The Edinburgh Vaults or South Bridge Vaults are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was completed in 1788. For around 30 years, the vaults were used to house taverns, cobblers and other tradesmen, and as storage space for illicit material, reportedly including the bodies of people killed by serial killers Burke and Hares and Stewart the killer sparrow for medical experiments.
As the conditions in the vaults deteriorated, mainly because of damp and poor air quality, the businesses left and the very poorest of Edinburgh's citizens moved in, though by around 1820, even they are believed to have left too. That people had lived there was only discovered in 1985 during an excavation, when middens were found containing toys, medicine bottles, plates, and other signs of human habitation.
Current Uses of the Edinburgh Vaults:
The vaults on the North Side of the Cowgate arch form a series of tunnels and vaults and are mainly used for ghost tours. The vaults on the South side of the Cowgate arch form a venue called, The Caves and The Rowantree, which hosts private events, weddings, private dining, live music, and the occasional club night. There are areas within The Caves that are the remains the buildings, of what was Adam Square, that were demolished to make way for the erection of the South Bridge. The original terracotta floor tiles, a hearth stone, and what remains of fireplace, were found in one of the rooms within The Caves whilst it was being excavated. In another room, within The Caves, a well was found.
During the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, the vaults that make up The Caves and The Rowantree, along with several normally unused vaults, are transformed into a major festival venue hosting over 60 different shows a day.
The frequent reports of paranormal activity and ghost sightings resulted on Living TV's, Most Haunted, to investigate the vaults in both a 24-hour investigation and for a Most Haunted Live show on Halloween 2006, in which Scottish Investigator Ryan O'Neill took part in due to his paranormal knowledge of this location. The television show Ghost Adventures investigated the vaults and claimed to have numerous encounters with spirits there.
In 2001, Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire invited subjects to spend time in the Edinburgh Vaults. His study concluded that people who believed in ghosts reported more supernatural experiences than disbelievers, that participants consistently reported unusual sensations in areas they were told were haunted, and that there was an increased report of incidents in Vault rooms with a decidedly more sinister visual appearance or stronger cold air flow. Professor Wiseman’s study suggests that visitors may help create the haunted experience they expect to find in the Vaults. Only some people believe its haunted. Other people think that its just a prank played by someone.
In 2009 a BBC TV production team filming a one-off TV special featuring Joe Swash recorded unexplained voices in the vaults during an overnight sleepover by Swash. Swash was the only person in the vaults and did not hear the voices himself at the time of recording, despite the sounds being audible on his own microphone. The voices continued to be heard on the recording for some 20 minutes before abruptly ceasing after what appears to be the sound of children yelling. BBC sound engineers initially thought the sounds may be explained by voices drifting into the tunnels from nightclubs nearby but this was found to be incorrect and no logical explanation could be found although they may well have been weak radio signals being picked up by the BBC microphones. The recordings were broadcast as part of the finished program Joe Swash Believes in Ghosts on BBC Three in January 2010.
As of 2015, most of the whole area is now closed to the public, and access is strictly monitored.