Berrow's Worcester Journal (12/Feb/1852) - Terrible Catastrophe And Great Loss Of Life At Holmfirth

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The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


The heavy rains have produced a moat alarming destruction of life and property in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire. One truly awful calamity has occurred, in which 100 or more human beings have lost their lives. A large reservoir of water, containing many thousand gallons, known as the Bribery Reservoir, situate on a high piece of moorland, above the valley of the river Holme, a few miles from Huddersfield, became overcharged, and burst about one o’clock on Thursday morning, the flood carrying destruction and death in its course. The noise made by the bursting of the bounds of the reservoir was very loud, and the roar of the water in its destructive career down the sides of the bills and through the valley was tremendous. The reservoir was used for supplying several of the large wooden mills, and also, some of the household dwellings in the neighbourhood with water; and in the valley were some extensive woollen manufactories and the cottages of many of the workpeople. In its mad career the water inundated one of these manufactories and upwards of twenty dwellings, overwhelming, as it were, by one fell swoop, not only the buildings, but the inhabitants, nearly all or whom were asleep in their beds, in one fearful doom. No words can picture the grief, distress, and misery which have thrown their gloom over this unfortunate district in consequence of this shocking calamity. To say that 100 lives have been lost, fearful as the announcement is, expresses but very inadequately the nature of this awful occurrence. The living are in many instances plunged into the deepest distress and suffering ; families who bad the blessings of wealth and affluence are all but penny less. There is reason to believe that one family who had property worth nearly £30.000 are left only with the clothes they stand in — mills, dwelling, houses, stables, barns, horses, cattle, everything has been swept away. The working classes have distress threatening them through the want of employment, for by the bursting of the reservoir the course of the river is choked up and diverted in several places, the mills have been stopped for a considerable way down the valleys, and it is estimated that it will require a period of four months to place the supply of water on a footing to enable them to resume work — if indeed, it can be done at all, for no one ventures to say who can or who will be the parties to remedy the difficulty. The amount of damage it is believed will not be less than £600,000.

There are three great reservoirs in the bills three miles above Holmfirth, managed by a body called the Holme Conservancy Commissioners. They are formed by dams across narrow gorges, which convert the valleys into lakes. The embankment of the Bilbery reservoir, which is 160 yards long and 90 feet high, has been lately in a doubtful condition, from the pressure of the enormous column of water which has been accumulated during the rains of the last mooch. The Bilbery mill, a massive stone building, near the reservoir — the residence of Mr. John Furness, a quarter of a mile down — the Diglee mills, half a mile down — Mrs. Hirst’s residence — are gone; Mrs. Hirst and her family escaping by a hairbreadth. A row of cottages are gone, and with them at least ten poor people, their inhabitants. At the entrance to Holmfirth, two miles and and a half down, the dye-works and spinning-works of Messrs. Farrar are swept away ; an enormous steam-boiler being borne far down the torrent. Fourteen cottages were here overthrown, and several sleeping inmates drowned. In the very centre of Holmfirth, the Elephant and Castle Inn is swamped, and its furniture wrecked or carried away. The walls of the bridge are clean gone. The Hollow Gate Street is choked with furniture and property ; and so on with multitudinous details of destruction and death impossible to particularize. The Bilbery reservoir dam was built in 1840, by Messrs. Sharp and Sons. The foundation has always been suspected : one of the men who has perished sent his family away only a few days before the catastrophe, and was among some who watched the bank during the night. In addition, there existed a quarrel, through which the safety-machinery had got out of working order.