The Edinburgh Vaults are a series of chambers formed by the 19 arches of South Bridge. Today, the vaults are one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh. Imagine touring at night with a local guide—it’s a surreal experience. The stories you hear will barely scratch the surface of what the Edinburgh underground has seen.
In the Beginning
The city of Edinburgh straddles seven major hills—most are obscured now by five bridges spanning the city. Before the bridges were built, getting around Edinburgh meant a long, often muddy, trek. The second bridge planned was the South Bridge, built in 1788. It was meant to link High Street with the University of Edinburgh area. The bridge seemed doomed from the start.
Edinburgh’s oldest resident, a well-respected judge’s wife, was to be the first person to cross. She died before the bridge was completed, and when the bridge opened, she was carried across in her coffin.
A Superstitious Citizenry
Many locals, superstitious and cantankerous, refused to ever cross the bridge, going clear around town to use the North Bridge. But space in Edinburgh was at a premium, and shops moved underneath the arches. They were dark, dank, and they cracked, letting water run into the lower levels. Within 30 years of the bridge’s opening, the vaults were abandoned by the businesses.
Abandoned and Forgotten
Desperate residents, and immigrants fleeing Ireland’s potato famine during the mid-19th century, moved in. Disease, gambling, and crime ran rampant, and the vaults became Edinburgh’s red light district. (The vaults were also used to store cadavers which were sold to the University of Edinburgh’s medical school.) In the 1860’s, the squatters were evicted and the vaults were filled with rubble to keep people from moving back in. The vaults were forgotten until a chance excavation in the 1980’s revealed poignant reminders of those who had lived there. Old toys, horseshoes, buttons, clay pots, and dinner plates were unearthed.
The Resident Ghosts
The Edinburgh Vaults are said to be one of the most haunted places in the UK. Many visitors who head down to the lower levels are greeted by a gust of cold air. People report hearing children yelling and women singing. Others have seen full-blown apparitions. And some spirits are regulars.
Mr. Boots: Also known as The Watcher, Mr. Boots is a tall, shabby man who sticks to the back section of the vaults. Visitors there hear his heavily-booted footsteps approach them. He’s the ghost who famously photo-bombed Emma Surgenor’s picture of her sister, Lauren, in July of 2015.
The Aristocrat: He is a well-to-do gentleman, with a tall black hat and a beard. He leans against a wall and grins at passing visitors. Although he is not an evil or aggressive spirit, many people report feeling a sinister presence when they’re near him.
The Cobbler: Unlike Boots or Aristocrat, the Cobbler is described as a short, stocky man, wearing a long apron. He smiles at people as they pass and is considered a positive presence.
Jack the Child: Jack is a blond, curly-haired boy of about six or seven, wearing a blue suit with Knickerbocker trousers. He wanders the vaults and is attracted to women and children. Jack has been known to grab the hand of visitors and tug on their clothes.