Each month we bring you a Q&A from a local Lateral City neighbour, so where better to start off with than our closest neighbour Mary King’s Close. Steeped in hundreds of years of history, this is an essential place to visit for most tourists, so read on and find out more about this fascinating historical Edinburgh must do.
1. So tell us a bit more about what our guest can experience on a tour of the close?
What we offer here at The Real Mary King’s Close is a social history tour; research and archaeological evidence have helped us develop a tour that is rooted in fact, centring on real people and real events. Guests will discover some of the most dramatic episodes from Edinburgh’s incredible past and the stories of the real people who lived, worked and died here between the 16th – 19th centuries. All our tour guides are based on real characters who once lived on the Close and, in their company, guests can navigate the fascinating twists and turns of these underground streets.
2. How has the Close come to be underground?
When the Royal Exchange was first built in 1753, it only covered the top end of the Close whereas the lower sections were still open to the sky. As the construction of Cockburn Street began in 1853, the lower half of Mary King’s and the other Closes were destroyed. Then in 1897, the last resident of the Close, Andrew Chesney, was given a compulsory purchase to move out so they could enlarge the City Chambers building. It is important to remember that no one ever lived on the Close when it was covered over as it is illegal to live underground according to Edinburgh law.
However, while it was illegal to live underground, there were no laws in place preventing people from working underground so Mr Chesney continued to work on Mary King’s Close in his workshop until 1903.
3. Why was the Close sealed up and when was it reopened to the public?
The Close wasn’t necessarily sealed up; it was built over in stages with the construction of the City Chambers, Cockburn Street and the Royal Mile we see today. Continuum Attractions opened The Real Mary King’s Close as a visitorattraction in 2003 and this year will see the Close develop again with a £500,000 investment. The refurbishment and expansion will see the reinstatement of original doorways on the Royal Mile, a new welcome area, enhanced tour experience and a Scottish Café featuring the best of local produce. This investment follows a growth in visitor figures for the fifth year running. The attraction plans to remain open throughout the whole expansion process and visitors will still be able to enjoy the full underground experience during this time.
4. Who was Mary King and why is the Close named after her?
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 1630s. 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.
5. What is the truth behind the Close’s connection to the Plague?
The Close does have a connection to the plague as the inhabitants were struck down several times across the centuries by the disease; the worst being in the high summer of 1645. The plague ravaged the city of Edinburgh killing half of the population it infected. Even without knowing the source of the plague, the Burgh Authorities did everything it could to stop it spreading. You may have heard the rumours that they bricked Mary King’s Close up and left all its inhabitants to die, but I’m happy to inform you that that is entirely untrue. What they did do, was quarantine plague victims or those who had come into close contact with plague victims into their houses, with white flags hung outside as a sign to passers-by.
6. Have you ever seen the ghost of ‘little Annie’?
I don’t really comment on my own personal experience of Annie and the Close but there have been many stories about Little Annie and her toys. In her memory, many of our visitors generously leave donations of money or a toy in her room. We then donate these kind gifts to various children’s charities.
7. What are the entry costs and opening times and should people prebook?
From April 2015 an Adult Ticket will be £13.95, Child £8.25* and Concession £12.50. Family tickets will also be available at £37.75. We do advise that visitors prebook if they are planning to visit at the weekend, during school holidays, during the month of August and at Hogmanay. We can accept up to 20 guests on every tour for optimum guest comfort and experience. At busy periods this means that demand is often high and tours sell out.
Guests can book online at any time up to 48 hours prior to your tour date. Advance bookings can be made by calling 0845 070 6244, online at www.realmarykingsclose.com or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.
*Due to the nature of the site, this tour is not suitable for children under 5yrs. A child refers to those aged between 5yrs – 15yrs.
Answers supplied by Craig Miller, General Manager The Real Mary King’s Close