- EDINBURGH (Reuters) -- Deep
beneath the cobbled streets of the Scottish capital lies a dank and forgotten
realm where prostitutes once rubbed shoulders with body snatchers and the
light of day never penetrated.
- The thousands of subterranean citizens moved out long
ago leaving the Edinburgh Vaults underneath the city's South Bridge alone
with its multitude of ghosts until it was rediscovered in the 1980s and
found new life as a tourist attraction.
- "There are no written records of who lived in these
vaults, although there is ample anecdotal evidence that thousands of people
lived and died here, some probably never even seeing the outside world,"
said tour guide Jim Lennie.
- "The chances are that few of the people who lived
in the Georgian part of the city above knew they were there. The existence
of the vaults was wiped from the city's records until they were rediscovered
in 1985," explained Lennie on a recent tour.
- The vaults are formed by the 19 arches of the South Bridge,
built between 1785 and 1788 across the Cowgate ravine as the cramped ancient
city began to expand.
- Bricked in and built around, the vaults became a warren
of nooks, crannies and tunnels forming the historic city's underworld.
- "There was almost a whole city down here but no
sign at all of it on the surface," Lennie said. "People lived,
worked and died down here. That was the 'good old days'? I don't think
so," he added with a grimace.
- Evidence has been found of wine storage, leather works
and a multitude of small businesses and living quarters for the city's
unwanted and unseen poor.
- But there were also other less legitimate pastimes beneath
the feet of Edinburgh's gentry.
- "We know that in 1815 there was an illegal whisky
distillery operating here, and it is highly probable that there was also
a brothel," Lennie said.
- It is also believed that parts of the vaults were used
to store cadavers either dug from fresh graves or plucked from the streets
and sold to Edinburgh's Medical School, whose appetite for bodies for dissection
was endless and unquestioning.
- The city's notorious body-snatchers William Burke and
William Hare are believed to have used the vaults from time to time to
store their grisly merchandise before deciding that digging was too much
trouble and turning to killing instead.
- Burke was hanged after being turned in to police by Hare
who himself died a pauper in London in 1859.
- Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of fictional detective Sherlock
Holmes, learned his anatomy during training some years later at the Medical
School and is known to have visited the vaults from time to time as a young
- PSYCHICALLY ACTIVE
- The vaults vary from the cavernous to the cramped. There
is no -- nor was there ever -- running water or sanitation.
- The only liquid that penetrated the unlit and airless
caverns was likely to be whatever seeped through from the streets above
where -- in the habit of the era -- households would empty their sewage
- Water for cooking and washing had to be carried by hand
down the winding tunnels each day.
- Wine rather than water was the drink of choice as the
water was too polluted, and there was a thriving import trade in red wine
- On the positive side, the temperature in the vaults is
fairly constant -- insulated from the outside world by metres of brick
- But even so the atmosphere inside would have been choking
with open fires for heat and cooking, and fish-oil lamps providing what
light there was.
- "Candles were for the rich, not the people of the
vaults," Lennie said.
- All that is left now of the subterranean citizens of
yesteryear are the ghosts which range from little dogs to young girls and
even practising bottom-pinchers.
- "There was a study here a couple of years ago and
the vaults were declared probably the most psychically active place in
the United Kingdom," Lennie said.
- "Some of the people I have taken round down here
have had distinctly funny turns. The mind plays some very odd tricks underground
and in the dark," he added with a wry smile.
- Undeterred, one enterprising local restaurateur has turned
part of the vaults into a modern eatery where diners can savour the psychic
shivers along with their chilled wines.
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