St Albans sinkhole first anniversary: Evacuated couple become media stars

Derek and Rosemary Broom near the sinkhole in St Albans

Derek and Rosemary Broom near the sinkhole in St Albans - Credit: Debbie White/ Archant

Lively retirees Derek and Rosemary Broom have lovingly created something of an oasis in their back garden, which doubles as a haven for birds, hedgehogs and the odd cheeky fox.

Derek and Rosemary Broom near the sinkhole in St Albans

Derek and Rosemary Broom near the sinkhole in St Albans - Credit: Debbie White/ Archant

In front of their immaculate house, however, it is a different story, with lurid orange barriers, ugly metal railing, tall blue boarding, and piles of rubble.

For the past year, the friendly couple have had their routine turned upside down as they have adjusted to life with St Albans’ famous sinkhole within view of their front door.

However, the keen gardeners have shrugged off the inconvenience of living in a cordoned off road for 12 months, because when they are not busy tending to their beautiful garden, or line-dancing (Derek), they will more often be seen or heard discussing the 12-metre-wide cavity in Fontmell Close in the media.

The Brooms have unwittingly become the ‘faces’ of the sinkhole, sharing their experience on radio and television, including The One Show on the BBC, a recent episode of ITV’s Garden Nightmares, and in the national press.

Last Friday (23) the pair spoke with the Herts Advertiser, ahead of this Saturday’s first anniversary of the sinkhole which appeared in Fontmell Close on October 1, 2015.

Rosemary recalled: “I was in bed and Derek was watching a programme, when I heard an almighty crash, whoosh and thud. I though Derek had fallen down the stairs, so I asked what he had done.”

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Derek was fine. Outside, though, it was a different matter as by about 1.30am, 30 people had gathered in the road near a huge, gaping hole.

He said: “I could see people with torches, going up and down the road. I thought it was the police looking for something suspicious.”

A short time later, a bang on the door alerted them to the emergency situation, and the fact that they would need to prepare for evacuation.

Rosemary said she sprung into action: “I was running around, collecting passports, personal things and jewellery, in case the house collapsed.”

Derek said: “I went back to bed!”

Rosemary went on: “I was up all night, watching – I was worried.”

Additional lighting was brought onto the scene, and she could see utility services gathered near the sinkhole, but the couple did not realise how deep it was until they saw aerial images on TV.

Rosemary said: “Everyone was marooned. There was one family due to move out of their house on October 14, and they didn’t know if the sale would be completed.”

Derek added: “There were drones flying over the hole, media helicopters, reporters – there were so many, but the intrusion wasn’t that bad. We were more concerned about how safe our house was. The water was off, and all the other services.”

They initially evacuated to Batchwood, and then stayed at the Quality Hotel in London Road for seven weeks, with daily trips back home to collect clean clothes via a temporary access route created across a nearby field in Bernards Heath.

Derek and Rosemary praised security staff engaged to protect the empty homes in the early weeks after the sinkhole appeared, along with the district and county councils for “being fantastic” in the aftermath.

Asked whether they now felt safe, the Brooms laughed and replied: “There is probably nowhere else in the county which has been surveyed and re-surveyed as much, so we are living in the safest piece of land in Herts.”

Derek added: “I was in the Royal Navy, so it doesn’t disturb me; worse things happen at sea.”

They said it will be “lovely to be back to normality” once the full restoration of utility services, and remedial work to the road have been completed.