Mystery of Gilmerton Cove

Around 15 feet beneath a modest house on Drum Street in Gilmerton, near Liberton in south Edinburgh, lies a network of seven chambers and numerous tunnels hand carved from the sandstone beneath the streets called Gilmerton Cove. 

Gilmerton Cove is an archaeological mystery that has baffled researchers for over 300 years and has a series of chambers and passageways hewn from the bedrock sandstone that lie hidden beneath the streets of Gilmerton on the Southside of the City. Gilmerton used to be a mining village, but there is no concrete evidence to explain when or why the cove itself was made.

Exterior of Gilmerton Cove
(Image Credit: Undiscovered Scotland)

This unique hand carved subterranean attraction has seven different rooms with rock hewn furniture tables and chairs, after extensive historical and archaeological research investigators still don't know the exact origins of this site.

Interior of Gilmerton Cove
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The "traditional" theory is that the Cove was the work of George Paterson, a blacksmith who is said to have excavated it between 1719 ad 1724 as a home and workshop for himself and his family. This theory first emerged in 1769 in verses written by the poet Alexander Pennecuik. 

In 1769 Thomas Pennant mentions the site in the context of Newbattle Abbey saying that "In the woods adjacent to this seat are some subterraneous (sic) apartments and passages cut out of the live rock: they seem to have been excavated by the ancient inhabitants of the country either as receptacles for their provisions, or a retreat for themselves and families in time of war, in the same manner, as Tacitus relates, as was customary with the old Germans." 

In 2003 Gilmerton Cove was opened to the public as an educational resource, after a five year collaboration project between the Gilmerton heritage group and Edinburgh Council. 

There remains very little archaeological evidence to suggest why the tunnels were created. Over the years, people have suggested that that the seven chambers and numerous passages were a base for smugglers; a hiding place for religious refugees or simply a place for the gentry to drink. 

In 2007 TV documentary, Cities of the Underworld, it was postulated that Gilmerton Cove was linked to a building owned by a Hellfire Club, via a secret passage. 

Hellfire Clubs were established in the 18th century, and were frequented by 'persons of quality' who wanted to take part in perceived immoral acts and excessive drinking. 

However, there are Masonic marks and a carving of a cat in the cove which were made much earlier than the 18th century. 

In 2017, research by scientists from University of St Andrews and University of Edinburgh using ground-penetrating radar indicated that the caves are significantly larger than previously estimated, possibly up to twice as large - but some are inaccessible.

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilmerton_Cove
  • https://www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/gilmerton-cove-p548731
  • https://www.edinburghlive.co.uk/news/edinburgh-news/mystery-gilmerton-cove-who-built-16563695
  • https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/travel/unexplained-mystery-edinburghs-eerie-gilmerton-cove-521535

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