Wednesday 13 March 2019

The Strange and Sinister Tale of Major Weir

It is a strange story indeed. An upright, seemingly godfearing Presbyterian – a pillar of Edinburgh society – suddenly confessed to being a witch. Not only that, he implicated his own sister, Grizel, and she confirmed it!

No-one could fathom out where the confession had come from. Major Weir of all people - a black-hearted witch, guilty of the most heinous crimes and satanic rituals. And he confessed to his crimes during a church service in 1670. The congregation could not and would not believe his confession and doctors were summoned. Sure enough they concluded that Weir was mentally unstable but not insane. Nevertheless, the Major was having no one of it. He was a witch, so was his sister and they must both pay the penalty which, in those days meant death.

Apparently these two, while living in a smart house in West Bow, had regularly met with a ‘dark stranger’ who escorted them to meetings in Dalkeith in a fiery coach drawn by six horses. Weir and his sister had indulged in an incestuous relationship, they said. Their confessions became wilder and wilder. They had inherited their practice of the dark arts from their mother and Weir claimed to derive supernatural powers from a black staff he used which had been given to him, so he said, by the devil himself.

Weir admitted to bestiality and all manner of sexual acts with servant girls as well as devil worship. As if that were not enough, the Major claimed to have only listed some of his crimes – the others being too awful to recite.

Grizel said that a horseshoe-shaped mark on her forehead had been put there by the devil and he had given her the power to spin yarn at an astonishing rate but this yarn would break if anyone else tried to use it.

The Major and his sister claimed to be able to commune with the dead. Still no one would believe them but they insisted that every claim they made was true. They demanded to be tried and punished.
Eventually they got their wish and both were found guilty as a result of their own confessions. Grizel was hanged (after first slapping the executioner) and the Major was initially strangled and then burned. Witnesses reported that their executions took far longer than usual. Evidently the devil didn’t want them to die.

Their home in West Bow became the stuff of legend. Children were warned not to go near it and it lay empty for many years. The fiery coach was reportedly seen stopping there, strange shapes could be seen at the windows and their victims were said to haunt the building where the Weirs had tortured them. Candles would flicker even though there was no one there to light them, and the sound of music emanated from the closed and increasingly derelict house.

The house seems to have dropped out of sight for many years and was presumed demolished in 1878, along with a lot of property in the vicinity. Now, however, it seems at least some of it may have survived. In 2014, historian Dr Jan Bondeson concluded that it had been incorporated into the current Quaker Meeting House in Upper Bow. Ironically, the manager of the Meeting House told the Edinburgh Evening News that one of his staff, some years previously, had witnessed Weir’s ghost pass straight through a wall. In the toilet.


  1. Wow. The description of their empty home gave me chills. Well, if you're going to build something over a haunted location, a church is probably the best thing to build!

  2. Ah the good major. I remember doing the 'piece' on him many years back in another writing life for a ghost book. Good to revisit.