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Witches & Wizards

Carluke Parish is not without its eerie past.

During the 17th century, three local women were put on trial for practising the art of witchcraft.


In April 1629, Marion Schailer of Law and Jonet Scott of Waygateshaw were among sixteen people denounced by Isobel Gray of Lanark as being witches. Interestingly, these denunciations were made during Isobel’s own trial for the same crime. Investigations into these claims were made but, unfortunately, there is no evidence of the outcome suggesting that Marion and Jonet were neither detained nor found guilty. Isobel Gray was not so fortunate. She was found guilty and executed.


In August 1646, Marion Davidsone, a married woman who lived at Heindshaw, Carluke was put on trial locally for being a witch. While there are no details as to who accused her or of what exactly she was accused of, it seems that the pleas made by her husband and brother that she be ‘set at liberty’ were successful. She was not exonerated, however, as further entries in the court proceedings record that ‘she continues under caution as before’.

While the names of these three women have more or less faded in the mists of time, the same cannot be said of two other figures associated with Carluke. They are Major Thomas Weir and his sister Jane ( also known as Jean or Grizel ), the children of Thomas Weir of Kirkton and his wife Lady Jean Somerville. At the time of their arrest and subsequent executions in the spring of 1670 and, indeed for many years prior to this, Thomas, who held the position of Commander of the Edinburgh Town Guard, lived with his sister in the West Bow in Edinburgh.


70-year-old Thomas’s case is very different to many others accused and found guilty of witchcraft as, believe it or not, he was his own accuser. A fervent Presbyterian and a Covenanter, he appears to have led a particularly pious life, even nicknamed the ‘Bowhead Saint’ or ‘Angelic’ Thomas. All this changed, however, when Thomas suddenly stood up during a religious service and accused himself of being in service with the Devil. Despite efforts to calm him and get him to seek medical attention, Thomas persisted in his claims and went further implicating his sister Jane in them.

Eventually, the Church authorities could not ignore Thomas’s claims and both he and Jane were arrested and taken to the Tolbooth for interrogation. Rather than deny her brother’s claims, Jane confirmed them and even elaborated on them. Not only did she maintain that Thomas derived his powers from his walking stick, a black staff topped with a carved human head, she also stated that they both bore the mark of the devil and that their mother had also been a witch, teaching them their craft.

Further claims by Jane included that, as far back as 7th September 1648, she and Thomas were transported from Edinburgh to Musselburgh and back in a ‘fiery’ coach and six horses. While in Musselburgh, she stated that the Devil had informed Thomas of the army’s defeat at Preston in England. As for her own associations with the Devil, she claimed that the only benefit to her was a constant supply of yarn for her spindle.

Despite Thomas being a prominent public figure in the city and former pillar of the Church, the Church authorities could not ignore such claims and both Thomas and his sister were put on trial. Thomas, however, was not charged with practising witchcraft but instead with committing incest, adultery and bestiality. Jane, on the other hand, was charged with witchcraft.

Unrepentant and offering no defence for their actions, both were found guilty and sentenced to death. Thomas was garrotted and burned along with his infamous walking stick ‘The Lilyroot’ at the Gallowlee, a short distance from Calton Hill, while Jane was hanged in the Grassmarket. Following their executions, they were buried near the spot of Thomas’s demise.

( Dr Rankin devotes a chapter of his book ‘Notices on Parish of Carluke – 1288 to 1874’ to Major Thomas Weir and, in it, he suggests that Thomas may well have been suffering from senile dementia at the time of his self-accusation and interrogation. )

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