The Edinburgh Vaults are a series of underground chambers built as part of the construction of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 18th century.
With strong links to the occult and many ghost sightings, they are considered one of the most haunted places in the UK.
Edinburgh Vaults History
Although the Edinburgh Vaults were not created until the construction of the South Bridge in the 18th century, the land dates back centuries and has links to the occult and witchcraft.
The vaults were built on the site of Niddry’s Wynd, where a mansion belonging to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Nichol Edward, once stood.
Edwards was close friends with King James VI, who is said to have visited the house several times.
The civic palace, completed in 1589, was recognised as one of the grandest houses in Edinburgh at the time, but it housed a dark secret.
It is believed there were up to 13 cells in the basement, and alleged witches were persecuted, tried, and tortured here during King James VI’s brutal witch trials.
The house was eventually demolished to make way for the construction of the South Bridge, which was completed in 1788 and built to connect the Old Town and the New Town of Edinburgh.
The vaults were built as a part of the bridge’s structure and were used for storage and to house taverns and workshops for cobblers and tradesmen.
When the vaults were first constructed, they were in high demand and were fully leased out.
Theoretically, the vaults were a good idea. However, they were not fully waterproofed, and the damp conditions, poor ventilation, and lack of natural light meant a lot of the traders quickly moved out.
The vaults did not stay empty for long. The poor, homeless, and destitute moved in, choosing the shelter of the damp vaults over sleeping rough on the streets above.
Shops and taverns thrived in this strange underground world, and a whole community of Edinburgh’s lowlife, including thieves, pimps, and prostitutes, co-existed under the ground.
It was not uncommon for 7-10 people to reside in rooms the size of a small bedroom with no ventilation and a modest fireplace that only provided a small amount of heat.
The vaults were lighted with fish oil lamps, which, combined with the stench of stale waste and chamber pots, made the area barely habitable.
Due to the cramped and unsanitary conditions, the disease took hold, and sadly there were many deaths, particularly during a cholera outbreak in 1828.
Many are said to have lived and died in the vaults without ever seeing the light of day.
Burke and Hare, the infamous body snatchers, are also believed to have used the vaults as a hunting ground, taking the bodies of the dead and murdering the prostitutes of the South Bridge to sell to local doctors for dissection.
Due to ever-worsening conditions, the vaults were abandoned for a second time by the mid-19th century and were sealed up and forgotten about for nearly 200 years until they were rediscovered in the 1980s.
Today, the vaults are a popular dark tourism attraction that offers a glimpse into Edinburgh’s dark history.
Edinburgh Vaults Ghosts and Hauntings
There have been several ghost sightings in the Edinburgh Vaults.
A tall, imposing man wearing a long coat and leather boots has been seen numerous times. He’s been dubbed “Mr. Boots” because of his attire and is a territorial spirit very protective of the Vaults.
Visitors to the subterranean tunnels have heard his heavy footsteps echoing through the chambers, while others have been told in no uncertain terms to “Get Out!” by his disembodied voice.
Other ghosts include a well-dressed man in a top hat and a friendly cobbler, who wanders the Blair Street Vaults.
A young boy called Jack has also been known to grab visitors’ hands and pull on their clothes.
In the Niddry Street Vaults, an evil spirit is also said to reside within the stone circle and has been known to physically attack those who dare to step inside.
Edinburgh Vaults Underground Ghost Tours
A number of award-winning tour companies run daily tours into the Edinburgh Vaults.
The Underground Ghost Tour Edinburgh starts with a walk through the cobbled closes of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town before venturing deep underground into a section of the infamous Edinburgh Vaults.
Expect stories of death, disease, and crime during this entertaining and immersive experience.
Other Haunted Locations in Edinburgh
If you’re interested in exploring some of Edinburgh’s other most haunted locations, here are some of our suggestions:
Edinburgh Castle: Edinburgh Castle is an iconic fortress and is said to be one of the most haunted places in the city, with many ghost stories associated with it. Visitors have reported seeing the ghost of a piper who went missing in the tunnels and the spirit of a drummer boy who is said to drum on the castle walls.
Greyfriars Kirkyard: This historic cemetery is said to be one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh, with many visitors reporting strange noises and ghostly sightings. One of the most famous ghosts associated with the cemetery is the “Mackenzie Poltergeist,” a spirit said to haunt the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie, a 17th-century lawyer known as “Bloody Mackenzie” for his brutal treatment of prisoners.
Mary King’s Close: Mary King’s Close is a network of streets and buildings that is said to be one of the most haunted places in the United Kingdom. Was built in the 16th and 17th centuries, and was buried beneath the city in the 18th century. The close is said to be haunted by the spirits of the people who lived and died there, including the ghost of a young girl named Annie.