On the 24th of November 1861, a 16th century dilapidated seven-story building situated between Bailie Fyfe’s Close and Paisley Close in Edinburgh’s Old Town suddenly collapsed in its entirety.
The disaster happened at ten past one in the morning, with at least 77 inhabitants of the tenement safely tucked up in bed or so they thought. The hugely overcrowded, harrowing living conditions and decaying ruinous state of the buildings in Edinburgh was an inevitable accident waiting to happen and happen it did, on an epic scale.
Two police officers were passing the site when they heard an almighty rumbling crash as the building disintegrated and rendered itself to the ground right in front of them, once the eardrum perforating noise had subsided they could then hear the blood curdling sound of muffled, anguished, desperate screams of the victims trapped under the rubble. Rescuers worked tirelessly throughout the night and into the next day extracting bodies and badly injured survivors. As a consequence of the catastrophe 35 people died either at the scene or later in hospital….
Horrendous I know, but there are one or two happy endings to the story.
Just as the sun was rising, a foot was seen protruding from the wreckage, the foot belonged to 12 year old Joseph McIvor. As rescue workers started clearing the rubble surrounding him they heard a spirited little voice shout… “heave awa’ lads, ah’m no’ deid yet”. Now for those of you who aren’t fluent in Scots dialect this translates as, “heave away lads I’m not dead yet”, a variation of this desperate but comical statement was carved onto the lintel of the replacement building above the entrance to Paisley Close, the building is now affectionately known as Heave Awa’ Hoose.
Another positive outcome was in 1867 when, as a result of the tragedy being the last straw regarding the city’s appalling housing and living conditions, The City Improvements Act was passed by the Lord Provost William Chambers and by the end of the century many of the ancient semi-derelict hovels of the Old Town had been demolished and replaced.