Benjamin Bray (c.1816-1867)

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project which aims to make content available to researchers in advance of the 175th anniversary of the 1852 Flood which will be commemorated in 2027.

Benjamin Bray was a woollen spinner who helped raise the alarm that the Bilberry Reservoir embankment was overflowing in the early hours of 5 February 1852.


He was born in the Township of Wooldale, the son of Thomas Bray.

He married Mary Charlesworth, the daughter of engineer Joseph Charlesworth, on 21 October 1839 at All Hallows, Almondbury. The couple had nine known children:

  • Hannah Bray (c.1840–?)
  • Thomas Bray (c.1841–?)[1]
  • Sarah Bray (c.1843–?)
  • Martha Ann Bray (1845–1879)
  • Emma Bray (1847–?)[2]
  • Eliza Bray (c.1850–?)
  • Joseph Bray (1851–?)[3]
  • Clara Bray (c.1855–?)
  • Dora Bray (c.1858–1925)

At the time of the 1841 Census, the family was living on Brownhill Lane. By 1851, he was working as a woollen spinner at Bank End Mill, Austonley. The family moved to Rashcliffe, Lockwood, prior to 1855.

Benjamin Bray died aged 52 and was buried on 30 November 1867 at Emmanuel Church, Lockwood. Mary Bray died aged 58 and was buried on 20 November 1877 at the same church.

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

Bray was one of a number of people who watched Bilberry Reservoir's level rise on 4 February 1852. At around 11:30pm, the water began to flow over the sunken part of the embankment and started washing away the eastern slope, weakening the structure. A flow of water also appeared at the foot of the embankment.

At some point after midnight, he set off towards Holmfirth to raise the alarm by calling out "flood!", accompanied by John Whiteley (of Nether Lane) and Joseph Whiteley. They parted at Longwalls with Bray deciding to warn people at Hinchliffe Mill whilst John Whiteley carried on towards Holmfirth.

He appeared at the inquest into the flood and made the following statements:[4]

I am in the employ of Messrs. Roebuck, and was on the embankment two or three times on the evening of the 4th February, watching the water. I was there from ten to eleven o’clock. Mr. Joe Roebuck was there, in a field on the north side. He said he thought it was time for somebody to go to Holmfirth and Hinchliffe Mill to give warning. I told him I had been at Charles Batty’s, and he had told me there were parties from Holmfirth there that afternoon, Garside and Brown. I heard Mr. Roebuck crying out often to the people on the embankment to come off. I accompanied Mr. Roebuck to Mrs. Hirst’s, and Mr. Roebuck insisted upon them coming out of their house. This would be between eleven and twelve o’clock. They did not leave while we stopped, I went back to the embankment. This was between twelve and one o’clock. Mr. Roebuck was there then. The water was running over the settlement.

I did not give the alarm by Mr. Roebuck’s orders ; but I met John Whiteley coming off the embankment, and asked him to go with me to Holmfirth and Hinchliffe Mill, to alarm them. He did so, and I called as we went down Water Street, whilst he went on to Holmfirth. We parted at Long Wall. As I went I gave the alarm. I got as far as Mrs. Marsden’s door, in Water Street. She is a person who is drowned. I then thought I had gone as far as I dare. I was then in danger of my own life. I shouted out at Marsden’s as loud as I could. When I went to Mrs. Marsden’s door the water was close behind me.

Mr. Roebuck removed his own property. He removed the pieces from Bilberry Mill. This he did at six o’clock on Wednesday. He had them taken to Bank End. Bank End is partly carried away. I am not aware that he removed any on Sunday or Monday. I believe he did not. The pieces removed on Wednesday evening were removed on account of the flood. They were removed out of the way of the water, into an upper room at the Bank End. These goods were not removed from one mill to the other in the ordinary course of business.

Notes and References

  1. Married Louisa Jane Brierley on 6 December 1871 at Huddersfield.
  2. Born 17 June 1847. Married Robert Kenworthy 26 December 1874.
  3. Born 26 October 1851. Married Sarah Elizabeth Binns on 31 March 1878.
  4. "The Holmfirth Catastrophe: Official Enquiry" in Huddersfield Chronicle (28/Feb/1852).