Tumbledown Terrace: Former resident describes pain of losing home 20 years on

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When something is deemed 100 per cent secure with no risk of failing, you might say it’s “safe as houses” – just don’t try telling that to former residents of Ferniehill Terrace.

Twenty years ago this week, homeowners in south Edinburgh experienced a sinking feeling like no other as the ground beneath their feet started to cave in.

The collapse started on November 9, 2000, when large cracks spread across the roads, pavements and gardens at Ferniehill Terrace.

Horrified locals watched as a semi-detached property at the end of the street - quickly dubbed ‘Tumbledown Terrace’ in the press - began to tilt and break away from adjoining houses. Others soon followed suit.

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

Thirty-three households were initially affected, but in the coming months, hundreds of people in the wider area would be evacuated and their homes demolished over fears the subsidence was spreading.

Engineers later concluded that the homes, which dated from the 1960s, had been constructed above a network of abandoned limestone workings and that vital support pillars had failed.

Despite salvage operations, many residents would lose valuable possessions – particularly larger items of furniture - along with their homes.

Hundreds of homes were demolished following the initial collapse at Ferniehill Terrace in November 2000.Hundreds of homes were demolished following the initial collapse at Ferniehill Terrace in November 2000.
Hundreds of homes were demolished following the initial collapse at Ferniehill Terrace in November 2000.

From a legal stand point, the crisis was considered “an act of God”, meaning that those unlucky enough to own their properties were left with next to nothing.

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For homeowners such as Yvonne Smith and her husband Robert, it meant starting again from scratch – with little offered in the way of compensation.

"We were getting cracks in the walls throughout the house and in our stair,” said Yvonne, who lived in a six-in-a-block property in nearby Hyvots Avenue at the time.

"We were frightened to go to sleep in case we woke up in a hole in the morning. It was terrifying, we didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Forced to ditch their home, Yvonne, now 75, says the council initially offered the couple a caravan, which she point blank refused as her husband worked nights at the time and it didn’t feel safe.

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Yvonne said: "Eventually they found us a place in Stevenson Drive, but we then had to pay rent there for the first two years. I also had to get rid of a lot my furniture as we were moving to a much smaller house.

"We did manage to claim some of the money back from insurers, but nothing like what we had paid for the house at Hyvots.

"It really set us back 20 years. It was terrible.”

Unfamiliar with the area, Yvonne says the move to Stevenson quickly turned into a nightmare, and she admits the pain of losing her house at Hyvots still lingers.

She blames the council for building homes above mine workings in the first place and says she can’t believe that the area has since been redeveloped.

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Yvonne added: "We had to move out of Stevenson, because we had a hell of a time with the neighbours. It was drugs all night long and I was terrified there.

“It was quite a big property we had. It was a nice house, with a balcony, patio doors, double glazing installed. We also had a brand new kitchen and bathroom.

"We got a raw deal, plus I got the shock of my life to see they’ve since built hundreds of houses on the same site.

"The council must have known what was under there when they built those houses.”

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