Edinburgh was a growing community in the late 18th century and two bridges were built to facilitate the expansion, North Bridge and South Bridge, known locally as ‘The Bridges’. The South Bridge, built to span the Cowgate gorge between High Street and the growing University of Edinburgh on the Southside, was first proposed in 1775, although work did not begin until August 1785. The Edinburgh Vaults are below the South Bridge.
The History of Edinburgh Vaults
Edinburgh’s South Bridge should be regarded as more than a simple crossing from Old Town to Southside. It was, in fact, Edinburgh’s first purpose built shopping street, and as such as much space as possible was utilised. The bridge itself is a nineteen arch viaduct, although only one arch is visible today, the ‘Cowgate arch.’
The remaining eighteen arches were enclosed behind tenement buildings built to allow the area to serve as a commercial district. The hidden arches of the bridge were then given extra floors to allow their use for industry. In total there are approximately 120 rooms or ‘vaults’ beneath the surface of the South Bridge, ranging in size from two metres squared to forty metres squared. South Bridge officially opened for business on the 1st of March 1788.
These Vault rooms, used as storage space and workshops for the South Bridge businesses, operated as intended for a relatively short space of time. Construction of the bridge had been rushed and the surface was never sealed against water. The vaults began to flood.
Abandonment of the vaults began as early as 1795. With the vaults being gradually abandoned by the businesses on the bridge, the empty rooms were adopted and adapted by new users. As the industrial revolution took hold of Britain, the Cowgate area had developed into Edinburgh`s slum. Slum dwellers took over the vaults and they became a renowned red light district with countless brothels and pubs operating within the abandoned complex.
The vaults also served as additional slum housing for the city’s poor. Living conditions were appalling. The rooms were cramped, dark and damp. There was no sunlight, poorly circulated air, no running water, and no sanitation. Many rooms housed families of more than ten people. Crimes, including robbery and murder, soon plagued the Vaults. Burke and Hare, the infamous serial killers who sold corpses to medical schools, are rumored to have hunted for victims in the Edinburgh Vaults.
The Haunted History of Edinburgh Vaults
There are so many reports of paranormal activity at the Edinburgh Vaults that an entire website could be (and probably has) created detailing them and them alone.
The vaults were reportedly the location from where the notorius body snatchers Burke and Hare used to aquire their dead bodies which they used to sell to the local medical teaching establishments in the city.
A young boy is known to haunt the vaults and his ghost tugs and pulls upon peoples sleeves and legs. There is also a spirit known as Mr Boots who is quite an unpleasant chap who barges people and whispers obsenities in their ear. It may be Mr Boots who is responsible for the numerous people who claim to have been scratched upon visits to the vaults.