Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh

Edinburgh, or Auld Reekie as the locals affectionately refer to it, is Scotland’s capital. Tourists from all over the world love the city: from its magnificent castle to its many relaxing parks and cozy pubs, taverns and bars. But, not many know that some of these establishments are haunted! I dived into this intriguing subject and here are the stories.

The White Hart Inn

32 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JU, United Kingdom

This pub is the oldest pub in Edinburgh. The building itself dates back to 1740, but the foundations are much older: they were built in 1516! The poets Robert Burns and William Wordsworth visited the pub in, respectively, 1719 and 1803. Even today, the White Hart Inn is praised for its delicious meals, but it’s also incredibly haunted. Grassmarket was not just the place where cattle markets were held, it was also one of the city’s main execution spots. From the White Hart Inn, you had a great view on the gallows! People were even willing to pay for a room upstairs, because from there the view was even better. Could this be the reason why the pub is so haunted today? The ghosts like to pull people’s hair, like to touch people, they love throwing dishes and slamming doors.

Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh
Facebookpage of The White Hart Inn

The old cellar is haunted by a couple of detached legs and the barrel room is haunted by a man who the staff has nicknamed Jack. Jack is about 50 years old, wears a cape over his shoulder and his face is marred by a huge scar, which is pretty terrifying. He enjoys moving barrels around. Several other dark shadow figures haunt the cellar as well. In the bar area, the ghost of a man is frequently seen. He has not been named, but the staff recognize him by his three-pointed hat. The bar area is also haunted by a woman named Sally Beggs. Sally was a popular and welcome guest of the Grassmarket area and was found dead in the streets in front of the inn in 1772. Why she chose The White Hart Inn to haunt is unclear, but it doesn’t look like she’s eager to leave.

The Last Drop

74 – 78 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JR, United Kingdom

Let’s stay on the Grassmarket for yet another haunted pub: The Last Drop. This lovely pub was located exactly in front of the gallows. The pub was named after the last execution that took place right in front of its doorstep in 1864. Convicted criminals who were to be executed were presented with a final meal at The Last Drop. While eating they were able to see how the gallows were built for their nearing execution. That must have been quite confronting! On leaving the pub they were given a small whisky “for the road”. After this they were publicly hanged.

Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh
The Last Drop – picture by The Little House of Horrors

The Last Drop is haunted, but not by hanged criminals as you would expect. The pub is haunted by a mischievous girl in medieval clothing. It’s very likely that this girl used to live in a house during her time long before the place became the pub. She is seen throughout the entire place, even in the cellars. She’s a bit of a poltergeist: she makes strange noises and she likes moving things around. It may even happen that your freshly ordered whisky disappears!

Maggie Dicksons Pub

92 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JR, United Kingdom

Maggie – or Margaret – Dickson was a pretty common woman who lived and worked in Edinburgh. After Maggie’s husband passed away, she was forced to leave her job at the fish market. She moved to Borders and found herself a job as a maid in a local inn. All went well until Maggie fell in love with the inn-keeper’s son. They had an affair and Maggie shortly discovered she was pregnant. This was a problem: the inn-keeper, Maggie’s boss, wasn’t to find out about the affair. She tried to conceal the pregnancy by wearing super tight clothes. That worked a bit too well: the baby was born prematurely and sadly passed away after birth. Maggie took the baby to the river, but didn’t have the heart to toss it in, so she wrapped the baby in a piece of cloth and left it on the river bank.

Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh
Maggie Dickson – picture by The Little House of Horrors 

The baby was discovered and the piece of cloth lead to Maggie. She was arrested for murdering a child and was sentenced to death by hanging in 1721. Maggie was hanged at Grassmarket publicly and her body was put in a wooden coffin. Her friends were appointed to bury her. While her friends carried her away, they heard sounds coming from the coffin. Afraid out of their minds, they opened the coffin and discovered that their friend Maggie was alive! Because a person could not be hanged twice, all the charges against Maggie were dropped and she lived a pretty long live after this, now known as half-hangit-Maggie. And she has a pub named after her as well!

The Banshee Labyrinth

29 – 35 Niddry Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LG, United Kingdom

During the reign of James VI and I of Scotland and England, people were horrified of witches. Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Lord Nicol Edwards, was glad to help the King in his search for witches. He even had a torture cellar directly under his house where he tortured suspected witches. His house happens to be the front building of the The Banshee Labyrinth today. The name of the bar is also more than justified in another way because of the experience a workman had here. A crew of workmen was doing renovation work at the pub when one of the men heard a woman crying.

Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh
The Banshee Labyrinth – The Little House of Horrors

When he found her, she was sobbing with her head buried in her arms. When he asked her what was wrong, she looked up at him with her terrifying face and gave a horrible scream. She was a Banshee! Later that day, the workman received a phone call telling him a relative had passed away. The back of the Niddry Street bar is part of the Edinburgh Vaults. Because of this, Mr. Boots aka The Watcher haunts this area of the bar. And believe me, he his not a kindred soul. Another, none malevolent ghost that haunts the bar is Molly. Molly was only six when she disappeared in 1841. For some reason, Molly had ended up in one of the buildings’ chimneys and died in it. She’s a happy little ghost who likes to make herself known!

Whistle Binkies

4-6 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1LL, United Kingdom

Whistle Binkies was opened mid 1990’s and has been a much-loved entertainment venue with live music and an atmospheric setting. Like The Banshee Labyrinth, Whistle Binkies is partly built inside the South Bridge Vaults. It may not come as a surprise that Mr. Boots aka The Watcher also presents himself here. He keeps a low profile in this pub and sometimes disappears for years, but he’s a frequent visitor. A second ghost, nicknamed The Imp, is much more present.

Haunted pubs and bars in Edinburgh
Brian McNeil via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The Imp is long haired, a 17th century gentleman. He’s responsible for both amusing and creepy encounters: from chopping and peeling fruit to stopping the clock at 4:45 a.m., but also for locking a staff member in the cellar. The poor girl was locked in the cellar for hours before her colleagues finally freed her. He also likes moving things around in the cellar and an American backpacker found the contents of his backpack scattered around the floor, while nobody had been around. I guess it really depends on the ghost’s mood if he’s pleasant or mischievous.

The Tolbooth Tavern

167 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, United Kingdom

The Tolbooth Tavern is part of the original Canongate Tolbooth which was built in 1591. It became a tavern in 1820. The medieval building was used to collect tolls from travelers who entered Edinburgh through the Canongate. The Tolbooth briefly served as a prison. Though this Tolbooth prison is not to be confused with the Tolbooth prison which used to be located near St. Giles Cathedral. That is also where the gallows were (near the Midlothian Heart) and the more heavy criminals were put. At this prison, on the ground floor, only the people who weren’t able to pay fines and those accused of minor offenses were imprisoned.

 

Tolbooth Tavern
Tolbooth Tavern – Peter Rintels via flickr CC By-ND 2.0

Behind the tavern, at the back of the Royal Mile, you’ll find some buildings that have been used for lodging in the period between the 1750’s and the 20th century. Somehow people feel uneasy there, the atmosphere is very pressing. But, the tavern itself is also haunted. There is an unnamed spirit who is often described as a shadowy figure, but most people are convinced it is a male. This spirit makes his way around the pub, pushing glasses and bottles off tables and knocking pictures off the walls. And there are several child spirits who play throughout the pub. Their tiny footsteps and giggles are often heard. Another spirit has been seen and heard pacing up the stairs towards the clock tower.

The Mitre

131-133 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1SG, United Kingdom

The Mitre Pub looks beautiful from both outside and inside. The building itself doesn’t look very old, and this is correct, for it was rebuilt in 1814 after a huge fire. Before the fire, the site used to house several wealthier tenants, including the Bishop of St. Andrews. It is believed that the bishop’s throne is buried under what is now the bar area. Is this the reason why the pub is haunted?

Mitre Pub
The Mitre Pub – Brian McNeil via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mitre Pub is haunted by an unnamed ghost who loves music. It often messes with the jukebox: changing the songs if the current song doesn’t please him or he shuts down the whole jukebox when he’s fed up with all the music. It’s not a harmful spirit at all, but people do sometimes complain about uncomfortable feelings and even sightings. It’s sill an amazing place, though!

Deacon Brodies Tavern

435 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT, United Kingdom

Deacon William Brodie was a man with two faces. During the day he was a respected Edinburgh citizen and Head of the Town Council, but at night, he turned dark. During the night he was the leader of a savage gang of robbers. He would drink, gamble and he had at least two mistresses (and a bunch of illegitimate children). His change in behavior along the day was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!

Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0
Deacon Brodies Tavern – Sheila1988 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Being a skilled lock repairer, Brodie could crafty make replica key cuts to break into houses. He got away with his business for quite a while, but was eventually caught and sentenced to be hanged. He tried to bribe the hangman not to use the steel collar, but that didn’t work out. His ghost is seen wandering the Royal Mile, carrying a lantern and with sores and rope marks around his neck. But, he also has a tavern, the Deacon Brodie Tavern, named after him and he should be proud of that!

Cover photo: South_agency via Getty Images Signature
Sources: thebansheelabyrinth.com, edinburgh.org, scotsmagazine.com, parliamenthouse-hotel.co.uk, talesofmidlothian.wordpress.com, nicholsonspubs.co.uk, edinburghlive.co.uk, parliamenthouse-hotel.co.uk and www.visitscotland.com
Book: Haunted Edinburgh by Ross Guthrie

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