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  • Writer's pictureTammy Lowe

Story Time...

Edinburgh, Scotland is situated amongst seven hills. In the late 1700’s they built a bridge to link the High Street with the University. This would allow you to bypass one of the most run-down, poorest parts of the city, located in the valley between two hills.

The long bridge was built atop the original street, burying the buildings along the road, creating an underground “city” amongst the structural vaults.

When the bridge was completed in 1788, real estate went through the roof. High-end shops and fancy restaurants opened along the length of the bridge. The vaults beneath were used as workshops and storage for the successful businesses above.

Below also thrived. The underground city housed taverns, cobblers, milliners, etc. A wide variety of tradesmen had set up shop in this subterranean world.

But...the bridge was built too quickly.

In their haste, they never bothered to seal the surface from water. The vaults below began to flood. Everything began to deteriorate. Within thirty years, the once booming businesses closed shop, moving elsewhere.

Meanwhile, to the north, Highlanders were being evicted from their farms. Over in Ireland, the potato famine began to take shape. Everyone came flocking to Edinburgh.

Where were all these people to go?

Well, the poorest of the poor moved into the abandoned underground city beneath the bridge-The Edinburgh Vaults.

Brothels and taverns were in full swing down here. Entire destitute families moved into some of the rooms.

No sunlight.

No running water.

Poor air circulation.

This subterranean slum was as dangerous and deadly as one can imagine.

Rapes and robberies?


Meanwhile, Edinburgh was becoming one of the world’s leading experts in medical research. They were making so many advancements in anatomical studies that there was a a shortage of cadavers. Law stated that corpses used for scientific study could only come from prisons, suicides, or were orphans.

Now, a freshly dead body could make you a quick buck so body snatching became a huge problem.

They called them—Resurrection Men.

Grave robbery was such an issue that mortsafes were rented out. Made of iron and stone, a mortsafe could be padlocked around a casket. After about six weeks, when the body was too decomposed to be used in medical research, the mortsafe would be unlocked, removed, and returned—ready to be rented to the next grieving family.

Meanwhile, over at the university, Professor Robert Knox always seemed to have fresh corpses ready to dissect in his anatomy class.

Turns out, he was buying them.

Not from Resurrection Men...

But from two serial killers, Burke and Hare.

William Burke came from Ireland to Scotland, moving into a lodging house owned by William Hare and his wife.

During a fight, one of the lodgers was killed.

“Bloody hell.” Hare let out a theatrical groan. “He still owes me money.”

“Well...” Burke said. “I’ve got an idea.”

So, Burke sold the lodger’s body to Professor Knox and split the cash with Hare.

Seeing how easy it was, Burke and Hare began to prowl the tunnels and rooms within the Edinburgh vaults, searching for the perfect victim. After plying them with alcohol, the person was either smothered or strangled. The fresh corpse then delivered to Prof. Knox for a nice payment.

They didn’t do it once or twice.

In a twelve month period they murdered sixteen people.

When finally caught, Hare turned on Burke, testifying against his former partner in crime.

Burke was hanged outside St. Giles Cathedral in 1829. His body was donated to the Anatomy Museum in the University of Edinburgh...where his skeleton still hangs to this day.

Eventually, the Vaults were abandoned, filled in with rubble to stop people from entering.

Over time they were forgotten.

In the 1980’s, a Scottish rugby player discovered a tunnel and helped a Romanian rugby player escape from the secret police while seeking asylum. They were then further excavated in the 1990’s.

So, when in Edinburgh, you can tour Balmoral Castle and the Royal Mile. Try haggis and visit Grey Friar Bobby’s grave. can also visit one the most haunted places in the entire world and try to catch a glimpse of a ghost who still haunts the Edinburgh Vaults.

And there you go. Your interesting fact of the day: The Edinburgh Vaults.

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