In advance of Halloween on October 31, Edinburgh restaurateur, Victor Contini, of Cannonball Restaurant & Bar, tells us a spooky story about the resident ghost at the historic and atmospheric 17th-century premises, which gets its name from the gunshot that’s lodged in its wall.
“Many of the buildings on the Royal Mile have a ghost story. Everyone feels our ghost is a girl, maybe 10 years old, and we call her Alice.
The feeling is indescribable really. The building is very old and you can feel the history in the walls. The first sighting of her that we were aware of was from one of the site officers, while the renovation works were being completed for our fit-out. They also unearthed loads of discarded oyster shells in the foundations, which was evidence of the original builders’ light lunch.
We bought Alice a desk and used to leave sweets on it. (Then we thought that was bad for her teeth, so we stopped). The strangest thing was when we moved her desk. One of the team, who was on holiday, phoned to ask if we'd moved it as she had a dream that Alice wanted her desk moved back upstairs as it was too cold in the entrance downstairs.
Several of our team, including myself, have felt a presence on the lower floor and in the staircase leading to the middle floor. It's a very complicated structure, with four staircases linking three floors and three entrances. Although it's a big building and very airy, there are lots of dark spaces. Tell the truth, who likes to be at home alone, never mind at work?
Cannonball House has been a part of the Royal Mile since the 1650s. It was The First Duke of Gordon's residence and he was the key keeper to Edinburgh Castle. At the time it was believed to be one of the most ornately decorated houses in Scotland.
However, there was a fire which destroyed much of the interior, the house fell into disrepair and it was a slum dwelling during the 18th century.
We have a wonderful collection of photographs sourced from the online image library, Capital Collections at Edinburgh’s Central Library, showing Cannonball as a home in the late 19th century and early 20th. They are incredibly provocative.
There is another photo showing the lower level when it was a tea room. I'd love to find out who ran it - maybe some distant relatives.
After extensive refurbishment in 1914 it became Castle Hill School. The top floor has double height windows, as one of the building floors was removed at some stage which gives beautiful light to the room.
Then it was briefly the Scottish Parliament Offices before the parliament building at Holyrood had been completed and, just before we moved in, it was the site office for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. When their new stand was completed, that's when we came into the story”.