Deacon Brodies pub sits in a prominent position at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and has an unusual pub sign – on one side there is a respectable gentleman holding a key, whilst on the reverse is the picture of a robber, complete with mask and swag bag. Who are these two men?
The first is the eponymous Deacon Brodie – a pillar of Edinburgh’s 18th century community. William Brodie was the Deacon (Head) of the city’s Incorporation of Wrights and Masons – one of the city’s trade associations – and a member of the town council. A highly skilled cabinetmaker, he made fine, hand-crafted furniture, and was also a skilled locksmith. His work gave him access to the homes of rich people across the city.
What his customers did not know was that Brodie had a darker side, reflected in the reverse of the pub sign. He was a secret gambler, who kept a number of mistresses. To fund this secret lifestyle, he turned to a life of crime. He would take the opportunity to take impressions of his customers’ keys. After successful delivery of new furniture, he would return later and steal from the houses using his copied keys.
When he was caught, the people of Edinburgh were appalled at how a respectable, upright businessman could have this secret, darker side. 40,000 turned out to see his execution.
Edinburgh-born author, Robert Louis Stevenson was intrigued by the story, which he used as the basis for one of his most famous novels – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.