Five parts of Edinburgh you didn’t know were haunted

Students walk through Brunsfield Links. Picture: TSPL.
Students walk through Brunsfield Links. Picture: TSPL.
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OLD ghosts, new ghosts, Edinburgh has them all.

The spectres of sinners condemmed to a life in eternal limbo, the tortured souls of those who have been shamefully wronged, victims of cruel and terrible crimes and phantoms determined to leave their mark on the living - they all have their place in the capital’s ghost stories.

The Meadows in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

The Meadows in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

We look at five lesser known ghastly tales of haunted Edinburgh.

Bruntsfield


There was, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, a house by Brunsfield Links, one of a great age, having been built in the fourteenth century, and of considerable elegance.

In the years leading up to its demolition (after which a school was built on its site), the house was inhabited by Lieutenant-General Robertson of Lawers and his staff.

The Morningside area of Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

The Morningside area of Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Not long after he had taken up residence in the house, the General received a complaint from one of his servants that he was getting very little sleep on account of a headless woman, carrying a baby, who would appear near the fireplace in his room night after night.

The complainant was known to have a tendency to indulge in strong drink whenever given the opportunity, so naturally the General assumed at first that his servant was suffering from alcohol-induced delusions.

As time wore on, however, the servant persisted with his complaints and eventually left the house to look for work somewhere else.

The general thereafter had the room in which the servant had slept primarily used for storage. No one went into the room at night, so no more ghosts were ever seen.

Buckingham Terrace in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Buckingham Terrace in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

The story might have been completely forgotten had it not been for the fact that the building was subject to a demolition order some years later. When the builders began tearing the building down, they lifted the hearth in the servant’s old room and found the skeletal remains of a woman and baby. The woman had her head severed - a particularly brutal act of violence by any standards.

The story goes that she must have been sewing when her killer took her by surprise, for scissors and a needle were found beside the bones of her hands, as if she had been holding them.

Who she was and why she was killed so savagely along with her child, we may never know.

Learmonth Gardens

Queensberry House - Canongate  Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Queensberry House - Canongate Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

Learmonth Gardens is a quiet street in the respectable district of Comely Bank in Edinburgh.

But one of its houses has a disturbing history.

In the mid 1930s, the house was occupied by a baronet, Sir Alexander Seton, and his family. The family took a trip to Egypt and brought back a souvenir that they would later regret ever having set eyes upon.

The trip to Egypt incorporated a visit to the Temple of Luxor and in spite of the fact that it was illegal to remove anything from the tombs, Lady Seton picked up a small bone as a memento and brought it back to Scotland with her. The bone was placed in a glass case in the dining room.

The family had hardly settled back into normal life when strange and disturbing things started to happen. Crashing sounds were heard and furniture was found in disarray. Ornaments were found broken in rooms that had been empty.

Lady Seton fell suddenly and inexplicably ill with a mystery complaint. Time and time again, the family were disturbed by strange occurrences which had no explanation at all. Strangest of all was a ghostly figure in long robes that appeared in the house to several people, residents and visitors alike. Servants of the family became unnerved and sought employment elsewhere.

At one point Sir Alexander lent the bone to a scientist friend and the ghost disappeared from Learmonth Gardens, only to be seen in the home of his friend. Such a story could not remain a secret long, and soon the Edinburgh newspapers were full of stories of the ‘Curse of the Pharaoh’ as they called it.

The bone was returned to Learmonth Gardens and once more the furniture seemed to take on a life of its own. Sir Alexander himself became ill and eventually surrendered the bone to a priest.
The bone was exhumed and then burnt and thankfully the torment came to an end.

Queensberry House

Queensberry House, in Edinburgh’s Canongate, was used as a hospital for the long-term care of the elderly and infirm before being incorporated into the Scottish Parliament building.

It was first built in the 1680s as a home for William Douglas, the first Duke of Queensberry.

It is said that there was one particular member of the Duke of Queensberry’s family was insane. He was a powerful man and had spent most of his life in confinement within the family home, both for his own safety and that of others.

One night, however, he was left at Queensberry House, locked in his room, while the rest of the house went visiting elsewhere overnight. Only a kitchen hand remained, tending to a kitchen fire.

The young lad was dozing by the fire when he was disturbed by the sound of footsteps. Rousing himself and sitting up, he was horrified to see the madman standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He had broken out of his room.

The poor boy froze in terror, helpless, he was abandoned to the fate of the lunatic.

The fate of the kitchen hand was dreadful and terrible visions of his torment were to fill the nights of the rest of the household for a long time to come. When they returned the next day to Queensberry House, the kitchen fire had gone out but a terrible smell of burning flesh filled the air.

In the kitchen they found the charred remains of the boy still tied up in the spit. He had been roasted alive.

The cries of the kitchen hand were to be heard for many years in the old kitchen at Queensberry House.

Morningside

In 1712, a man called Sir Thomas Elphinstone purchased a large house in Morningside, when he retired from the colonial life.

Sir Thomas was a widower - his wife had died when she gave birth to their only son, who was now grown up and had flown the nest.

Sir Thomas’s life in Morningside might have ben destined to be rather a lonely one were it not for the fact that he was courting a younger lady and hoping to marry her. The young lady’s family were in favour of the match, despite their age difference, but the young lady, Elizabeth Pittendale, was not quite so enamoured. Her heart belonged to another, an army officer called Jack Courage.

In spite of her misgivings, Elizabeth told jack they must end their relationship. Jack was about to be posted abroad, and the distance would help to sever the ties between the two of them.

Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Elphinstone and settled in the house in Morningside.

It was a matter of months later that Sir Thomas told Elizabeth that she would be given the opportunity to meet his son, John, who was retuning from military service abroad. When the young man arrived and was introduced to Elizabeth, however, she found it hard to behave as a stepmother might, for Thomas’s son, John, was none other than the young man she had known and loved as Jack Courage.

It was inevitable that their relationship would resume, and accordingly, that it would be discovered by Sir Thomas, who entered a room one day to find his son and his wife engaged in a passionate embrace.

Filled with rage, Sir Thomas attacked his son and after Elizabeth tried to intervene, she was stabbed accidently.

The wound was fatal and Sir Thomas, heartbroken, killed himself.

Husband and wife were buried together in the family vault.

John survived but left the house, renting it out to an acquaintance.

The new tenant was the first to see the ghostly figure of a weeping lady walking down the corridor to one of the bedrooms. The man was not frightened by the ghost but was sad to see her in such distress. He sought the help of a medium, who told him that Elizabeth’s spirit could not be at peace as long as she was buried beside her killer.

John was informed of this and at once arranged for Elizabeth’s body to be moved. The ghost was never seen in the house again. When John died a few years later he was buried, according to his wishes, beside his sweetheart, Elizabeth.

Buckingham Terrace

Buckingham Terrace is situated by Dean Bridge, close to the centre of Edinburgh. It is an imposing crescent of houses, many of which are divided into elegant flats.

In the nineteenth century, the residents in one particular flat in Buckingham Terrace, the Gordon family, became aware of a sinister presence in their home shortly after moving in.

Mrs Gordon was concerned one night when she awoke to hear noises coming from the uninhabited room above her head, banging and thumping sounds.

Not long after she began to become aware of a great feeling of dread when she was in her bedroom, and woke one night feeling quite fearful.

A presence - for now it seemed certain someone was there - would move past her as she lay in bed at night, then go out of her room quietly. After it had left Mrs Gordon’s room, she could hear it climbing the stairs to the floor above.

Then one day Mrs Gordon’s daughter experienced similar occurrences. This time the girl chased after the ‘thing’ as it headed for the empty flat above. She tried the door and found it to be unlocked. She turned the handle, pushed the door wide open and stared into the gloom from the doorway.

Inside, she could just make out a dark figure bending over the open case of a grandfather clock. Something told her that the figure was not human, or at least, not a living human.

Suddenly her courage deserted her and she froze in terror. The figure turned towards her. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her back to her flat.

The girl told her mother what had happened and Mrs Gordon’s suspicions that the building was haunted grew even stronger.

The ghostly figure appeared one last time, to Mrs Gordon as she lay in her bed. She looked up and saw a man standing in the doorway of her bedroom. He had a sinister, distracted air about him. In his hands he held what looked like a bundle of rags.

The family soon decided they had enough and moved out of the flat.

Mrs Gordon’s own investigations soon found the story of a retired seaman who had lived in the Gordons’ flat some time before.

An alcoholic, and disturbed individual, a family with a young baby had lived in the flat above.

One night in a drunken rage, and furious about the baby’s cries, the seaman had stormed upstairs and killed the baby, hiding it in the case of a grandfather’s clock. The seaman was eventually committed to an asylum where he took his own life.

The seaman’s ghost was condemned to re-enact his ghastly deed over and over again.