The Dark History Of Edinburgh's South Bridge Vaults: Tortured Spirits & Body Snatchers
Updated: Jan 19
Hidden beneath the ancient fortified city of Edinburgh, Scotland lies the South Bridge Vaults, a huge series of underground chambers and tunnels that became home for the impoverished community as well as the most violent criminals.
The deep, dark stone vaults served as homes and workspaces for tradesmen and merchants, but when the conditions deteriorated, the tunnels and chambers became home to the poorest of Edinburgh's citizens, where they lived and often died.
The vaults became a den of iniquity, full of poverty, prostitution, violence, and illness, some of the cities most infamous serial killers even hid their victims within the stone recesses.
The Early History Of The Edinburgh Vaults
The city of Edinburgh staddles seven major hills and the iconic Edinburgh castle has been occupied by humans since the second century AD, and was built into formidable fortifications as of the 12th century to protect its citizens against sieges and invaders.
For obvious reasons, the closer one lived to this castle the better, with this in mind bridges were built to span the deep ravines that sloped away from the castle, these were the modern highways of their day.
In 1785, 19 arches to support the southern bridge were built, chambers, vaults, and tunnels were also built underneath the surface, these were all walled in, and sectioned off in descending levels. In total there were approximately 120 rooms or vaults built beneath South Bridge, officially opening in March 1788.
The South Bridge quickly became a booming location for local businesses, this grew even more so during the Industrial Revolution. Hidden beneath the thriving merchant areas were workshops, and even lower down were living quarters.
Lower Down Beneath The Bridge
It was beneath all of this that an underground city quickly grew, eventually resulting in slums that were filled with violence, poverty, and sickness. The lower down that you were beneath the bridge, the lower your social class was perceived.
During the industrial age in Scotland, work was brought to many as well as wealth, however, housing, planning, and public health did not grow and improve at the same rate. Living conditions in cities was bad, there was a big problem with overcrowding, with families of more than 10 people forced to live in cramped rooms, mortality rates grew at an astounding pace, there was no sanitation, no running water, and no sunlight, illness was rife and spread extremely quickly, and tuberculosis became a big problem.
For those who were unfortunate enough to live deep down in the Edinburgh vaults, their troubles were compounded. The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1847 led to Scotland being flooded with a huge influx of refugees, many of which ended up at the very bottom of the vaults.
On top of this, underworld dwellers and criminals used the tunnels to move illicit goods in an underground black market, they established a red-light district, full of pubs, brothels, and gambling setups. With all this activity going on underground, crime, robbery, and murder flourished quickly.
A Safe Haven For Serial Killers
The conditions in the vaults became so bad, it was reported that serial killers even managed to murder more than a dozen victims and store the bodies in the tunnels, without anyone attempting to stop them.
One well-known instance is referred to as the Burke and Hare murders. In 1828 two Irish immigrants, William Hare and William Burke, allegedly murdered 16 people, most of which were women, and hid their bodies in the tunnels before selling them to a surgeon who used them for dissection during his anatomy lectures.
During this time dead bodies were a valuable commodity to be used for the quickly advancing improvements in medical science. The fact that corpses could be in the vaults without being detected gives you an indication as to how bad the conditions were down there.
The Closed Vaults Were Rediscovered
There are indications that even the poorest of citizens were leaving the South Bridge vaults between 1835 and 1875. Eventually, the vault complex was closed down, and tons of rock and rubble were dumped in at some point, however, the exact date isn't noted anywhere in any remaining records.
Over time people started to forget about families that had lived deep down in the Edinburgh tunnels, the dark history was slowly fading away and was no longer spoken about.
It wasn't until over a hundred years later, in 1980 when a Scottish rugby player accidentally rediscovered the chambers and hidden tunnels, shortly after the whole area was excavated and restored after removing hundreds of tons of rubble.
It was during the excavation that large amounts of medicine bottles, plates, children's toys, and various other household items were discovered, this made it clear to researchers that the South Bridge had been the final home of many unfortunate citizens.
Ghosts Of The Edinburgh Vaults
With a long history of death and misery within the Edinburgh vaults, it comes as no surprise that many paranormal events have been reported in the shadowy halls, damp chambers, and claustrophobic spaces. The reports of the murder spree of Burke and Hare in the vaults are terrifying enough, but the vaults are now supposedly home to several different spirits who are believed to now haunt the chambers.
The ghost of a child called "Jack" is said to grab the hands of visitors whilst walking through the tunnels.
A more menacing spirit that is believed to haunt the vaults is that of "Mr Boots", he has been described as "a nasty piece of work," and is known to throw rocks at people, many visitors have claimed to have been hit by random stones coming out of nowhere, whilst reporting hearing the sound of his heeled boots stomping across the cobblestones, and his voice shrieking through the echoing tunnels.
On the back of the countless reports of paranormal activity going on in the Edinburgh vaults, several companies now offer private ghost tours for those who are brave enough to try and locate some of the remaining spirits.
Over the years, several high-profile TV programs and documentaries have been based around the ghosts that are believed to still reside deep down in the Edinburgh vaults.
If you have ever visited the Edinburgh vaults we would love to hear from you in the comments section below.