A paranormal investigator’s dream, the South Bridge Vaults in Edinburgh have been investigated for its hauntings on many occasions and many have left with a feeling of having experienced something paranormal and ghostly in the dark.
In the late 18th century Edinburgh was a growing community with a limited space in the Old Town nicknamed Old Reeky because of the bad smell and old buildings. The city is built around seven different hills and there are five main bridges connecting the slopes and hills of the town. That is also the reason for the high rise buildings of Edinburgh were they chose to build on top of the old to utilize the uneven location of the city.
The people of Edinburgh started to utilize the spaces under the South Bridge in the Old Town to make more room for business. The spaces within the archers under the bridge are also known as the Edinburgh Vaults or Niddry Street Vaults as well as just the South Bridge Vaults.
They look like a series of chambers next to each other and are actually of the 19 archers underneath the South Bridge. It was supposed to be a place with respectable businesses, but ended up becoming some of the more haunted corners of the very haunted city.
The Cursed South Bridge
According to legend, the place was cursed already from the start. The South Bridge that was built to connect the old town with the new town was completed in 1788, and already at the opening of it the locals deemed it as cursed.
It was seen as a grand opening and one of the respected Judge’s wives had been selected to be the first resident to cross the bridge as she was the city’s oldest resident. However, she died before the opening. To keep their promise to the elderly woman though, they decided she after all would be the first person to cross the bridge, although it was in her coffin.
The locals in Edinburgh were scared, now thinking that the bridge was cursed because of the unusual opening of the bridge. And looking back at all that happened on the bridge and in the vaults beneath it, perhaps it indeed was.
In the start, the South Bridge Vaults underneath the bridge were mostly used as taverns, workshops and as storage space for merchants. However it wasn’t long before the well respected businesses started leaving the area because of the poor facilities. The building of the bridge and the vaults underneath had been constructed on a low budget and even the construction itself had been rushed. Therefore they had taken no precaution to seal the surface against water and built it with porous limestone and the place became a damp and dark place which constantly flooded.
The Damp and Dark Underworld of the Vaults
No later than 10 years after the bridge and the vaults opened, respectable businesses like shoemakers, goldsmiths started leaving the area and those that could afford it relocated elsewhere as the murky vaults flooded and the sunlight never shone inside the South Bridge Vaults. It was a place no one wanted to be, and only those that had no other choice remained.
There was also a slum where the poorer people in town started to take over as the surrounding Cowgate area had developed into a slum during the industrial revolution. Crime, filth, poverty and murders were key words to explain the place as no sunlight came through.
More illicit businesses started to pop up in the area like brothels, shady pubs, gambling dents and illegal whiskey distilleries, turning the place into the red light district of the town.
The Legends of the Serial Killers Burke and Hare
A lot of horrible things happened inside these vaults during this time. Most of it, we will never know for sure. Legends however will be told. The South Bridge Vaults were where the body snatchers Burke and Hare were supposedly finding their bodies as well as killing them to sell them off to medical schools.
Although this legend is often passed down as fact, there is no actual evidence that the South Bridge Vaults was the exact place they got their bodies from, although very likely. The place to find poverty struck people and those that no one would miss if they suddenly ‘disappeared’ was inside the dark and damp vaults.
The Rediscovery of the South Bridge Vaults
At one point during the 1800s, exactly when is unsure, they emptied the vaults for people and started to dump tons of rubble in the vaults, sealing them completely off and making them inaccessible for the public and were kind of forgotten for a long time.
It wasn’t until the 1980s the tunnels to the vaults were rediscovered by a former Scottish rugby player named Norrie Rowan when he found one of the tunnels while he was renovating his flat. He spent the rest of his days excavating the vaults and rediscovering its history to make it accessible for the public once again.
The Ghosts of the South Bridge Vaults
There are many stories about who haunts the place today as the vaults have reopened and daily groups of tourists and paranormal investigators are taken down to the vaults to uncover the dark history.
Many people met their tragic fate on a daily basis down there in the vaults as well as suffered from horrible tragedies that affected the entire town. Like the Great Fire of Edinburgh that lasted for five days after it started in 1824 and took the lives of at least 13 people. There are many stories about victims that were trapped inside the chambers and suffered horrible consequences from then. Although there is no paper trail on this tale though.
There are many tourists that claim to have captured evidence of something paranormal going on, and they even make the newspapers from time to time. The same reports comes from the paranormal investigators that go down into the vaults and come back with what they see as proof of hauntings going on.
Here are some of the ghosts that are said to haunt the vaults until this date and have gathered enough reports to be a part of the haunted ghost tour in Edinburgh:
One of the first ghosts that people have reportedly seen over the years is that of the Aristocrat. He is said to be a rich gentleman with a tall black hat and a beard. He is not seen as the most angry spirit as he is known for grinning at visitors while leaning against the wall. People do have a tendency to feel uneasy in his presence though, according to those who claimed to have seen him.
The Happy Shoemaker
There is also a room that is believed to belong to a shoemaker from that time that is said to still practice his profession as a shoemaker.
He is described as a man in his 50s and is one of the ghosts that are said to be friendly and are often seen smiling and laughing by visitors while he happily carries on with his shoemaking while wearing an apron.
The Veiled Woman
In the room with the shoemaker known as The Room of the Cobbler, there is a meaner spirit though and is known as the veiled woman. She is believed to throw small stones at visitors as well. She is seen as a young woman dressed in black while wearing a veil in the north west corner of the Cobbler’s Room.
Women have also reported about feeling an intense rush of grief, anger and a sudden and unexplained abdominal pain, which has left many to believe it is a woman that lost her child in a horrible way and she is still grieving.
The Caretakers Room
In one of the chambers there are reports of a man sitting by the fireplace. He apparently looks like one of the more chill spirits in the place as well with a drink in his hand and legs stretched out. By his side he has a dog that is reported to brush up against people’s legs or sniff them.
Then there is the small boy named Jack or James that are often spotted in the Wine Vault. He is mostly seen as a blonde curly boy around 6 or 8 years old, wearing a blue suit with the classic knickerbocker trousers. Some sources want to connect him to a missing child case from 1810.
He is often playing with a red ball at times and is known to try to hold the hands of female visitors and likes to play around if there are children around. Allegedly, if he spots a person he doesn’t want to enter the South Bridge Vaults he will tuck their sleeves or coat when entering the Blair Street Corridor.
According to the guides down in the vaults, he is afraid of one of the more well known ghosts wandering the narrow alleys and small chambers. And that is that of Mr. Boots or also known as The Watcher.
Perhaps the most well known ghost in the South Bridge Vaults is that of The Watcher. There is a theory that he was a watchman and that is the reason he is known as The Watcher. Or maybe it’s because he always looks as if watching over something.
There are also alternative legends over the years that have tried to explain his presence, and many are also claiming him to be one of the slum landlords or even one of the body snatchers that hid his stolen bodies in the chamber known as The White Room. Today we can only speculate.
He is also called Mr Boots because of how many people in the vaults have experienced him. They can hear loud footsteps in The White Room or in the Niddry Street Corridor which is known as the most active place in all of the vaults.
His face has never been seen as it is hidden, blacked out or he is showing himself to the public with his back. He is supposedly this tall, slim and dark figure with a long flowing coat with his long hair in a ponytail. Sometimes he wears a hat and long boots. Sometimes he carries rattling keys and his breath smells disgusting of rotten teeth and whiskey.
People experiencing stuff within the vaults often get the feeling that he is trying to get them out from the narrow and claustrophobic spaces. Batteries on cameras die or malfunction when he’s present and he is known to push or pull people towards the exit as well as the phrase ‘Get Out’ has been heard on several occasions.
The Stone Circle
There are also rumors about an evil demon trapped inside one of the stone circles in one of the chambers. This is were the late Wiccan High Priest, George Cameron known as The Hermit set up his temple in the 90’s. It was in one of the vaults that have historic connection to the torturing of witches somehow.
According to him, he was trying to rid it from evil and built the stone circle which still stands today. He failed, however, to remove the evil that were supposed to be in the vaults and Cameron abandoned the room after he recommended to seal up the room to protect people from the evil within it. It is not sealed though as it is one of the stops on the tour through the vaults.
The Experience of the Hauntings
No matter the real story of the ghosts in the South Bridge Vaults and the true horror the people living there went through, the vaults itself are an interesting walk through time and history. And perhaps if you choose to go down into the dark chambers you too will hear the same that many claim to have on recordings and etched into their memories. The eerie sound of what can sound like children yelling and crying along with hushed voices and shuffling footsteps.
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