Mary King’s Close
A close such as Mary King’s Close is a narrow lane or passage that runs between two buildings or a route that would give access to the rear of a building. Probably to stay close to the protection of the castle and be within the city walls, Edinburgh saw a large number of high multi-story tenement buildings being built going up the steep hillside on either side of the Royal Mile and closes would run between them. A close probably got its name because at night a gate could be closed at each end, securing the buildings it served and the inhabitants.
Mary King’s Close, possibly named after the daughter of Alexander King a wealthy property owner ran from High Street all the way down to Market Street, before Cockburn Street was built. In 1645 the inhabitants of the buildings served by Mary King’s Close were stricken with the plague. It had probably come from rats arriving in Edinburgh through Leith docks. In order to quarantine them and prevent the spread of the disease throughout Edinburgh, Mary King’s Close was sealed, possibly according to legend with some people still alive and suffering inside. There is a story that with housing shortages becoming a worry, the people of Edinburgh wanted to open up Mary King’s Close but needed the bodies removing. It is said they hired two brothers to go in and remove the corpses, but they struggled carrying them up and down the stairs in the tall buildings, so they decided to hack the bodies into pieces so that they could be disposed of easier. Whether the story of the two brothers is true or not, Mary King’s Close was opened and the houses reoccupied due to overcrowding.
The new inhabitants of Mary King’s Close found the buildings to be haunted and various reports were made of apparitions including a dog, headless animals, a young girl and several severed limbs and body parts such as heads. The inhabitants were then evicted in 1753 to make way for a new building project. The upper stories of the buildings around Mary King’s Close and its immediate neighbours were demolished and The Royal Exchange, now the City Chambers was built on top of them. Designed by John and Robert Adam, the City Chambers is a three story building with three sides that surround a piazza. The lower eight stories of beneath the City Chambers, dropping down to Cockbum Street were sealed up, including Mary King’s Close.
Sealed for two hundred and fifty years, Mary King’s Close has now been re-opened for tour groups and you can go down beneath the City Chambers to the lane and buildings that still exist, hidden away. Recent visitors have reported seeing a young girl and dog down there and battery operated equipment like cameras and torches have drained of power.