Soak away, 1930s, clay, concrete… should I buy some koi and a canoe?

13 Dec 2021
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United Kingdom

Appreciate that there are a few similar posts on here already however a lot don’t conclude, aren’t quite the same scenario, or just don’t give me the info I need so here I go!

A couple or 3 years ago I bought a 1930s house, which I’ve come to regret a little but I’m stuck here now so must crack on.

Today’s headache is that when it rains, the drive floods. When it rains a lot, you need waders to get to the car.

The drive is gravel on top of, from what I can tell, a menagerie of different attempts to lay concrete. I haven’t fully investigated there yet, but it’s hard and it ain’t flat.

Last year, I tackled what I thought was the cause of the flood, a failing bit of gutter and downpipe. As soon as I replaced that, it rained, and it revealed what was very clearly the issue where the rainwater went down the new gutter and then overflowed where the gutter meets the shoe in the ground, with the water flowing down a little concrete path back onto the drive.

So I bought a drain snake, which didn’t pull anything up, and so that went into the garage.

Then I bought some rods, which I got 3 meters down and would go no further. I hit something firm, felt like a tight corner that the rods couldn’t navigate, so I packed the rods away in the garage and got my phone out and googled.

The next time I had a chance to tackle it, I started to dig looking for what I was hitting 3 meters away, but this was interrupted by some other house problem or my challenging children or a bbq or a lovely frothy beer or something like that, and the spade went back in the garage.

A year on I accepted I was never going to get around to digging that hole, so I sold some of my kids best Pokémon cards to the paperboy and got a professional drain unblocker out at a hundred and something quid.

He arrived and after 30 minutes of the water meter spinning like a possessed child’s head as he tried to flush out the problem, he concluded that he could only get his gear down the same 3 meters of pipe as I could. He guessed that it was probably an exhausted soakaway and packed up his things. The cost of an hours work left my bank, he got an extra 30 mins in his lunch break, the director at the water company got a pay rise, and my puddle was topped up by the work just done.

So in the gaps over the past couple of Saturdays I got around to digging my hole after all.

What I found was…
1. The end of a new bit of pvc pipe approx. 3 meters away from the gutter / shoe
2. That pipe terminated in a plastic plant pot, that had been rodded to death - I guess this was to prevent soil travelling up the pipe
3. 2 ft square of carpet, I think as a layer of protection from soil above
4. Under the carpet…. A soak away the size of a shoe box

So, already knowing from several sources including bore hole reports that the house is built on clay, I dug a bit more. Unsurprisingly I hit clay. After digging down a foot into clay, I concluded that the bore hole reports were the most trustworthy source of information I had so far, and with the closest one saying that this is 4 meters (iirc) of clay, I should probably give up. Which I did.

So question is what next?

I know that 1930s houses had soakaways for rainwater. I can’t believe that this is the original one for 50% of what is a quite large roof. The plastic pipe, flowerpot, and frequency of finding bodges in this house leads me to think that somewhere along the line the previous owner compromised the original drainage and solved the problem with this masterpiece.

Q. Can I link the pipe to other drainage on the property?

A. I don’t think so no. It’s a detached house. This drain services half the roof. The other half, which looks like it connects to the sewerage, is right round the other side of the house and is uphill from where this problem is. There probably is some pipe that runs under the drive somewhere but I have no chance of finding it

Q. Can I install a soakaway?

A. Reading so far suggests this is futile on clay. I could maybe make a huge shallow one… but it feels like that feat of engineering would have a chance of failing to solve the problem after spending a bit of time a money, so I’m not keen. Dig deeper see if I can break through the clay?


So what are my options please? I’m about £200, 24 hours of physical effort, and 50 hours of mental effort in on this project, so far with no reward.

I’m happy to give something a go myself, I just don’t know what the options I have left are. It feels like I’m going to have to pay someone to do something, but again I’m just not sure what that is.
Sponsored Links
You can contact your local Water Authority and request a plan of the drainage and water supply pipes at your property. Search the web for "pipe & sewer records" or "water mapping" for your region. This may help you identify where the nearest available outlet is and work from there.
Does the house have doors on the side walls? If not, can you pipe it around the back, above the ground level? Assume you’ve already thought of that, but saying it anyway
No manholes anywhere out the front or anywhere else to give a clue where the line runs? It’s possible/likely the back drains run out past the front to the street
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Dig a sump, stick a sump pump and float valve in it and pump it wherever whenever it fills.

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