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SOUTH BRIDGE VAULTS

 
 

SOUTH BRIDGE VAULTS

Starting 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 Edinburgh Vaults.

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 square metres.

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.


 
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