The Covenanters Prison (Edinburgh)


In 1637, in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh, Scots Presbyterians signed a 'National Covenant with God' and embarked on a religious crusade against the south. Their initial success eventually led to the English Civil war and the execution of King Charles I.

Within 50 years the movement was broken and Charles II crushed the last 'Covenanter' army at the Battle of Bothwell Brig. Twelve hundred survivors were imprisoned in a walled section of Greyfriars cemetery - now known as 'The Covenanter's Prison'. Held for months in horrendous conditions, many were executed just outside the cemetery wall, and then buried back inside. A total of 18,000 Covenanters died for their beliefs, most put to death by the King's Advocate, George McKenzie. In 1691, McKenzie was also buried in Greyfriars - right next to the Covenanter's Prison. It has always been said that, inside his great tomb, the coffin moves - for 'Bloody' McKenzie can never find rest after the atrocities he committed.

From that time, Greyfriars Graveyard had a reputation for being haunted - a status enhanced in subsequent centuries by the official removal of headstones, mass corpse dumping and a brisk trade in bodysnatching. The cemetery, however, remained open to the public and, for 400 years, despite the ghost stories, visitors enjoyed the solitude of the misty graveyard, hidden from the busy city by its towering stone walls.

Then, in early 1999, a vagrant broke into the tomb of George McKenzie. Not only did he desecrate the coffin, he disturbed a hidden room below the tomb filled with unidentified skeletons. Soon after, stories began to circulate about strange happenings in the churchyard. Visitors described patches of intense cold and sweet but sickening smells in the Covenanter's Prison. A member of Greyfriars staff complained of "always being watched" when passing one particular vault. Jokingly he referred to it as 'The Black Mausoleum'. The name stuck.

As time passed the rumours increased. Cold so intense it was painful to the flesh. A boy frightened by 'loud breathing noises' coming from the Black Mausoleum. Visitors overcome by sudden nausea. Surrounding tombs damaged. Eventually, Edinburgh Council quietly locked the Covenanter Prison gates.

But the tales had come to the attention of a small company, who decided to capitalize on Greyfriars growing reputation. They applied for permission to conduct nightly walks through the historic cemetery and Edinburgh Council granted it. After all, what harm could come to groups of people supervised by professional guides? In June 1999, the tastefully named City of the Dead tours began - tours that finished in the creepy darkness of the Black Mausoleum.

City of the Dead simply wanted to make money. Their guides had no illusions about finding genuine spooks and depended on the chills that come from being in a graveyard at night to satisfy their customers. To everyone's astonishment, however, the tours were plagued by strange occurrences from the very beginning. Visitors developed mysterious cuts or bruises. 'Cold spots' and 'hot spots' would suddenly appear. Many complained of something they could not see 'touching' them. Others fell into a comatose state. And each incident took place in the Black Mausoleum.

Such spectacular proceedings quickly prompted sceptical investigation - but the poltergeist did not disappoint. Several teams of psychic investigators, accompanied by mediums and the media concluded that there was a genuine supernatural presence in the Covenanters Prison. Spiritualist minister Colin Grant tried to exorcise it and, shaken by what he encountered, remarked 'I wouldn't be surprised if this killed me." He died shortly afterwards. A Polish TV crew was present at a collapse, a local crew at another and the director of a Discovery Channel documentary witnessed the appearance of one of the phantom cuts. Inhabitants of houses against the graveyard wall began to claim that there was poltergeist activity in their homes - prompting another failed exorcism.

Tour parties began finding dead birds, completely unmarked, outside the Black Mausoleum. A sickly sweet smell would sometimes fill the Covenanter's Prison, while the rest of the graveyard smelled normal. Tour parties began to hear growling and rapping noises in the vault and individuals became convinced that an 'evil presence' was in the vault with them.

It became apparent to most sceptical City of the Dead guides that what was happening couldn't be explained by coincidence, gullibility or visitor's nerves. Some guides even suspected their own lives were affected when their own houses seemed plagued by poltergeist activity. In an attempt to understand what was happening they came up with the Pheromone Theory - which has been accepted by many psychic investigators as the most persuasive explanation for poltergeists ever put forward.

In the two and a half years since City of the Dead tours started there have been hundreds of recorded 'attacks' in the Covenanters Prison - and an astonishing 92 of these occurrences have resulted in someone collapsing. In every case there were numerous witnesses to the event.

The McKenzie Poltergeist still grows in strength. Mass attacks are now common and people write to the tours claiming to have been attacked a day or two after their tour. Greyfriars has become a Mecca for paranormal enthusiasts and the story, covered extensively by national and international media, has now become the subject of an acclaimed book - The Ghost that Haunted Itself. The MacKenzie Poltergeist is now the best documented supernatural case in history.

The nightly graveyard visits continue. The guides' fascination is stronger than their apprehension and the public simply doesn't believe that, in a western city in this day and age, they are actually going to encounter a supernatural entity on an organized trip….

Until they do.

Jan Andrew Henderson.

Many thanks to Jan Andrew Henderson for the history portion of this report. Jan is the owner of the Black Hart Story Tellers and The City of The Dead Tours, which provide visitors to Edinburgh there only chance to get inside the Covenanters prison. Jan has also written a book about the Mackenzie Poltergeist:


'A haunting tale' - The Scotsman Newspaper
'Compelling reading for believers and skeptics alike' - Daily Express
'Remarkable… well written and gripping' - Scottish Town and Country Magazine
'Fascinating… well worth reading' - Lanarkshire Television

Published by Mainstream Press. Available from all leading bookstores.

Also By Jan:
The Town Below the Ground, Edinburgh Famous Underground City.
The Emperors New Kilt, Scotland's Two Secret Histories.

(UK Paranormal)
Mike Driscoll
Samantha Marriott
Louise Marriot
Scott Badger

Digital Video Cameras
Analog Video Camera
Digital Still Cameras
Motion Detector
Remote Thermometers
Mini Disc Recorder
We had arranged to meet Mr. Jan Andrew Henderson on Tuesday 22nd of April at 2 o'clock outside his office at the entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard, and true to his word he was waiting for us when we arrived. After introductions were made Jan lead us across the incredibly peaceful Greyfriars cemetery towards the impressive looking tomb of the infamous 'Bluidy' (bloody) George Mackenzie. We all peered in through the locked doors and could clearly see the grating in the floor that the unfortunate tramp had descended about five years previously. After satisfying our curiosity at Mackenzie's tomb we made the short trek to the gates of the area we were to investigate, The Covenanter's Prison. Jan unlocked the gates and let us in. On first impression the Covenanter's Prison is an incredibly peaceful oasis in the centre of a very busy city, there is no noise at all as you walk through the gates and onto the long green strip that separates the two rows of tombs on either side, it is only as you approach the far end of the prison that you begin to hear the noise of the traffic outside.
We began our first recce of the place as we walked between the two large trees that seem to stand as sentinels to the prison near the gates. As we began to walk towards the Black Mausoleum Jan explained that the tomb they now use is not in fact the original Black Mausoleum. The original one is much closer to the entrance of the Prison and it was this tomb we entered first. (The tour now uses a different tomb to the original as all activity in the first had stopped completely. They tried out every other tomb in the prison until things started to happen again). The inside of the tomb was pretty much as expected, just a squarish room with a vaulted ceiling with a pier up either side to help support the roof.
We left that particular mausoleum and continued down the Prison towards the new Black Mausoleum, which was also padlocked shut. Jan opened the door and we went in. It was much the same as the previous tomb with a dirt floor and stone walls. We took some pictures with digital cameras and then had a quick look around the rest of the site. It was at this point, as we started to walk towards the far end of the Prison that both Mike and Louise felt as though something was pushing them in the small of the back as if to urge them on, the feeling grew in intensity as they neared the end of the prison. Having reached the far end both of them decided to return to the others, the feeling of being pushed ceased abruptly just before we reached the Black Mausoleum again. After another quick look Jan locked everything back up and we were once again outside the prison in the cemetery.
Jan gave us a key and told us we could enter the prison at any time we wished to do so. He also told us that he had arranged for us to go on the 10 o'clock tour that evening, and that someone would be in the office all night so we could leave our gear there in safety and not have to carry it around all night. At 10 o'clock that night we met with David who was to be the City of The Dead tour guide for the night and the rest of the people who were taking the tour. He took the group through some of the back streets of Edinburgh telling us some of its history as we went, and making us laugh at the same time. We soon approached the gates to Greyfriars, not the main gates but another set at the rear of the cemetery. These gates were locked so David undid the padlock and ushered everyone inside. The atmosphere on the tour changed somewhat at this point, as people started to realise that this was a ghost tour and we really were going into the Covenanter's Prison, not to mention we were in graveyard in the dead of night.
David led the way into the graveyard talking as he went. He told us that the cemetery was once flat but was now a hill because so many bodies were buried here they had to bring in topsoil from outside to cover them all. In fact it has been estimated that in this surprising small area there are the bodies of over 250,000 lost souls. We were also warned that on occasion, after heavy rain human remains do come to the surface and not to pick any up if we saw them, as this is illegal.
At this point we stopped in front of a large memorial so that David could give us some more history lessons, this time though the lessons were of a much darker variety talking about body snatchers and mass murderers.
Mike pointed out to other members of the team that he'd been seeing a dark shadow towards the rear of the graveyard that seemed to move between stones and then disappear only to reappear somewhere else. He first mentioned it to the team member closest to him (Louise) but she could not see it. However, it should be noted that Sam had been standing on the other side of the tour group and saw it independently of Mike and did not hear about Mike's sighting until later in the night.
The tour made it's way finally to the gates of the Prison and David gave his final warning then unlocked the gates and we all went in (the girls however having done the tour before retreated to the office to start getting our gear ready). Once again we had to stop as our guide unlocked the door to the Black Mausoleum. He asked for volunteers to go in first. Both Mike and Scott tried to be first in but another man at the front of the tour beat them to it. We made our way to the rear of the tomb and listened as David got going about the Poltergeist and how they believe it came into existence. As he neared the end of his tale a woman who was standing in the middle-left part of the room collapsed onto the floor, and had to be helped outside. Shortly after that a young girl complained of feeling very ill and again had to leave the tomb. Not long after another woman lost her legs but was caught before she hit the floor. At this point the guide decided that things were getting out of hand and called a halt to the tour. Once outside we tried to interview the second woman who had collapsed. She seemed very dazed and wasn't able to answer our questions. Scotty reported no unusual feelings inside the tomb at all; Mike however said that after he moved out of the corner he was sure there was someone standing next to him only to find the space empty every time the torch shone his way.
We left the Prison with the rest of the tour to regroup and gather our equipment ready for the nights work. At this time Mike reported feeling very uneasy about returning to the prison and was unsure if it was such a good idea. We discussed this and decided that we would indeed re-enter the prison to deploy our equipment and then leave it running for an hour with us out side so there could be no interference. We set up the equipment as shown below.

1. Digital video camera (trained on wooden cross) and digital thermometer. (Receiver).
2. Analogue dictaphone.
3. Remote thermometer #1.
4. Analogue video camera (used for audio only) and second digital thermometer with extension for second reading.
5. Remote thermometer #2 and a wooden cross.
6. Digital minidisk recorder.
7. Remote thermometer #3.

We placed three more dictaphones around the Prison area (one in the original Black Mausoleum, one in the tomb where we had previously caught a photographic anomaly and the last on a wall between the two Black Mausoleums). We took readings from all the thermometers, started all equipment running, locked up and left. Mike reported that he no longer felt uncomfortable in the prison and that whatever had been bothering him about the place was no longer evident.
Whilst we were outside the prison Scotty decided to see if he could get inside Mackenzie's tomb the same way the tramp had done several years before. So with the two girls shining their torches through the grill in the door Scotty and Mike went round the back of the tomb where there is an opening at floor level, Scotty very bravely managed to squeeze through this gap and into the tomb itself. Mike returned to the front of the building where the girls where waiting. Having tried the grate in the floor and found it to be open Scotty started to make his way down the stone steps into Mackenzie's crypt. He soon reported that there were 4 coffins down there and indeed one of them looked as though it had been beaten and cracked. Venturing further in he looked around to see if he could find any evidence of the skeletons under the floor, and lo and behold there they were, just as they were in the story the guides told. After taking several pictures Scotty retreated out of the tomb the way he had entered making sure to leave everything the way it was when he entered. (I would like to point out that Mike rather cowardly had decided he wasn't going inside the tomb for all the money in China, but upon Scottie's discovery of the coffins his curiosity got the better of him and he decided he was going in after all. Unfortunately having given up smoking some 10 weeks before he had put on 2 stone and couldn't squeeze through the hole, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it - Mike).
We returned an hour later to check up on the equipment and were somewhat surprised to see that all the thermometers had picked up a temperature jump of anywhere between 20 and 25 degrees which meant that at one point the maximum temperature in there had been 35 degrees Celsius. Let me try and put that in perspective for you. On a night in April, in Edinburgh, in a stone built mausoleum, when it was cold enough for the investigators to be wearing thick coats and fleecy jumpers, the temperature reached the point of a very hot summers day. All equipment was retrieved from around the prison and the cross was checked, no movement.
Several pictures - both digital and 35 mm were taken at various places around the Prison, including an attempt to recreate the picture that had drawn us here in the first place (see visitor's pictures). It should be noted that there was no feeling of menace or threat of any kind in the prison at this time, compared to when the tour was taking place. Is this because of the expectation built up by the tour guide, or because whatever is reportedly lurking in the Prison feeds off of the fear of the members of the tour?
Re-entering the Black Mausoleum we carried out a further EVP test with a question and answer session, which yielded no results. However, at the end of the session Scotty asked if anyone was present could they give us a sign by knocking tapping or moving something and right on cue the mini disc's external microphone fell off the bag it was stood on! Co-incidence? Probably, but worth a mention.
We took some more photos and decided to call it a night.
On the way out the black figure was seen again by both Sam and Mike as the team left through the Kirkyard.
Both describe spotting it as it appeared below us on the path we were following round. It disappeared from view behind a very prominent gravestone. They both watched the gravestone to see if the figure moved away from us as we walked down towards it (we had no choice but to walk past the stone on our way out). Neither saw the figure come out from behind the stone again, and it had disappeared by the time we reached the area. It should be noted also that by this time there were four sets of eyes trained on the area as Mike mentioned what he was seeing to the team as we walked through. Both Scottyb and Louise were keen to try to see it but it eluded us all. The monument itself is dedicated to a leading tax collector so we will leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Having reviewed all video and audio taken on the night we have to report that no evidence of any significance was captured, so all we can offer you on this first visit is anecdotal proof. The Covenanters Prison is a very peaceful place during daylight, but it does take on a different persona after dark. We left there with two questions burning in our minds.
It appears that things are different when the Mausoleum is full of people compared to when there were only four of us. Is that due to the hysteria of the crowd having been built into a state of fear by the tour guides? Or because the entity that is reputedly in the Mausoleum feeds on the fear or other energy of the people present?
What made the temperature in the Mausoleum jump to such a high?
We decide that as we still had few days left in Edinburgh we would spend a second night in the Covenanter's Prison, but this time we would take a crowd with us to see if it made a difference to the entities performance! We had also wondered if the temperature had increased so dramatically while Scotty was in Mackenzie's tomb, so the next visit we would monitor the thermometers while Scotty made a second foray into the tomb.



EVP1 - This was captured in the Black Mausoleum
EVP2 - Please note this is to illistrate what can be picked at distance on an open ground investigation

GreyFriars Burial List


A view down the Covenanters Prison From the gates

The team inside the Black Mausoleum (Dust orbs aplenty!!)

Team inside the Black Mausoleum

Mostly Dust orbs, but the very bright double one is harder to explain

A very atmospheric photo

and another!

Skull Carving

Bloody McKenzie's imposing tomb

Take a look at the first picture then the second. The second
has a strange black object at the top of the screen!
after a few minutes of viewing we did actually work out what it was.
Can you work it out, all i can say is that it isn't an object flying past..
the answer is in the photo!

Steps Leading down to McKenzie's Crypt

McKenzie's Coffin with the damage from the tramp

George McKenzie's Coffin

Dumped Human Remains Under McKenzie's Coffin

More Human Remains

as above but showing the position of the coffin

City of the Dead Tours

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