The haunted tales behind the pubs which lie above Edinburgh’s South Bridge Vaults
A series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, the South Bridge Vaults were completed in 1788 and used to house taverns, workshops and storage spaces, however, a haunted history permeates these vaults which has seemingly creeped its way into the pubs which now occupy the area.
“A lot of haunted pubs stories in Edinburgh are interconnected, especially the ones on the South Bridge- there seems to be a lot of the same stories which happen as if haunted beings were wandering to and from each area in close proximity,” says haunted history enthusiast and former tour guide at the vaults, Ash Pryce.
So come, take a tour with us as we guide you through Edinburgh’s haunted taverns above the ghostly vaults.
The origins of ghosts at the South Bridge Vaults
Due to ineffective water-proofing and overcrowding, by the mid-nineteenth century the vaults had degenerated into a disease-ridden slum.The area was abandoned during the late nineteenth century, however rediscovered and opened for public tours in 1997.
During these tours, many people experienced unusual phenomena, including, for example, a strong sense of presence, several apparitions and ‘ghostly’ footsteps.
Sceptical of these ghostly tales, Professor Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the university of Hertfordshire conducted an investigation into the vaults in 2001 with participants who were unaware of the reputation the supposed haunted area. After studying participants’ reactions to the vaults when they were asked to stay there, Professor Wiseman concluded: “Results revealed that participants consistently reported unusual sensations in the vaults that had a reputation for being haunted.”
Although many entrances are now sealed, Ash, who is based in Edinburgh told of how each pub has passageways into the vaults which may explain how these hauntings transcended into our Edinburgh’s watering holes.
The Banshee Labyrinth
The story goes that the Banshee Labyrinth located within the South Bridge vaults was once home to a wealthy tyrant, Lord Nicol Edwards, who was a strong believer of witchcraft and needlessly tortured innocent women for being ‘witches’ in his own house. We may consider this as an outdated tale that could not relate to our modern world but to this day there has been no apology or memorial for the innocent women who were persecuted as a result of witchcraft laws- the spooky condemnation of women continues.
“Lord Nicol Edwards was around during the reign of King James the VI and supposedly lived in what we now know as the Banshee.” Ash explained, “This is a couple of centuries before the South Bridge vaults get built but it’s interesting to see how the tales of hauntings are all concentrated in this area.
“There are some rumours that Lord Edward’s stance on witchcraft was very much in line with those of James VI and that he was involved in the persecution of witches with some accounts saying that he used his own house as a base of interrogation.
“You’ve got the overlap between witchcraft and the South Bridge area so this really is a hot-spot of paranormal activity.”
A ghost or banshee haunts these parts, bewailing the cruel punishment Lord Nicol Edwards wrongly inflicted upon her.
“Allegedly there’s a ghost called Molly which is a young girl who has reportedly been seen there by various members of staff and the public,” tells Ash.
Teresa Dewa who works at the Banshee commented that she has never had to close alone due to the tales.
“It’s kind of unsettling.
"When you are in there alone sometimes you get this feeling that you aren’t alone but there’s no one there and sometimes you see things move about in the corner of your eye.
“We’ve also had people coming up to us and asking why there’s this little girl walking around the bar.
“Our clients are mainly tourists who don’t know the story so it’s very odd.”
“A lot of the ghost stories you hear about places like Bannerman’s you tend to hear connecting in with other pubs.” Ash went on to say.
Bannerman’s located just a stone’s throw away from The Banshee Labyrinth on the corner of Niddry Street is said to be haunted by a male ghost called Mr Boots or The Watcher.
Ash said: “There’s one entity which different bars in the area give a name to, sometimes known as Mr Boots sometimes The Watcher, who is essentially a shadowy figure.
“There have been reports of him in both Banshee and Bannerman, almost as if he is stalking that whole underground structure."
This haunting rider has also left his mark in this tavern, perhaps keen to test the beery waters across the South Bridge scene.
Also located on Niddry street just above the vaults is the pub Whistle Binkies where sightings of a dark figure wearing black riding boots, a tri-cornered hat and a long black coat have been reported.
Rebecca Hale who also worked as a tour guide for the vaults said she witnessed a small child running through the vaults just above the pub, however, there were no children in the tour group that day.
"It was a small slightly stunted figure but I was with a group of all adults,” Rebecca said, “I was very unnerved by it.”
Cabaret Voltaire in the same area is also reported to have similar sightings.
Science vs Paranormal
“There is a psychological phenomenon associated within the vaults called pareidolia.” explained Ash, “ Essentially, because we are in darkened areas our senses are heightened and so our brains are very good at forming recognisable shapes or patterns.”
Ash added: “There’s a lot of good naturalistic suggestions of what’s going on here but there are also times where we just don’t have an answer for what’s happening with this recurring phenomena around these pubs.”
Ash is currently presenting a weekly series called Spooky History, which you can find on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook under @SpookyHistShow.