The story of 'Tumbledown Terrace': The Edinburgh street that collapsed

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It was one of the worst cases of subsidence ever recorded in Scotland, causing a street to collapse and spelling misery for local residents.

An initial 33 households at Ferniehill Terrace in the Gilmerton area of Edinburgh were evacuated in November 2000 after the street, which was built above old limestone workings, started to sink.

The immediate area was cordoned off by the authorities, with large cracks visible across roadways and garden areas noticeably sunken and warped.

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Dubbed ‘Tumbledown Terrace’ in the press, the homes were demolished and a further 189 properties in nearby Moredun and Hyvots later pulled down due to similar subsidence fears.

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Four-storey block of flats evacuated after fears of subsidence

Some Gilmerton residents were forced to spend thousands shoring up their homes in the area and paying to fill in the limestone caverns with grouting to avoid future subsidence events.

Due to the crisis largely being defined as an “act of God”, many private homeowners were deemed liable for the costs of repairs carried out by the council.

Residents at devastated Ferniehill Terrace had been forced to ditch their homes and all their belongings in the days following the initial collapse on November 9.

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The houses at Ferniehill Terrace started to collapse in November 2000.The houses at Ferniehill Terrace started to collapse in November 2000.
The houses at Ferniehill Terrace started to collapse in November 2000.

Rescuers set about the arduous and dangerous task of recovering valuables from the crumbling homes. Larger items of furniture were unable to be salvaged as there was a risk of total collapse if delicate walls were knocked.

Overlays of modern aerial views paired with 1930s map data showed conclusively that a series of abandoned mine workings ran directly underneath the affected streets.

Speaking at the time, a council spokesman rebutted claims that planners had been at fault for the collapse.

He said: “An investigation was carried out during the 1960s when Ferniehill Terrace was built and at the time it was considered safe.

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Hundreds of homes were eventually demolished in the area.Hundreds of homes were eventually demolished in the area.
Hundreds of homes were eventually demolished in the area.

“It is important to bear in mind the houses are built around the lip of the quarry and not directly on top of it.

"There is no way of guessing what was going through the planners’ minds in the 1960s but I am sure they thought they were acting correctly”.

In the official enquiry, Edinburgh Council enlisted the help of experts to drill in search of pockets of air below the ground and determine the scale of the subterranean threat.

Engineers confirmed the collapse was the result of ancient mine workings and the large amount of material extracted from them.

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A report laid blame on the ineffectiveness of the mines’ support pillars, their solubility and the flooding of mine chambers in the latter part of the 20th century.

The inquiry found that there had been knowledge of the mine workings when Ferniehill Terrace was built in the 1960s, but added that planners had been working to guidelines based on coal mines and not limestone mines.

In conclusion, it was noted: “There is no basis for holding the Corporation, or any of the other parties involved in planning and approving the Gilmerton developments in the 1960s could be expected to have had a greater understanding of the mechanics of subsidence above disused limestone workings than was known to engineers generally”.

Previous collapse

It had not been the first time that the issue of historic mine workings had caused chaos in the district.

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In 1978, a limestone subsidence event led to the demolition of Hyvots Bank Primary School.

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