Holbeck Hall Landslide Case Study

The Holbeck landslide, south of Scarborough in North Yorkshire, attracted considerable interest when it destroyed the four-star Holbeck Hall Hotel between the night of 3 June and 5 June 1993. A rotational landslide involving about 1 million tonnes of glacial till cut back the 60 m high cliff by 70 m. It flowed across the beach to form a semicircular promontory 200 m wide projecting 135 m outward from the foot of the cliff.

The likely cause of the landslide was a combination of: rainfall of 140 mm in the two months before the slide took place; issues related to the drainage of the slope; pore water pressure build up in the slope and the geology.

The first signs of movement on the cliff were seen six weeks before the main failure, when cracks developed in the tarmac surface of footpaths running across the cliffs. These were filled to stop ingress of water to the cliff, but when the cracks reopened, shortly before the main failure, the council closed the cliff paths below the hotel. At this time a small part of the hotel garden was also observed to have suffered a minor movement.

There was originally 70 m of garden between the hotel and the cliff edge. At 6 am on the 4 June a guest saw that 55 m of the garden had disappeared. The hotel was evacuated and the landslide continued to develop, culminating in the collapse of the east wing of the hotel by the evening of 5 June.

The landslide is a rotational landslide degrading to a mud/debris flow which covered the rocks on the beach (platform).


The cliff consists of Glacial Till (sandy, silty clay) resting on a low cliff of the Middle Jurassic Scalby Formation. The Scalby Formation comprises Scalby Mudstone and Moor Grit (sandstone).


The landslide is National Landslide Database ID 10741/1. Here are a selection of photographs of the landslide:


Forster, A. 1993. Scarborough Landslip. Geoscientist Vol. 3. No.5. pp 2-3 and cover photograph.

Forster, A, and Culshaw, M. 2004. Feature: Implications of climate change for hazardous ground conditions in the UK, Geology Today, v.20 issue 2, pp. 61–66

Lee, E M. 1999. Coastal planning and management: the impact of the 1993 Holbeck Hall landslide, Scarborough : East Midlands Geographer Vol 21 pt 2 1998 & v.22 pt1, p78–91

Contact the Landslide Response Team

British Geological Survey
NG12 5GG

E-mail:Landslides team
Telephone: 0115 936 3143
Fax: 0115 936 3276

The Holbeck Hall Hotel was a clifftop hotel in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England, owned by English Rose Hotels. It was built in 1879 by George Alderson Smith as a private residence, and was later converted to a hotel.[1] On 3 June 1993, a rotational slip occurred beneath the hotel. The severity level increased, and finally on 5 June 1993, after a day of heavy rain, parts of the building dramatically fell into the sea, making news around the world. The remainder of the building had to be demolished for safety reasons.

Notably, the hotel's chimney stack collapsed into the sea live on television just as Yorkshire TV's Calendar regional news programme went on air covering the building's precarious condition. Richard Whiteley was presenting the item at the time of the collapse. [2]

Although it was on a clifftop, an information board at the top of the cliff states that the incident was nothing to do with the sea, blaming it on soil creep. This is a common problem in Scarborough, and also one that extends all the way along the coast between Filey and Whitby, as many landslips have occurred and several paths and pavements are clearly starting to slip down the hill.[3][4] Before the cliff collapsed, there had been some very heavy rainfall, resulting in the muddy cliff turning into sludge. This flowed downhill – quite rapidly for a muddy bank – and ultimately took the hotel with it. In total 27,000m³ of mud fell into the sea, and protruded 100 metres further into the sea than the original coastline.

In 1997, it became the subject of a significant court case in English civil law (Holbeck Hall Hotel Ltd v Scarborough BC[5]) when the owners of the hotel attempted to sue Scarborough Borough Council for damages, alleging that as owners of the shoreline they had not taken any practical measures at all to prevent the landslip – from soft, to hard engineering, nothing was done. The claim was rejected on the grounds that the Council was not liable for the causes of the slip itself due to the fact it was not reasonably foreseeable. Reasonable foreseeability is a requirement for liability in English and Welsh tort law.[6] The case is important for students of geography, geotechnical engineering, engineering geology, and law.


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