Edinburgh Vaults: The History And Hauntings

Edinburgh vaults

Edinburgh’s Haunted Underworld

The Edinburgh Vaults, also known as the South Bridge Vaults, are a captivating part of Edinburgh’s history. This labyrinth of chambers and tunnels beneath the city’s streets provides a fascinating glimpse into the area’s dark past.

How did this historic underground complex come to be?

The underground vaults were built in the 18th century as part of the South Bridge, a major structure that connects the Old Town and the Southside of Edinburgh. The bridge and the North Bridge (built a few years earlier) were a vital part of the city’s expansion.

South Bridge

The famous bridge was constructed between 1785 and 1788 and was an engineering marvel of its time. Built to alleviate the overcrowding in the city’s Old Town, it consists of a series of arches and supported buildings. The bridge’s construction included underground vaults initially intended for storage space, small businesses, and workshops.

These same vaults are the Edinburgh Vault network that we know today.

Blair Street Underground Vaults

Blair Street is a street in Edinburgh’s Old Town that runs parallel to the bridge. It’s home to some of the most famous and well-preserved Edinburgh Vaults. The vaults on Blair Street have a particularly dark and mysterious past. They are particularly notorious for criminality, prostitution, and ghoulish activity.

With its creepy atmosphere and paranormal scares, Blair Street Underground Vaults are known for being one of the most haunted spots in Edinburgh.

The Niddry Street Vaults are not as deep as the Blair Street Underground Vaults but are also renowned for spooky goings-on.

Historic underground living conditions

The Edinburgh Vaults were originally occupied by businesses such as cobblers, traders, smelters, cutlers and milliners. Taverns were also a vibrant part of this subterranean community.

At first, commerce thrived, but the bridge was flawed and lacked proper waterproofing. Serious water leakages and even flooding occurred regularly. Over time, the underground conditions became too damp and unsanitary for proper habitation. By the 1820s, legitimate businesses had abandoned their gloomy chambers of commerce.

The poor, the criminals, and the supernatural took over the underground city.

The vaults became a notorious red-light district with numerous brothels and pubs. The rooms provided slum ‘housing’ for the poor and destitute. Living conditions were horrid, with no sunlight, running water, and dismal ventilation. Robbery, stabbings, and murder were commonplace. It’s also rumoured that serial killers and body snatchers prowled the grisly corridors searching for victims.

Abandonment And Rediscovery

By around the 1860s, the vaults were largely abandoned. The poor and crooked classes left the catacombs as the authorities took action to close the space down. Tons of rubble were dropped into the vaults to prevent access and squatting. For a hundred years, Edinburgh’s underground vaults were all but forgotten.

Then, in 1985, an unrelated excavation in the area brought the subterranean world to public attention again. The excavation and further investigations unearthed mounds of evidence about the vault’s previous occupants.

Edinburgh Vaults Today

Today, these underground caverns retain their original atmosphere – dark, damp, claustrophobic and unsettling. They represent perfectly preserved history. However, the BBC has also described them as “possibly one of the most haunted places in Britain” due to their resident ghosts.

Many believe that restless souls of forgotten residents roam the gloomy chambers. Ghostly apparitions and paranormal activities continue to frighten modern-day tourists.

There are dozens of tours into the caverns. While there is a purely historical tour, you’ll likely be more interested in the expedition that leads through a hidden door in the Banshee Labyrinth Pub (supposedly Scotland’s most haunted). This drops you into the spookier parts of Auld Reekie’s bowels.

Haunting Tales Of The Underground

An underground vault tour will introduce you to these dank chambers, passageways and a cast of ghostly characters.

Annie

One of the most famous spirits to haunt the vaults is Annie, a young girl abandoned by her parents. Visitors and tour guides have heard the sound of a young girl laughing or crying; some have seen the apparition of a child in the shadows. They say she is looking for her missing doll.

Mr. Boots

Mr Boots is a violent entity who may have been a murderer or a smuggler. He is said to stalk the narrow passages beneath The Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town. He is tall, draped in a long coat, and wears dirty leather boots. Even if you don’t catch sight of his shadowy figure, you may hear him stomping his boots or growling low and menacingly.

The White Lady

The White Lady is a ghostly woman who wears a white dress and carries a perfume bottle. This mysterious figure linked to Edinburgh Castle is more friendly than malevolent and sometimes leaves behind a floral scent.

Jack

Jack is a mischievous spirit who likes tugging people’s clothes and hair. This cheeky presence sometimes bounces a rubber ball and has caused hundreds of visitors to jump out of their skins.

Paranormal stories

  • Objects moving on their own.
  • Unexplained sounds.
  • Sensations of being touched or pushed by unseen forces.
  • Mysterious scratch marks.

These are many creepy sensations visitors have experienced on ghost tours.

The infamous Caretaker’s Room is sometimes the site of terrible wailing, crying or the moaning of children.

Some rooms were even used by witches and evoke chilling reminders of dark sacrifices.

Essential Ghost Hunting Equipment

When you embark on a historic underground tour, ensure you are equipped for whatever supernatural forces you encounter. What should you include in your ghost-hunting and paranormal kit? The following are a few essentials:

SLS Camera – specifically designed to capture spirits and the supernatural.

Professional Green Laser Grid Pen – a powerful laser that helps you detect the motion of a paranormal entity.

EVP Recorder – the Electronic Voice Phenomenon recorder is highly sensitive. And it will allow you to record disturbances outside normal human frequencies.

EMF Teddy Bear BooBuddy – the teddy bear contains an EMF Meter and is great for communicating with child ghosts (a.k.a. Annie).

FAQs

Can you visit Edinburgh Vaults without a tour?

You can only visit the vaults as part of an organised tour with a tour company. Established tour providers include Mercat Tours, Auld Reekie Tours, and City of Edinburgh Tours.

Is the Edinburgh Vault tour scary?

You may feel a cold breath on the back of your neck. Or you may hear a strangled whisper, cry or heavy stomping boots in the Blair Street Vaults. What lies beneath Edinburgh’s streets can certainly trigger all kinds of chills.

Experience The Thrill

The Edinburgh Vaults are an intriguing and spooky part of Edinburgh’s past. They offer a glimpse into the lives and deaths of those who inhabited them. And the lore that emerged from this underworld. If you’re brave enough, you can join a night tour with a tour guide who will take you into the eerie chambers and reveal dark tales of a grim this chapter.

You can choose tours specialising in different aspects of the vaults – such as history, hauntings, or crime. For ghost hunters, venturing into the Edinburgh Vaults is a unique and thrilling way to experience the haunting of this ancient city.

Sam Ashford
Sam Ashford - Author

Hey, I'm Sam Ashford! I'm a ghost-hunting expert, writer and founder of SpiritShack. My mission is to help people like yourself learn about spirituality and how to hunt ghosts!