As for quirky stories, the Sinkhole saga on a street in a Lincolnshire town proves an enduring and enticing mystery. A two-foot hole first appeared on Boston Road South, Holbeach in April 2019 – and work to fix the problem is ongoing to this day.
Much of the road has been closed to through traffic for the past three years due to repeated exploration and repairs. The road has been filled and backfilled several times, but the problem persists. An underground river, shifting sands, and heavy traffic are among the various theories behind the problem.
Lincolnshire County Council’s Heritage Explorer website has a fascinating entry on 1968 excavations at Market Hill in Holbeach which uncovered the remains of what is believed to be a medieval bridge. The website states: “The bridge would have crossed the former River Holbeach, which flowed roughly north-south through the town at this point.
Read more: Holbeach Road closed ‘until further notice’ as sinkhole reopens
“The City Tunnel was the name given to the 19th-century engineering works that restricted the former river and routed it underground through the city center. The 1968 excavation and repair work was prompted after an inspection visit conducted earlier in the year uncovered several structural problems inside the tunnel, raising concerns about a possible collapse in the Market Hill area.
“A photo taken during the first inspection may show the remains of the former medieval bridge that was built into the tunnel. The photo shows the underside of an arch made of stone blocks, behind which the masonry sewage system continues. If this is the former bridge, then its dimensions may have been approximately 8.5 feet wide and 7.5 feet high.
A mural in the town center that includes a tribute to the Holbeach man Geoff Capes, a former strongman and shot putter, also indicates that the Holbeach River flows underground. Leo Wheatland, 59, of Boston Road South, a father of three who works in shipping at a local flower factory, said: “There has been a lot of talk about there being a river underground that runs through the whole city.
“Some people say the problems in our street are due to movement in the mud and loam. The old boys here say the sewers run the length of the street and they seem to blame the traffic. Years ago there weren’t all these trucks and tractors. The hole that appeared in 2019 was about two feet in diameter, but it was difficult to see how deep it was because it was too dark.”
His wife Rachel, 50, a housekeeper at Holbeach Hospital, said: “The sinkhole was repaired and the road resurfaced, then the refurbished bit would sink again within days of the repair. The road has been dug and resurfaced many times, but we’re not entirely sure what the problem is.”
Mr Wheatland says the inconvenience was minimal and residents will only have to follow traffic diversions. He said: “Because of the lockdown and the road closure, we’ve experienced a quieter road. But post lockdown many cats have been put down because they are not used to it being busy again.”
Marie Waites, 54, who also lives on the street, said it was nice to have a quiet street. She said: “It was quite a busy road. Traffic would start at 5 a.m. when factory workers went to work. We’d love to see the road finally repaired, but it would be good if no trucks drove by. I think that’s a lot to do with what happened.”
Anglian Water engineers are lining a sewer pipe on Boston Road South, hopefully future-proofing it against collapse. Autobahns will then repair the road. A spokesman for Anglian Water said: “Our engineers are currently lining the sewer at Boston Road South in Holbeach after recent camera surveys showed the sewer is in good condition.
“Although the sewer is currently in good condition, this work will increase the resilience of the sewer. We have scheduled this work to coincide with the motorway closure to minimize disruption to our customers and other road users and we expect our relining to be completed by early next week [commencing June 20].”
A council spokesman said the problem stems from sandy material deep beneath the road that has shifted. He said: “As far as I know there is a lot of sandy material underground under the road – quite far down – that has been displaced and ultimately led to the closure. The area is pretty unique in that it actually suffers from drought damage, which is a key factor in soil instability.
(Image: Rachel Wheatland)
On the underground flow theory, he added: “I’m not sure if the river flowing through the city was a cause of the shifting of the soil material. Regarding our response to the sinkhole, we acted quickly to close the road. ”