There are very few places in the world quite as haunted as Scotland’s Edinburgh Vaults. Also known as the South Bridge Vaults, the series of nineteen chamber arches were home to local taverns, cobblers, and shops, but they also had a dark side. The vaults also became known as den full of thieves, murderers, and other nasty figures, making it one of the most dangerous places in the city, and considering the frightening reports that continue to come from the Edinburgh Vaults to this very day, the ghosts of the criminals are still very much at home.
Construction on the vaults was officially finished by 1788, and for 30 years the space was used by both the local tradesmen and the criminal element to conduct business, and business was booming. Street level of the Edinburgh Vaults was dedicated to the store fronts, where visitors could browse the markets for goods and visit the taverns for a drink. One level below was space dedicated to workshops, and just below those was a level with 120 rooms dedicated as living space.
For the three decades the Edinburgh Vaults were in operation, things ran smoothly above ground, even for the criminal element, but thanks to the shoddy craftsmanship of the vault’s builders, the South Bridge Vaults had one big flaw that stopped the tunnels from living up to their full potential. Huge cracks that ran throughout the bridge allowed every foul bit of run off from the city to seep into the vault’s lower levels, making the work and living spaces next to impossible to spend any length of time in.
By 1845 Edinburgh was overwhelmed with Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, each looking for refuge and work. Slum lords took advantage of their desperation, and the vaults became a place where many families could find shelter. With upwards of 10 people living inside the cramped, dark spaces that were only meant for one, things quickly began to get very bad for those who had no other choice but to live inside the Edinburgh Vaults.
It wasn’t long before the Edinburgh Vaults became the area’s red light district, housing illicit pubs and brothels where the lack of police presence could be taken full advantage of. Rampant thievery, rape, and murder became part of the day-to-day life for the unfortunate souls relegated to the vaults. The Edinburgh Vaults even drew the attention of infamous serial killers Burke and Hare, who made a name for themselves selling the corpses of their victims to local medical schools. According to numerous accounts, the pair often stowed their bodies away inside the second level of the Edinburg Vaults, far away from prying eyes.
It’s unknown exactly when the vaults were officially closed, though they were rediscovered and excavated in the 1980s and 90s. Today the vaults are used for tours and, as I’m sure you’ve expected, paranormal investigations. Having been witness to so much death, murder, and hardship it’s no big surprise that the spirits of those who lived out their difficult lives in the vault are still very much a part of it.
Many visitors to the vaults report experiencing a range of paranormal activity from disembodied voices to full blown apparitions. One of the most famous spirits said to still haunt the levels is a young boy named Jack, who has on many occasions snatched hold of guests hands as they explore the wine vault.
The wine vault however, isn’t the only area that is teeming with activity, one of the most coveted vaults has been nicknamed the “occult chamber” due to the fact that it was used for many years by local occult practitioners. The room, its said, was used as a sacred space for a number of terrible rituals. There are even rumors of the same area being used by a local satanic sect, who, according to the legends, sacrificed a woman on a mysterious square brick in the center of the room after torturing her for days.
The most famous ghost said to stalk visitors brave enough to enter the Edinburgh Vaults is Mr. Boots, a shabby, tall man who prefers to keep to the back section of the vault. He’s been known to toss stones at passers-by to get their attention, and many people have heard the sound of his heavy footsteps following behind them as they explore the darkened corridors.
In 2003, a BBC Radio producerDebbie McPhail took the Edinburgh Vaults’ owner into the tunnels to record an interview, one that had absolutely nothing to do with ghosts, but that didn’t stop the spirits from making themselves known. When playing back the audio of their interview, McPhail noticed a new voice, one that wasn’t with them at the time, telling them to “get out”.
“When I was listening back to it, I could hear Norrie Rowan [the vault owner] chatting and then I heard another voice,” McPhail told reporters. “It was close by to the microphone because you can tell if voices are far away or not. I knew it wasn’t the presenter or Norrie because the voice had a slightly Irish accent. But I couldn’t understand why no-one responded to it.
“When the presenter came back up I asked him who they had met in the vault and he said nobody. My husband thought it could be Gaelic and I asked a colleague who spoke the language and she said they could be saying ‘get out’ or ‘go away’. I have no reason to doubt it. You could sit forever and make explanations for it, but it’s there on the disc and that’s good enough for me.”
If you’re brave enough to visit, there are plenty of tours and ghost hunts that lead guests safely into the historical haunted hotspot to experience the darkness and sadness for themselves… you know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Historical paranormal locations, like the Edinburgh Vaults, that embrace their haunted legacies are some of the coolest places to visit, because not only are you getting the opportunity to step back in time, you might even get to interact with the spirits who were there when it all happened.