The Real Mary King’s Close is a warren of underground streets and spaces. It can be a strange concept to understand – back in the 1600’s, Mary King’s Close and neighbouring Closes were at the heart of Edinburgh’s busiest and most vibrant streets, open to the skies and bustling with traders selling their wares to the Old Town’s residents. Why would this street find itself underground 400 years later?
For years, the hidden Closes of Old Town Edinburgh have been shrouded in myths and mysteries, with blood curdling tales of ghosts and murders, and of plague victims being walled up and left to die. Research and archaeological evidence have revealed a truer story, rooted in fact and – as is so often the case – more fascinating than any amount of fiction.
What is a Close?
Edinburgh is built on a spine of rock and down the backbone of the Old Town, from the Castle to Holyrood, runs the slope of the Royal Mile. A series of lanes and alleyways grew out of this long street, falling away to either side – these are the ‘wynds’ or ‘closes’ where Old Town folk made their residences.
Who was Mary King?
Closes were named after the most prominent citizen or the most commonly found business to be on the close. Documents show that Mary King was a prominent businesswoman in the 1630’s. At that time she was a widow and a mother of four, who traded in fabrics and sewed for a living. It was highly unusual for a close to be named after a woman at that time, indicating Mary’s standing in the town.
Mary King's Close is infamous for its tales of ghosts and unexplained happenings. One of the earliest and best documented stories concerns the Coltheart family and took place 40 years after the last outbreak of plague in Edinburgh when people were already claiming to have seen 'spectres and nameless terrors' in the Close. Mary King's Close is infamous for its tales of ghosts and unexplained happenings volume 'Satan's Invisible World' in 1685.
You'll learn more of the trials and tribulations of the Colthearts on your visit to The Real Mary King's Close. Other people have heard scratching coming from inside a chimney where a child sweep is said to have died.
Sounds of a party or crowded tavern are often heard and a worried man is spotted pacing the Close from time to time...perhaps this is the Close's last resident, Mr Chesney?
Perhaps the strangest of stories is the tale of little 'Annie' and her famous shrine. You'll hear her story on your tour of Mary King's Close but needless to say the story has struck a chord with many visitors since she was first visited by a Japanese psychic who leave the little ghost girl toys and money which we donate to the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.
Following her first visit in 2004 with Living’s ‘Most Haunted’, presenter Yvette Fielding said "Mary King’s Close has to be one of the most terrifying places that I have investigated. It is pitch black and has many intertwining tunnels and rooms. Being alone in Mary King’s Close at 4:00am in the morning is not something I shall forget … stones were thrown at us and ghostly footsteps were heard…”
MARY KINGS CLOSE