Mary King's Close
The haunted street beneath the Royal Mile
A 'close' such as Mary Kings Close is an entry to a tenement, possibly offering access to the back of the building. At one time there might have been a gate at the front of the entrance which was closed at night. A close also describes a very narrow lane between two buildings.
See full listing of ghost and history walking tours in Edinburgh.
Mary King's Close is the best known close on the Royal Mile thanks to its 300 years old legends and ghost stories but, until recently it has also been the least visited. In the past few years, the close not generally open to the public has been open as a tourist attraction and is now called 'The Real Mary King's Close'.
The story of Mary King's Close
The Close was a street back in the 17th century and much of it is still intact. It runs from the High Street northwards beneath the City Chambers -- Edinburgh's Local Government. Before Cockburn Street was built Mary Kings Close used to run all the way to Market Street.
The Close is said to be named after the daughter of wealthy advocate and owner of the property, Alexander King, although little evidence has been found in that respect. A woman by the name of Mary King did live there in mid 17th century.
'The Real Mary King's Close' presents tourists with a historically accurate interpretation of life in these narrow alleyways from 16th up to the 19th century. The presentation also includes local legends about the alleged existence of ghosts in this underground close.
In mid 17th century the Old Town had been infested with black rats from ships at Leith Docks and disease spread out. The local council attempted to contain the plague and the decision was made to block up the entrances to Mary King's Close. Some plague victims are thought to have been locked in.
In the following years the close had been reopened due to overcrowding in the Old Town and sightings of ghosts, mainly headless animals and disembodied men, have been reported. The most frequent sighting in recent years has been that of a young girl, no more than 5 or 6 years old called 'Annie' by those that have seen her.
Mary King's Close in present times
A hundred years after the plague, the Council decided to develop a new building, The Royal Exchange -- now the City Chambers. The houses at the top of Mary Kings Close were knocked down but part of the lower sections were used as foundations for the new building.
The Close has become a very popular tourist attraction and tours routinely sell out. Some visitors reported that photographs taken in the underground chambers of Mary King's turned out washed out or at all and, due to the nature of the site, the existence of ghosts is a more interesting explanation than other more rational ones.