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.
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.
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.