Charles Batty (1813-1873)

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.

Charles Batty[1] was the fulling miller at Bilberry Mill and was also employed as the drawer of Bilberry Reservoir.


He was born in the Township of Cartworth, likely in December 1813.

Me married Mary and the couple had six known children:

  • Emor Brook Batty (c.1838-?)
  • Eliza Batty (c.1841-?)
  • Emma Batty (c.1842-?)
  • Ellen Batty (c.1844-?)
  • George Henry Batty (c.1847-?)
  • Charles Batty (c.1850-?)

Circa 1846 he became the drawer of Bilberry Reservoir on a salary for £5 per year, with responsibility for managing the outlet flow of the reservoir to supply the downstream mills, taking over from Jonathan Woodcock of Hoobram Bottom.

Charles Batty died on 24 May 1873 at Lamma Wells, Holmfirth.[2]

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

On Wednesday 4 February, concerns were increasing that the continual heavy rainfall would lead to the Bilberry Reservoir overflowing its sunken embankment. Batty ensured his family moved from their cottage adjoining Bilberry Mill to stay with relatives at Brownhill.[3] He also moved his furniture out of the cottage and placed it the valley side[4] — unfortunately it was still in the path of the floodwater when the embankment failed in the early hours of 5 February:[5]

The property over which the torrent first rushed was Bilberry Mill, a woollen manufactory, as we have indicated, worked by the executors of Messrs. Broadley and Whiteley. It was a stone building of three stories, and about 20 yards in length, with a cottage next its river gable, occupied by Charles Batty, the fuller. The greater portion of the mill, with its heavy iron machinery, and the entire cottage, were swept away, and the property was utterly wrecked in a few moments. Batty had been so impressed with the conviction that a fearful catastrophe was impending, that he had sent his wife and family away from the house, and had even removed his furniture, but he saw the latter washed away from the spot upon which he had removed it for safety. The cottage occupied by the engineer, Joseph Charlesworth, at the other end of the mill, has escaped. The damage at this mill is estimated at £1000. Some idea of the force of the torrent may be gathered from the fact, that for a considerable distance on the valley side of this mill the ground, has been covered eight or nine feet deep with stones, earth, and rubbish, principally the remains of the embankment. This debris blocked up the ground fully as high as the second floor of the manufactory, the front wall of which was washed away. Charles Batty informed us, when we visited the spot on Monday last, that there was a stone bridge either destroyed by the flood, or covered with the stones and other wreck, just in front of the house. He said that the water in the reservoir, between eight o’clock on Wednesday morning and five o'clock in the afternoon, rose 13 or 14 feet, and continued to rise till the terrific burst of the embankment and the instant liberation of this mountain lake took place. The rain continued to fall until between 11 and 12 o'clock at night. At the time of the great catastrophe, the moon shone out, the rain had ceased, but there was a piercing, shrieking wind, that appeared to herald the leviathan of destruction as it bounded forth on its mad career, forming in its destructive progress "a very hell of waters."

The Holmfirth Flood (1910) gave further details:

In a cottage adjoining lived Charles Battye, the miller, who also had the charge of the shuttles of the reservoir. He was so impressed with the conviction that a fearful catastrophe was impending, that he had sent his wife and family away from the house, and had even removed his furniture, as he thought, to a place of safety. At the time the embankment gave way he was in the house, and had a narrow escape with his life. He rushed out, and saw his furniture washed away from the spot upon which he had removed it for safety.


Mr. Battye had got in his house a fortnight’s groceries from Mr. John Hoyle’s, of Upperbridge, and he and the apprentice James Brook emptied the meal and flour into two barrels. They were on Lumb Bank when they saw that the flood was inevitable. Battye said to the youth : “We may as well go down and take the corn out of the house.” Battye helped to place one barrel on to the back of the youth Brook and was bringing the other barrel himself. Mr. Brook said he had not proceeded far with his load when he felt the flow of water about his body. Instantly he dropped his load and ran for his life. Battye said; “Thou should not have thrown it down.” Barely were the words spoken before Battye had to release his hold of his load and make good his escape.

Batty's testimony at the inquest was published in Sorrow on the Land: An Account of the Inundation Occasioned by the Bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir (1852):

I am a cloth miller, of Bilberry Mill. That is the next mill to the reservoir. I have lived there six years since last October. I have been the drawer of the Bilberry reservoir for six years. The gentlemen from whom I received my appointment were Mr. George Hirst and Mr. John Roebuck. Mr. J. Roebuck gave me the key. My salary was £5 per year. My duty was to supply the water for the mills below. I was appointed to draw water for Bilberry Mill. I was to draw water to fit our mill, whether we had work or not, and for the supply of other mills as well. I had directions from Mr. Hirst to keep the water at a height of thirty-five or thirty-seven feet in the reservoir, and not to exceed forty feet if I could help it. He assigned as the reason, that it was not safe above that height. We had no marks specifying the height. I ascertained when it was thirty-seven feet, from a place in the waste-pit called a square, which was generally considered forty feet high. Some people estimate that at forty-four feet. I have generally drawn the shuttle at that height, but sometimes the water rose higher. I never saw the water come over the embankment before the 4th of February instant. I received my orders and directions from Mr. George Hirst and Mr. John Roebuck during Mr. Hirst’s life ; but since Mr. Hirst’s death I received them from Mr. Roebuck, and from no other person. I had no instructions to look to the repair of the reservoir, and my duty was simply to draw the water. We had a good deal of rain on the Saturday preceding the 4th, and some days previously. On the Saturday afternoon preceding the accident the water was thirty-six feet high. It was under the square referred to. The shuttle was partly drawn on that day. The proper quantity of water did not flow through the shuttle ; and I drew it up to the height on Saturday, and it remained drawn up to Sunday morning. On Sunday morning the water had risen to forty-four feet. It was four courses above the square ; and we reckoned the courses at one foot each course. On Sunday morning Mr. John Roebuck was at our house, and I told him that there was not the quantity of water coming out of the shuttle that there used to do. We then went to the reservoir, and we found that the full quantity of water was not coming through. We had two shuttles, but one was not in working order. That shuttle, however, was up. We tried to move it, but could not ; and Mr. Roebuck measured it, and ascertained that it was up. The screw part had been taken off. We then tried the front shuttle. It was in working order. We let it down and pulled it up to try it, after which we left it up. The next time I visited the reservoir was on Monday, about noon. The water then was better than a foot below the square. The water coming in then was not so strong as on Sunday. I did not go up again till Wednesday night, about five. The water was just at the ladder at the bottom of the valve-pit, and would be five or six feet above the square ; and we estimated the height at forty-six feet. The shuttle was still at the top. I did not take particular notice of the escape of water ; but I think it was the same as on Sunday, and was less than formerly. The first time that I had noticed that the escape was less than formerly was on the Saturday. I think there was more than half the usual quantity coming through the shuttle at that time. There was on the embankment, besides myself, Charles Batty, of Bottoms Mill, and Joseph Broadhead Whitely, of Green Owlers. It was raining very heavily at that time, and the water was coming very strong. Mr. Roebuck came up afterwards, and I saw him at my house, and told him the stream was coming in very strong, and that the escape from the shuttle was only about half what it ought to be. Mr. Roebuck said he thought the reservoir would burst if it continued raining, and he ordered me to remove my family. This was betwixt five and six o’clock, and I did remove them. I saw Mr. Roebuck again on the reservoir-bank about nine o’clock. I can’t exactly speak to the height of the water, as it was getting dark, but it had risen three or four feet. The water was a good bit off running over then. I should say from the valve-pit it would be fifty feet high at the time : it would be at least ten feet above the square. I did not remain long upon the embankment then, but returned again soon after nine o’clock, and found the water about three feet perpendicular from the surface of the embankment. I was there several times again that night, but 1 don’t know exactly what were the hours. I left Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Whitely, and several other persons there. I was there about half-past eleven. Joseph Whitely was there, but I did not see Mr. Roebuck. The water was then running over, but not in a great quantity. I believe it had been running over some time. To the best of my knowledge, the embankment burst about half-past twelve o’clock. I was in my own house at that time, but my family had been removed. It was with great difficulty that I escaped. Before it burst, I saw Joshua Charlesworth, engineer of Bilberry Mill, and he said he would go up and see how it was going on. He was the first who alarmed me. I heard some one whistle, but I did not know what it meant. It would be a quarter of an hour after he went up that he came down and alarmed me. There was not a great noise, but a tremendous rush of water. The regular stream was rather stronger for a few minutes, and then it came all abreast in one mass. I gave no warning to any one but Mrs. Hirst.

Notes and References

  1. His surname is sometimes given as "Battye" in articles.
  2. "Deaths" in Huddersfield Chronicle (31/May/1873).
  3. "Awful Calamity at Holmfirth" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (07/Feb/1852).
  4. "Frightful Occurrence at Holmfirth" in The Observer (09/Feb/1852).
  5. "Bilberry Mill" in Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852).