St Albans sinkhole: Local residents recall ‘big rubbish tip’ decades ago

St Albans sinkhole: 1897 Ordnance Survey map shows the old claypits

St Albans sinkhole: 1897 Ordnance Survey map shows the old claypits - Credit: supplied

Memories of playing near landfill sites and former clay pits in their younger years have come flooding back for St Albans locals who can recall such features in Bernards Heath prior to part of it being turned over to housing.

Agnes Hill, a former district councillor, told the Herts Advertiser that next door to her aunt’s home at 59 Sandridge Road - opposite what is now Fontmell Close - at the bottom of a neighbouring garden in the 1940s was “a great dell, which was used as a landfill site. It was huge.

“I remember rubbish being tipped into it for a long time. There were very few cars back then, and it was very rural.

“It was later reclaimed and houses were built there [decades later]. I was staggered at the time.”

Mick North, whose parents owned a fish and chip shop on Sandridge Road, opposite the heath, is adamant the sinkhole is in the same location as a former landfill site where he played nearby as a youngster.

The 65 year old said: “There was a hole at the end of one of my friend’s garden and there was more than one pit in the area. I can remember him meeting lorries which filled the holes with rubbish. They were from the old brick works.

“I think it may be where the sinkhole is: just from memory that would have the length of the landfill, about 20 metres wide. This would have been over 50 years ago.

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“There was definitely a big tip in his garden that was being filled with rubbish, such as building material and old bikes.

“And there were two other holes near it. When I heard about the sinkhole, I thought, well, it is long overdue. I cannot believe they built that road on that ground because it was so full of holes.”

Mick said he was aware there had been issues with the foundations of some premises about 20 years ago, as deeper pilings had to be installed for greater stability.

Meanwhile, resident genealogist Chris Reynolds, of St Albans, has criticised the planning authority at the time, the county council, for allowing the construction of homes in the vicinity.

In his blog entitled “Forgotten St Albans Brick Pit Rediscovered”, published on the Hertfordshire Genealogy News website, he asks: “What do you expect when a council allows houses to be built on a former brickpit, clearly marked on old maps, which almost certainly contained 100 year old unconsolidated town refuse?”

Chris added that while giving a talk on the historic brick works about 15 years ago, someone living in Fontmell Close quizzed him about subsidence “because water off the roof was washing a hole under the corner of [their] house.”

He said a quarried area clearly shown on the 1897 Ordnance Survey map was later filled in, “probably by my grandfather, who in addition to being the town vet was a ‘job master’ who for a few years before the First World War had the contract for the rubbish collection for all of St Albans, and the rubbish was used to fill the open brick pits on Bernards Heath.”

Taken by horse and cart, “it almost certainly would not have been significantly compacted.”