The house of horrors belonged to Major Thomas Weir, known as the Wizard of West Bow.
Once a pillar of the community, he shocked the city after admitting crimes including bestiality, incest with his sister and communicating with the dead.
After his prompt execution in 1670, his West Bow abode was shunned for two centuries – said to be haunted by several ghosts.
It was presumed to have been destroyed in 1878 after a number of dilapidated old houses at the head of the West Bow were demolished.
But through painstaking historical research, Cardiff University historian Dr Jan Bondeson claims it was not razed and was in fact incorporated within a newly built chapel – today the Quaker Meeting House at Victoria Terrace.
The senior lecturer has written about the spooky find in this month’s Fortean Times, a magazine for lovers of the unexplained. He said: “Major Weir’s house in the West Bow was recognised as the most haunted in Edinburgh. Although no person dared live there, its windows were lit up at night, with weird shapes flitting past the dirty panes and strange music coming from inside.”
Many children – including the father of Robert Louis Stevenson – were told to avoid the Major’s residence and to be wary of a ghostly coach pulled by six fiery horses.
Dr Bondeson said: “Contrary to local belief, Major Weir’s house still stands today.
“This is a matter of some interest for Edinburgh antiquaries, since the area around the Lawnmarket and the Bowhead is one of the most ancient parts of the city, containing many of the existing pre-1750 buildings in the Old Town.”
Manager of the Quaker Meeting House Anthony Buxton was amazed at the revelation. He said: “This was the first time I had been told Major Weir’s home was actually here. I have to say, from my reading of its history I thought it had been demolished by people who did not want anything to do with it. That said, one of my staff some years ago said he had seen Weir walk through the wall. If Dr Bondeson is right, his house is in our toilet – which seems quite appropriate.”
Historian Des Brogan, the director of Mercat Tours, described Major Weir as a “larger than life character”.
He said: “Weir was like an early Jekyll and Hyde and when he was executed it was a great cause célèbre in Edinburgh. When Weir was burned the staff he used to carry was also thrown in to the fire and it wriggled about like a snake.”
‘Right ingredients to become hot spooky tourist draw’
The new discovery makes the Weir residence a key rival to two other spots for the title of Edinburgh’s most haunted.
Mary King’s Close has become a huge tourist draw thanks to its supernatural heritage. But the sealed off Old Town street struggles to compete with Greyfriars Kirk – said to be one of the most haunted spots in Britain. Home to a violent spook called the Mackenzie Poltergeist, between 1990 and 2006 there were 350 reported attacks and 170 reports of people collapsing.
One tourism source said: “This new discovery is interesting. The Weir home has all the right ingredients to become a hot spooky tourist draw.”