Who Was Mr. Boots, The Watcher? - Edinburgh Vaults Ghosts20th Jul 2021
Written by Mercat Tours Storyteller Stefanie Türpe
On an Edinburgh underground vaults tour our visitors get to experience the capital’s darkest secret, the South Bridge Vaults. Hidden away underneath the bustling city centre lies a whole different world full of echoes from the past – sometimes in a literal sense.
Ever since the vaults were reopened in the 1980s, they have always had a reputation for strange apparitions: figures lurking in doorways, footsteps resounding in the corridors, voices from nowhere, the icy touch of invisible hands… The list goes on, and for the most part the alleged ghostly encounters don’t do much more than send a chill down an unsuspecting visitor’s spine and give them a spooky story to tell their friends.
The Blair Street Underground Vault's Watcher
However, if you’re particularly unlucky, you might become aquainted with a presence known as the Watcher. We have come to call him that because he likes to keep a close eye on the living whenever we dare to venture in his vaults. Those who have claimed to see him describe him as a tall, imposing man wearing a dirty blue coat and heavy, worn out leather boots. Some storytellers call him Mr. Boots because of that, but personally I never do as it seems to annoy him even more than our mere presence. When he is not glaring at us from a doorway, he might be pacing the tunnels, letting us know that he does not want us there. Some visitors have even heard him growl the words “Get out”.
If he decides that he has had enough of us strangers intruding on his space, he has been known to get a bit… touchy. Over the years several visitors have reported marks on their skin after their Edinburgh underground vaults tour.
Who Was Mr. Boots In Life?
Who is this spirit that seems so protective of the vaults? We can only speculate. His territorial behaviour suggests that he might have something to hide. Could he have been a smuggler, thief, or even a bodysnatcher guarding his “merchandise”?
From the 1820s onwards the South Bridge Vaults were a breeding ground for illegal activity. Sadly, they were also a place of refuge for the poorest of the poor. Perhaps the Watcher acted as some sort of slum landlord, terrorising and exploiting those who could not fight back.
However, we like to give our ghostly residents the benefit of the doubt! Maybe his motives are entirely honourable. It's been suggested that he might be protecting the White Room in particular because he was fond of a young woman visitors occasionally report seeing who allegedly died there. Feelings of grief, guilt or jealousy could be what causes him to guard it to the point of intimidating those who enter uninvited.
My personal theory, however, is far less sinister and tragic. Given that he is quite active in the section of vaults that was once used for storing goods like wine, I think the Watcher might have been just that in his lifetime: a watchman hired by a merchant during the legal phase of the vaults from 1788 to the 1820s. Since so many businesses shared the space and you often had to walk through other people’s workshops and storage to get to yours, it made sense to have a dedicated caretaker who could keep an eye on your valuable property.
It was probably not the most desirable job, spending your days stuck in a damp, dark basement, likely sleeping there too. A situation like that would absolutely mess with someone’s head, and I’m not sure I can even blame him for still being overprotective of the vaults. He might simply be doing his job to this day!
Whatever his backstory might be, if you ever encounter the Watcher on an Edinburgh underground tour, the only advice I can give you is to treat him with respect and… well, hope for the best. Good luck!