Richard Oliff: The hole truth about subsidence

A hole lot of trouble
A hole lot of trouble

In the early 1990s I noticed that a hole had appeared outside the house in which I was living at the time.

At first it didn’t seem more that the average small pavement pothole which appeared with such annoying regularity, but on closer inspection it became clear that I was looking at something a little more sinister.

I could actually get my hand inside the hole without feeling any bottom, which confirmed my suspicions though I had no idea at that stage just how considerable a problem was staring me in the face.

I called Corby Council to let them know – after all, this could be very dangerous for any child on a pushbike or anyone less steady on their feet.

After a couple of days, and following a council engineering inspection, I was told that my hole was indeed a very serious problem.

In a nutshell, they’d discovered a massive “crater” akin to a sink-hole, half of which was under the pavement and the other half directly under the corner of my house, all of which was hidden by the thinnest layers of Tarmac and the like. Allow me to introduce you to the perceived nightmare that is subsidence.

It was all caused by a combination of dry summers, particularly wet winters, a high concentration of clay soil and a drop in the water table.

It was an awesome and expensive problem to correct, yet with the right insurance cover, masses of shoring and a brilliant engineering team all was put right in a matter of several weeks.

Indeed, one of the engineers assured me that an underpinned home can be more stable than it had originally been, though I’ve never been entirely convinced.

A couple of years later the large house opposite suffered a similar fate on a much larger scale. It taught me that nothing can be taken for granted, especially the movement of the earth on which all our homes sit.