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The Residents of Edinburgh's Blair Street Underground Vaults

7th Jul 2021
The Residents of Edinburgh's Blair Street Underground Vaults

 Written by archaeologist and storyteller, Naomi Hann

History is all about stories. The problem is that those stories were written by people who were educated, for other people with the ability to read. Folklore, of which ghost stories form just one realm, are spoken stories, created and passed on by those who couldn’t write to those who couldn’t read.

These stories were designed to communicate who people were and explain the world surrounding them. For the listener, the purpose of stories is to engage, enthral and entertain. For the teller, in the twenty-first century, it is the opportunity to delve into the history of undocumented individuals. In the case of the Blair Street Underground Vaults, persons who were literally overlooked by those who could afford the luxury of a trip to the shopping street above.

The Ghosts of Edinburgh's Blair Street Underground Vaults 

If you have been on one of our Edinburgh ghost tours, you will have heard of the finely dressed man in the top hat, the boy in the expensive high school uniform, and the man who was in the business of making shoes. What they all have in common is that their world was above the bridge, in the shops, tenements and near-by school. They had income and money to spare. This was not the case for another person you might have heard of, a crouched figure, huddled over his knees, with his back to the visitors who gaze up at him through a floor that has long since crumbled away. He has no interest in the group below him, too consumed by cold, disease, and hunger to be aware of anything but trying to retain enough body heat to survive the night.

Ghostly Children in The Edinburgh Vaults

The boy known as ‘Jack’ is associated with a rubber ball that is often heard by visitors bouncing around the passageways, but he is not the only child in the vaults. There are regular descriptions of a child pulling a tin toy cart from room to room, whilst another chases a rolling hoop with a stick. The sound of children’s laughter is one of the most frequently reported sounds from the vaults.

Perhaps this is surprising in a place famous for menacing footsteps and dragging chains, but it is important to remember that the site has a history that is older than the bridge. This is demonstrated by the encounter that may be had with a young boy named Peter. He lived in the tenements that used to be part of Marlin’s Wynd, paved in the 1550s. He sits on his front doorstep, an animated photograph, mobile only within a single snapshot of time and space.

Maybe the laughter that other visitors have heard are children from that same street. Maybe Peter would like to play with them, but he will not, for his mother has told him the stories of the Snatchers and that not all have the patience to wait for a wee lad to succumb to natural cause.

Discover more on our underground ghost tours and perhaps you'll experience some of the Blair Street Underground Vaults residents for yourself. From anonymous footsteps in the dark to the cold touch of a small, reaching hand... book now. 

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