Edinburgh - In the footsteps of Dr Jekyll, Rebus and Holmes

By Simon Ball, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Edinburgh.

Overall rating:4.7 out of 5 (based on 6 votes)
Enjoyable
5
5.0
Useful
4.333335
4.3
Inspirational
4.333335
4.3
Recommended for:
Adventure, Cultural, Short Break, Mid-range

Come with me through the dark side of Scotland's capital and follow in the tracks of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Deacon Brodie, Burke and Hare, Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Rebus

From Dr Henry Jekyll’s potion to the Rebus crime scenes, Edinburgh’s split personality has held a stranglehold on the literary imagination for over a century. The glittering standard bearer of Scotland’s Enlightenment is also home to the gruesome murders of Burke and Hare so let's take a walk through some of the Scottish capital’s darker literary connections.

But first where to stay? Well Jekyll’s creator, Robert Louis Stevenson's childhood home is today a luxury bed and breakfast. The Stevenson House (17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh) has two bedrooms overlooking the Firth of Forth, including Stevenson’s parents' room complete with four poster bed. Rates start at £100 a night.

Built in the early 1800s this Georgian neo-classical house is a prime example of the buildings that the city elite moved to as they escaped the squalor of the Old Town’s tenements. Like many New Towners, however Stevenson wasn’t above visiting the pubs and brothels of ‘Auld Reekie’ for a bit of fun. So that is where we are off to next, stopping off at the Oxford Bar (8 Young Street, Edinburgh, tel no: 0131 539 7119, www.oxfordbar.com) for a pint of Deuchars on our way.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a key inspiration behind the duality of Edinburgh in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus stories, and the ‘Ox’ is Rebus’s local. It’s an interesting survival from the days of the compartmentalised pub, the saloon opens from a corridor to the side of the narrow bar. You might even see Rankin propping up the bar himself.

Deacon Brodie

 Lady Stair’s Close was at one time the main means of communication between the New and Old Towns. Here in a 1622 built house, is The Writers’ Museum (Lady Stairs House, Lady Stair's Close off the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, tel no 0131 529 4901, http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/internet/Leisure/Museums_and_galleries/Services/Writers%27%20Museum/CEC_writers_museum_and_makars_court). Dedicated to Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, in the Stevenson rooms you will find a cabinet from the author's childhood bedroom. What’s so significant about this cabinet?  Well it was made by one Deacon Brodie the man behind the duel personality of Dr Jekyll.

A seemingly respectable business man and city councillor by day, Brodie’s access to wealthy patron’s homes was an opportunity to case them for nocturnal burglary. His criminal life caught up with him and in 1788 he was hanged, from a gibbet reputably of his own construction, at the site marked by the Heart of Midlothian mosaic in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Up on the Royal Mile you can discover Brodie’s story in Deacon Brodie’s Tavern (435 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, tel no: 0131 225 6531). Or if you fancy a cup of tea or a snack, a fibre glass Brodie beckons you in to the Deacon’s House Café (2 Brodies Close, 304 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh)

Heading down the Mile from the Lawnmarket to the High Street we pass Fleshmarket Close, the crime scene from the Rebus novel of the same name  

Burke and Hare

In Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher, Dr K buys corpses for medical dissection. The inspiration was of course Dr Knox and the body suppliers, the infamous Burke and Hare. When Burke was hanged his body was anatomised and a gruesome memento of this can be seen in the small museum at the Police Centre (188 High Street, Edinburgh, tel no: 0131 226 6966). It’s a visiting card case made from the murderer’s own skin! 

Legend has it that the occupants of 17 tiny coffins found in 1836, by a group of rabbit hunting boys in a cave on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, were the symbolic victims of Burke and Hare given a decent Christian burial. Whether that's true or not, the eight surviving coffins are in the National Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street
Edinburgh, Tel no: 0131 225 7534 http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum.aspx). These curious little items also feature in the Rebus mystery The Falls.

Close to the tiny coffins is a Mortsafe, an outer iron casket to prevent body snatchers breaking into a coffin. These could be hired while the body rotted away till it was no longer useful to the anatomy class.

Sherlock Holmes

More gruesome mementos of Burke are in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum (Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, tel no: 0131 527 1649, http://www.museum.rcsed.ac.uk/content/content.aspx?ID=1, Admission £5)  Aside from a book bound with Burke’s skin and his death mask there is also an exhibition about one of Edinburgh’s other literary heroes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who studied medicine here under Dr Joseph Bell, the man who’s deductive diagnosis formed the model for Sherlock Holmes.

An Edinburgh man himself Doyle was born in Picardy Place in 1859. The Doyle home is long demolished, but it’s a short distance from there where we end our journey with a well deserved pint amongst the Holmes and Doyle memorabilia of the Conan Doyle pub (71 -73 York Place, Edinburgh, 0131 524  0031).

There are plenty of good cheap Travelodge Edinburgh Central and the Ibis Edinburgh Centre are both just off the Royal Mile so very handy for sightseeing.

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More information on Edinburgh - In the footsteps of Dr Jekyll, Rebus and Holmes :

Author:
Simon Ball
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.666665
Average: 4.7 (6 votes)
Total views:
921
First uploaded:
10 June 2010
Last updated:
3 years 35 weeks 6 days 4 hours 20 min 45 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Adventure, Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
heritage, Scottish heritage, literary, gruesome history

Simon recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Travelodge Edinburgh Central
£56
N/A
2. Ibis Edinburgh Centre
£49
N/A
3. The Stevenson House
N/A

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Community comments (11)

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Simon,

This guide is really engaging, and makes me want to follow the path that you describe here. Loved it.

John

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

What a great concept for a guide. I really enjoyed this quirky historical and literary tour of Edinburgh. I also agree with the previous comments which point to the clever way that accomodation and refreshment stops are all relevant to the 'dark side' tour.

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Thank you Victoria, much appreciated

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This works wonderfully as a themed guide. Edinburgh's literary tradition is one of the main draws for tourists and this will help them to pinpoint exactly where to go. I can see visitors using this guide practically to help them plan their very own “Edinburgh dark side tour”.

I really like that you suggested places to stay, eat and drink that continue the theme; Stevenson's childhood home, the Oxford Bar, Deacon Brodie's and such like. Your description of the Oxford Bar is really good and after reading it I want to go there for a pint. I live in Edinburgh, but have yet to visit the Oxford and you have encouraged me to do so soon.

I would suggest adding in some descriptions about the kind of food on offer in the pubs and cafes you mention. For example, do they offer any particularly Scottish food? I am just curious what the Deacon's House cafe is actually like. As a local it is somewhere I have ignored, assuming it to be for tourists. What kind of food do they do and what is it like inside?

A good, well-written, easy to read and nicely structured guide.

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Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Simon - I found your guide very engaging, and enjoyed its loose format as you follow the crime characters around Edinburgh.

One tiny bit lost me; it's where you refer to "rabbit haunting boys". It's a lovely image, but do you mean rabbit hunting, or is there a quaint untold Scottish tradition of terrorising rabbits? If so, the world must be told more!

Paul

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Typo, well spotted and now corrected

Rating:
4
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Despite having lived in Edinburgh for 10 years in the 1980s, I spent too much time in the pubs and not enough time researching the history: I learned a lot from this guide, and am sure that it will offer a new dimension to those wishing to visit. Good stuff!

I would have liked a few restaurant tips, just to complete the guide, though maybe you operate on a Deuchars diet?

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Hi Murray

Not completely on Deuchars, there was also some Belhaven 80/-.

Fear not about where to eat I'm planning a guide to my favourite Edinburgh eating places, on that list will be the Mosque Kitchen at Edinburgh's Central Mosque, great curry for a fiver with the best naan in town, nice people and all profits to charity.

Simon

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Simon,

You've managed to blend literary history, literary criticism and travel writing perfectly here to create something really powerful. The fact that you haven't simply regimented your guide into strict sections (lobbing in a hotel suggestion in the second paragraph, for example) stops this from becoming just another guide.

I've learnt things from this guide about Stevenson which I didn't know, which goes beyond the remit of a travel guide, and I think I'll be taking some of my English Literature graduate friends up to Edinburgh and pretty much following this guide to the letter.

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Cheers Chris

Problem with Edinburgh is there is just so much culture and history to choose from and it was really hard to condense it to just 800 odd words.

There are daily Stevenson walking tours in Edinburgh for anyone who fancies learning more about the man
http://www.ewht.org.uk/walk-in-the-footsteps-of

Thanks for such a positive review, I wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary, much more challenging and ultimately rewarding

Simon

And while I think of it there is also a Rebus walk that takes in many of the locations from the books and the TV series see

http://www.rebustours.com/

for details