at the Tron Kirk and finishing at the Old College, University
of Edinburgh, the South Bridge is often taken for a street
as opposed to a bridge as it appears at deck level. However
below deck level there are many buildings and the renowned
vaults, known as the South Bridge Vaults or simply the
The South Bridge was never simply a bridge to get from the Old Town to Southside
however, It was, in fact, Edinburgh's first purpose built shopping street which
began trading on the 1st March 1788.
South Bridge is actually a nineteen arch viaduct, but most of the arches were
enclosed behind tenement buildings built to allow the area to serve as a commercial
district. These hidden arches were then given extra floors to maximise space
for use by traders. There are around 120 vaults varying in size from 2 to 40
In 1795 the vaults began to be abandoned by traders as they were
prone to flooding. A new set of people however took to the vaults – slum dwellers – and
very soon public houses and brothels were set up alongside the new slum housing
that had once been the workshops and store-rooms of the City’s traders.
Crime became rife in these times and murder and robbery became a staple of the
vaults. The infamous body-snatchers and killers Burke and Hare were even thought
to have scoured the vaults for victims.
The vaults were eventually closed down some time between 1835 and 1875 with tonnes
of rubble dumped into them to make them inaccessible to slum-dwellers, thieves,
whores, drunks and killers.
Businessman and former Scottish Rugby International Norman “Norrie” Rowan
bought and excavated the vaults in the 1990’s. Today The vaults on the
North Side of the Cowgate arch form a series of tunnels and vaults that make
up Mercat Tours, the historical walking tour and an entertainment venue called
Marlin’s Wynd. The vaults on the South side of the Cowgate arch – the
only arch left visible - form
another entertainment venue The Caves.