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5 Facts About Edinburgh's Blair Street Underground Vaults

10th Feb 2023
5 Facts About Edinburgh's Blair Street Underground Vaults

Hold history in your hands. Join us for an interactive archaeology workshop on Thursday 11th April 2024 for an Evening of Archives and Artefacts.

Even people who have lived in Edinburgh for years can be surprised to learn about the underground vaults located beneath the city's South Bridge. Centuries old, and guaranteed to intrigue, today we're bringing you five interesting facts about this hidden part of Scotland's capital.

1. The Blair Street Underground Vaults are the most extensive section

While often referred to collectively as the "Edinburgh Vaults", there are in fact several different sections of vaults, all located beneath the South Bridge. This is due to the structure in which the vaults were built, wedged between the bridge's centuries old arches. The arches also vary in size, which makes each set of vaults unique. Some are even parts of pubs and nightclubs located along the bridge.

The deepest and most extensive set of vaults, however, are known as the Blair Street Underground Vaults; which you can get exclusive access to on our five-star ghost and historic underground tours. 

2. The Edinburgh Vaults were built in the late 18th-century

Edinburgh's underground vaults are centuries old and were built in the late 18th-century. They were initially used by businesses such as the aforementioned tavern which we know served oysters and claret. Another room in the Blair Street Underground Vaults once belonged to a cobbler, who made and repaired shoes.

You can see one such shoe on display in our Discovery Room, along with other interesting artefacts found in the Blair Street Underground Vaults.

3. People lived in The Blair Street Underground Vaults

The businesses using the vaults began experiencing problems, the vaults were a dark, damp place, without any natural sunlight. This meant items stored there would become rusted and damaged. Therefore, the vaults were eventually left neglected and abandoned and instead became a place where the city's poor sought shelter.

The living conditions within the vaults' gloomy stone walls were poor, with hard stone floors and even rodents. This point in history was also before modern day plumbing or lighting, a bucket and oil lamps were used instead, and so the musty air carried the smells of sewage and fish oil throughout the vaults.

Of course, criminals also began to use the vaults for more nefarious purposes, including illegal whisky distilling. 

4. Edinburgh's Underground Vaults were forgotten for centuries

The vaults were sealed off in the mid-19th century and remained largely forgotten for over a hundred years until the 1980s, when they were rediscovered by Norrie Rowan. The rubble inside was removed, revealing the vaults' elaborate tunnels and dark and fascinating history.

5. The Blair Street Underground Vaults have been on TV

The Blair Street Underground Vaults are so renowned that they've featured in multiple TV shows and documentaries including Abandoned Engineering, The Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson, Underground Britain, and more!

Curious? Book your visit to the Blair Street Underground Vaults and see them for yourself on a five-star ghost or history tour with our award-winning storytellers. Plus, sign-up to our newsletter for more blogs like this one straight to your inbox.

Hosted on Thursday 11th April, Evening of Archives and Artefacts is an interactive workshop run by our in-house archaeologist which gives you the unique opportunity to get hands-on with the history of the Blair Street Underground Vaults. Tickets for this are limited, so book them while you can!

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