Mary Kings Close

Mary King’s Close

A subterranean warren of streets with a dark history.

Deep beneath the streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town lies a hidden warren of streets and tenements with a rich history and a dark reputation: Mary King’s Close.

This subterranean maze of rooms and alley ways were once a bustling hub of activity, but was left abandoned after a devastating outbreak of the plague in the late 17th century.

The spirits of the past are still said to linger here and the close is reputedly one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh.

Map of Mary Kings Close

History of Mary Kings Close

Mary King’s Close consisted of a number of closes and tenements located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The close, which was named after an affluent local Mary King, dates back to the 17th century and was once home to an interesting mix to all manner of Edinburgh’s social classes.

The close housed numerous tenement buildings, regarded by many as the world’s first skyscrapers, often reaching nine or ten stories high.

The wealthiest residents such as merchants or doctors lived on the upper floors, whilst Edinburgh’s poorest residents lived in the squalid conditions of the dark, smelly, lower floors where sanitation was severely lacking.

Human waste was disposed of from the upper floors into street below, with residents able to dispose of their urine and faeces twice a day – shouting “gardyloo” to warn neighbours passing below before tossing their waste into the open sewers that ran through the close.

Due to these increasingly unsanitary conditions and an infestation of rats from the ships docking at nearby Leith Docks, Edinburgh was hit very hard by the plague.

In an effort to contain the disease, the city authorities sealed off the close, trapping over 300 residents inside.

Whilst the close was quarantined, residents were brought food and drink and were treated by Edinburgh’s second official plague doctor, Dr George Rae.

Rae wore a long cloak and bird like beak filled with herbs in an attempt to avoid being infected by the plague himself.

Somewhat surprisingly and much to the surprise of the council, Rae lived to tell the tale, but it is believed he did not receive the large salary he was promised for his heroic work and died before receiving a penny.

It is estimated that 50% of Edinburgh’s population lost their lives between 1644 and 1645 and it is known that many of the closes residents succumbed to the terrible disease during this period.

Following the plague outbreak, the close was left largely abandoned for around 40 years.

But, as the population of Edinburgh increased, residents began to move back in.

The new inhabitants started to report paranormal activity, with apparitions, ghostly lights and strange glows reported on a regular basis.

Were the spirits of the plague victims haunting the close, or could the poisonous gases rising from the nearby polluted man made loch, Old Nor’, have been causing residents to hallucinate?

In 1753, the Edinburgh Council decided to develop a new building on the site, which eventually became the Royal Exchange.

The houses at the top of the closes were knocked down whilst part of the lower sections were kept and used as the foundations for the new building.

Saw-maker Mr Chesney was the final resident to move out. He was eventually ordered to leave his modest lodgings by a compulsory purchase at the turn of the 20th century.

Ghosts of Mary Kings Close

The most well known ghost believed to haunt Mary King’s Close is a little girl named Annie.

Annie’s distressed spirit still wanders the close looking for her family, who are believed to have abandoned her when the plague swept through the city.

A furious man, understood to be Mr Chesney, has been reported to lunge at visitors in Chesney’s House.

It is thought his angry spirit is still reeling from being forced from his home when the final parts of the close were demolished.

There are also stories of a boy trapped within the walls of a chimney and a ‘businessman’ like figure who wanders up and down the close.

Other reported ghostly activity includes disembodied footsteps in sealed corridors, sudden drops in temperature and ghostly figures appearing on the professional photos taken by the tourist attraction.

Are there any haunted locations nearby?

Edinburgh is a city with a dark history and many haunted locations, so there are certainly other places near Mary King’s Close that are said to be haunted. Some of the most well-known include:

  • Greyfriars Kirkyard: This cemetery is located just a short distance from Mary King’s Close and is said to be one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh. Visitors have reported seeing ghostly apparitions, including the famous “McKenzie Poltergeist,” which is said to be the most violent ghost in the city.
  • The Royal Mile: This historic street runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and is lined with many old buildings that are said to be haunted. One of the most famous is the Canongate Tolbooth, which was once used as a prison and execution site.
  • The Edinburgh Vaults were built during the construction of the South Bridge in the 18th Century. The vaults are believed to be one of the most haunted places in the UK with strong links to the occult and a seriously dark history.
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