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The House of Terror. No. 17, Edinburgh

There is a ghostly tale from Edinburgh which seems to have lingered for hundreds of years against the odds. It is in no way nearly as well known as many of the stories from Edinburgh's haunted past, nor is it from a property of any real significance or involve anyone of historical fame. The building in which the incident is said to have happened is long demolished, its exact location lost to time, and documentation relating to the incident seems to comprise only of it being retold over the years. And yet it continues to linger, igniting the imagination of many who hear it.

The tale begins at a house known simply as number 17. The street on which it stood is not clear, yet research I have carried out indicates that the house was in the Inverleith/Silvermills area, not far from the botanic gardens. Old maps show a cluster of properties in this area around the relevant time period.

The property seems to have gained a reputation for being haunted, with whatever was happening being centred around one of the attic bedrooms. The owners would hear unexplained activity from the attic when they knew the room was empty and when they had guests no one would want to stay in the room, some even refused to enter. It seems word spread, resulting in travellers and visitors to Edinburgh stopping using number 17, likely due to worry that whatever lurked in the attic may affect other areas.

Eventually, and perhaps lured by the new luxurious properties being built in the New Town, the owners moved out. With rumours of an evil spirit lurking within though, number 17 stood stubbornly on the market, slowly falling into a state of disrepair. Reports of footsteps and bangs from the empty attic rooms continued and did not help the prospects of a sale.

As time passed, with the New Town growing ever closer, people's attention turned to other things happening in the ever-growing city. For many, this would have been quite an exciting time to be a resident of Edinburgh. In the early 1800s, a young couple looking to capitalise on the volume of building work going on and the need for accommodation for the contractors, purchased number 17, carrying out the necessary work to open it as a guest house.

The new owners were well aware of the stories connected to the property yet seemingly were willing to gamble that with fewer people still talking about it and demand being high, guests were likely to overlook the past and focus on a clean and comfortable place to stay. It seemed their gamble paid off as the story talks of their housekeeper, indicating that they did sufficiently well to employ staff. Yet it didn't last, with that same housekeeper being said to have been heard screaming loudly before fleeing the attic room. Whatever she had seen, she was so terrified she refused to even discuss it.

Local attention again turned to number 17 and with the owners concerned about how the fresh rumours would affect their fledgling business, they were delighted when they were approached by a young man named Andrew Muir with a proposal. Andrew was a student in Edinburgh with a strong Christian upbringing. A combination of his faith and bravado led him to believe he could find out what was happening in the attic room once and for all.

Arrangements were made for him to stay on one condition. The owners insisted he had a bell in the room with him so he could alert them immediately of any pending danger or if things got too much for him. Andrew agreed and on the night everything was looking positive for the owners. All seemed quiet so much so that, after a few hours, the owners felt optimistic enough to retire for the night themselves.

Any hopes that they had for a good night's sleep were shattered when around 2am they were awoken by a scream from the attic and the frantic ringing of the bell. By the time they rushed upstairs all had fallen silent, and when they entered the room they were confronted with the horrifying sight of Andrew lying on the bed, eyes wide open and with a look of terror on his face. The young man was dead.

After the tragedy, no one wanted to stay in the property, including the owners, who soon closed the guest house and moved away. A few years later the row of houses which included number 17 was demolished to make way for the new development, and any hope of discovering what lurked in the attic of the house, and why, was lost.

While some parts of the story stand up to a certain level of scrutiny, for example, old city plans show the cluster of buildings mentioned earlier as still being in existence in 1802 but the area as having been redeveloped by the mid-1800s which seem to fit the timeline, other parts don't. A search of the Newspaper Archives has not revealed any reports or announcements covering the death of the student. Of course, it is difficult to be sure the name is correct. If this is the case and with the full address not being known, a search is nearly impossible. The research continues for any information which may provide more details of the story and, perhaps wishful thinking, that if the story is true whether any parts of the original building remain.

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