Scratching sounds from the chimney, plague victims left for dead and floating heads, the haunted underground of alleyways known as Mary King’s Close haunts under the city. 

Today much of what you see of Edinburgh is an old town built on top of an even older town. Right opposite St Giles Cathedral you will find The Mary King’s Close or alleyways which are said to be haunted.

It used to be a normal street in the old town by the Royal Mile with narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. It was named after a successful business woman named Mary King working as a fabric merchant in the 1630s. 


So first off, what is a close? A close was a private area that got locked up at night to keep unwelcomed out. The richer lived on the top floors, away from the stench of the sewer and where most light came through the claustrophobic streets. 

The Plague

During the 1645 plague the city became overrun with rodents carrying diseases and it hit the Mary King’s Close pretty hard. They would hang out white sheets to show they were infected and in need of food and a plague doctor. Only the bravest plague doctors, one named Dr George Rae dared to venture into the close filled with plague ridden people.

Victims of the disease were quarantined and left for dead to die in the streets. One by one the residents either died or left the Close and were relocated to Burgh Muir, and they didn’t return until almost 40 years after the plague hit its peak. When they returned however, everything seemed to have changed. Since then there have been reports about strange things going on in the underground narrow streets. 

Scratching sounds from the chimney, plague victims left for dead and floating heads, the haunted underground of alleyways known as Mary King’s Close haunts under the city. 
Plague Doctor: On the 13th of June 1645, Dr George Rae was appointed as Edinburgh’s second Plague Doctor. During the plague he went around to treat the plague victims. He cut open and cleaned out the puss from the swellings caused by the bubonic plague. He would then burn the wound to catheterize it. He was considered to be one of the more successful doctors during the plague.

What was it that made people see ghosts during this time? Was it the plague victims that were left behind? Or could it be the methane gas from the polluted march right by that caused everyone to see things?

Many tell the tale that it was to cover up the corpses of the plague victims that they built another street on top of it. The true story though is that they built the new street on top of the decaying old one in the 17th century to make a place where tradesmen could be. 


Life continued to go on underneath the surface though as not everyone wanted to leave. The last residents didn’t leave Mary King’s Close until 1902. And if we believe the legends, the last resident named Andrew Chesney never truly left as he is said to be one of the ghosts that haunts the place.

The Hauntings of The Colthearts

Back to the aftermath of the plague. Decades had passed since the plague had reached its peak and people started to return to the Mary King’s Close. But as mentioned earlier, the place had started gaining a notorious rumour of being haunted. And that was according to the residents themselves.

Scratching sounds from the chimney, plague victims left for dead and floating heads, the haunted underground of alleyways known as Mary King’s Close haunts under the city. 
Claustrophobic: The narrow streets of Mary King’s close.

In 1685 a well respected lawyer named Thomas Coltheart moved into the close together with his wife. But their stay was not a happy one at all times.

The maidservant ran off claiming the house was haunted. And it was not long until Coltheart and his wife also noticed strange things. According to them when the Mrs. Coltheart sat reading her bible, she saw a head without a body float in the house, causing the wife to faint. 

First, Thomas Coltheart didn’t believe her when she tried to explain. But It returned later that night with the spirit of a child and a floating severed hand beckoning them to come towards them. They tried to pray the spirits away, but to no avail.  

Lastly they saw the spirit of a dog running after a ghost cat, creating a chaos of spectres and noises that night. And according to them, that was not the only time they were bothered by the spirits.

Apparently they claimed that the dog returned again and again, not leaving them in peace,

Surprisingly, the couple chose to never leave the Close and stayed there until their death. Needless to say, it turned them mad according to some sources. Or did the madness create the visions?

Abandoned Annie

One of the ghosts that are suppose to haunt the place is that of Abandoned Annie. She is the ghost of a little girl that is allegedly reaching out to grab your hand in the darkness.

She was named that by the Japanese psychic Aiko Gibo who visited the Mary King’s Close in 1992 and found the child ghost crying in a corner of a room. Aiko claimed that Annie was a plague victim who was abandoned by her parents. According to the psychic Annie wanted a doll to not feel so lonely. 

Today she has her little altar in what is now known as Annie’s Room with thousands of dolls, toys and money left by her visitors. They are all collected by the city council to donate to and help sick children. 

Visit the Underground

The Close was mostly forgotten after the last residents moved out and they didn’t really remember the old place until they once knocked through the walls during construction. 

The place was not opened for the public until 2003, but is now perhaps more busy than it was before they closed it up. Today you can access the underground alleyways from the Royal Mile as a tourist attraction. You can now experience the uniquely preserved cobbled streets as it would have been before the 1800s. 


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