07/12/2012 08:57 GMT

Denehole Chalk Mine Forces Family Out Of Essex Home

A family has been forced to evacuate their home after a 30ft crater opened up outside their front door.

The Coldham family first noticed a small hole on the drive of their Essex home on Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported.


The crater opened up beneath the house

By Thursday their entire drive had caved in, affecting their gas and electricity and prompting fears that the cottage could collapse, according to the BBC.

The crater in Grays is an old denehole, an ancient underground chalk mine. It was common practice to spread chalk on the fields up until the 19th century, and the caves date as far back as the Roman times. These underground chambers can also be found throughout Kent and have been used as hiding holes for smugglers throughout history.

garden collapse

Water has now appeared in the hole

Mother of three Leah Coldham told the Essex Echo: “We’re worried about the house going down there. We’ve been advised not to stay in the house in case. It’s very close to the road. It only takes a couple of light lorries to come along here and the road could collapse.”

Thurrock Council has already closed off one lane outside their home while engineers have begun work to ensure that gas pipes and electricity supplies are made safe, the BBC reported.

The family have lived in the property for nine years and had the house surveyed when they bought it, although no denehole was spotted.

Thurrock Council said they are taking all necessary precautions.

Deneholes have caused problems in the area before, with the National Grid called in to repair a gas leak after a similar one in Marlborough Close in October.

Another Denehole crater appeared in Dene Holm Road in Northfleet in 2011 and a ten-foot hole appeared in a house in nearby Lodge Lane in April 2010 which was thought to have been caused by chalk erosion.