks. He socialised with the gentry of Edinburgh, and met the poet Robert Burns and the painter Sir Henry Raeburn. He was also a member of The Edinburgh Cape Club[2], and known as Sir Llyud.

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

  • The history of Scotland – Deacon Brodie
  • Famous Scots – Deacon William Brodie

External links

  • Hutchison, David (2014). Deacon Brodie: A Double Life. ISBN 9781310693076
  • Gibson, John Sibbald (1993) [1977]. Deacon Brodie: Father to Jekyll and Hyde. Saltire Society. ISBN 0-904505-24-3
  • Bramble, Forbes (1975). The Strange Case of Deacon Brodie. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-241-89292-3
  • Roughead, William (1906) The Trial of Deacon Brodie (Notable Scottish Trials series).

Further reading

  1. ^ Oslin, Reid (15 March 2001). "Jekyll and Hyde: The Real Story".  
  2. ^ Deacon Brodie at the Internet Movie Database


In 1997 a TV movie of the same name starring Billy Connolly was made in Edinburgh.[2]

Deacon Brodie is commemorated by a pub of that name on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, on the corner of the Lawnmarket and Bank Street which leads down to The Mound, and a close off the Royal Mile, which contained his family residence and workshops, still bears the name "Brodie's Close". A pub in New York City carrying his name sits on the south side of the famous west side 46th Street Restaurant Row between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue.

Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father owned furniture made by Brodie, wrote a play (with W. E. Henley) 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 Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).[1]

Brodie's alter ego
Sign at Deacon Brodie's Tavern on Edinburgh's Royal Mile

Popular myth holds that Deacon Brodie built the first gallows in Edinburgh and was also its first victim. Of this William Roughead in Classic Crimes states that after research he was sure that although the Deacon may have had some hand in the design, "...it was certainly not of his construction, nor was he the first to benefit by its ingenuity".

Popular culture

Brodie and Smith were hanged at the Old Tolbooth in the High Street on 1 October 1788, before a crowd of 40,000. According to one tale, Brodie wore a steel collar and silver tube to prevent the hanging from being fatal. It was said that he had bribed the hangman to ignore it and arranged for his body to be removed quickly in the hope that he could later be revived. If so, the plan failed. Brodie was buried in an unmarked grave at the Buccleuch Church in Chapel Street. The ground is now covered by a car park behind university lecture-halls. However, rumours of his being seen in Paris circulated later and gave the story of his scheme to evade death further publicity.

The trial of Brodie and Smith started on 27 August 1788. At first there was no hard evidence against Brodie, although the tools of his criminal trade (copied keys, a disguise and pistols) were found in his house and workshops. But with Brown's evidence and Ainslie being persuaded to turn King's Evidence, added to the self-incriminating lines in the letters he had written while on the run, the jury found Brodie and Smith guilty.

The case that led to Brodie's downfall began later in 1788 when he organised an armed raid on an Excise office in Chessel's Court on the Canongate. Brodie's plan failed. On the same night, Brown approached the authorities to claim a King's Pardon, which had been offered after a previous robbery, and gave up the names of Smith and Ainslie (initially saying nothing of Brodie's involvement). Smith and Ainslie were arrested and the next day Brodie attempted to visit them in prison but was refused. Realising that he had to leave Edinburgh, Brodie escaped to London and then to the Netherlands intending to flee to the United States but was arrested in Amsterdam and shipped back to Edinburgh for trial.

Capture and trial
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