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Wrichtishousis, Edinburgh

In 1798 the Wrichtishousis (Wrychtishousis or Wrightshouses) mansion was bought and subsequently demolished in 1800 to make way for a hospital and school, the legacy of the merchant James Gillespie (born 1726 – died 1797). According to John Ingram writing in 1897 (The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain) the house that was removed to make way for the hospital (which opened in 1802) was haunted by a headless woman.

Ingram states: On the site where Gillespie Hospital now stands, formerly stood an ancient mansion that some years after the conclusion of the American War of Independence, was used by the late Lieutenant-General Robertson of Lawers, who had served through the whole of the said war, as his town residence. The General, on his return to Europe, brought with him a negro called "Black Tom," who remained in his service as a servant. Tom's own particular room was on the ground floor of the residence, and he was frequently heard to complain that he could not rest in it, for every night the figure of a headless woman, carrying a child in her arms, rose up from the hearth and frightened him terribly.

No one paid much attention to poor Tom's trouble, although the apartment had an uncanny reputation, as it was supposed to be the result of dreams caused by intoxication, the negro's character for sobriety not being very remarkable. But a strange thing happened when the General's old residence was pulled down to make way for James Gillespie's Hospital. There under the hearthstone which had caused "Black Tom" so many restless nights, was discovered a box containing the body of a woman, from which the head had been severed, and beside her lay the remains of an infant, wrapt in a pillow-case trimmed with lace. The unfortunate lady appeared to have been murdered without any warning; she was fully dressed, and her scissors were yet hanging by a ribbon to her side, and her thimble was also in the box, having apparently dropped from the shrivelled finger of the corpse.

Archibald Robertson of Lawers (born 1745 – died 1813) reached the rank of Lieutenant General in 1805. He was a veteran of the British invasion of Havanna (6 June 1762) during the Seven Years War and also the Revolutionary War (American War of Independence) (1775–1783). His main residence was Lawers House which he bought in 1784 and passed to his niece Miss Boyd Robertson in 1813, but I cannot however confirm at this time that he ever used the Wrichtishousis as his Edinburgh town house or whether he had a slave named Tom.

Wrichtishousis, originally known as Burgh Muir Castle or Barganie House was the home of the Napier family who acquired it between 1390 and 1406 and was, as Ingram states an ‘ancient mansion’ based around a peel tower.

Gillespie's HospitalGillespie's HospitalIn 1680 the male line of the Napiers of Wrichtishousis died out and the mansion was sold several times before eventually coming into the hands of the Gillespie trust. Part of the stonework from Wrichtishousis was incorporated into an artificial ruin in the grounds of Woodhouselee when it was demolished. I could find no reference to the skeleton of a headless woman being discovered during the demolition.

Gillespie’s Hospital was demolished in 1976 and the stones from the Wrichtishousis that had been used to decorate it were retrieved and placed in the Huntly House Museum. The hospital was I believe replaced first by sheltered housing then by Royal Blind Asylum.

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