Eliza Matthews (1839-1852)

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.

Eliza Matthews was one of the victims of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


She was born on 20 June 1839, the daughter of daughter of weaver David Matthews and his wife Ann (née Roebuck), and was baptised on 28 August 1842 at St. Augustine's Church, Scissett.

Eliza's parents were married on 14 July 1825 at Kirkheaton and she likely had seven older sillings: Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, George, John and Jane.

The circumstances of Eliza's infancy are uncertain, but it appears that she was raised by her maternal aunt Lydia and her husband Samuel Greenwood. In The Flood Came and Took Them All Away (1852), it was stated that David Matthews had been confined to asylum.[1] It is believed that he was committed to West Riding Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum circa 1840 and remained there until the 1860s, so Ann may have felt unable to raise another child on her own.

By 1851, the Greenwoods were the toll keepers at Hollowgate toll gate in Holmfirth and 11-year-old Eliza was their servant.


Samuel, Lydia and Eliza were killed in the early hours of 5 February 1852 by the Holmfirth Flood.

On the night of the flood, it was reported that Samuel was seen at the door of the toll house with a candle. He then returned inside, presumably to warn Lydia and Eliza, but the property was washed away within moments:[2]

The Hollow-gate is a long narrow street, which runs parallel with the river. The inhabitants of this locality suffered severely. The bed of the river was completely choked up, and the current diverted from its usual course. On the side next the river stood the toll-bar house, kept by Samuel Greenwood, who, with his wife and child, were swept away. He was seen to come out of the house with a lighted candle in his hand : he returned, closed the door, and in a moment or two not a vestige of the house could be seen.

Eliza's body was found by James Bailey of Holmfirth at "about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning of the flood, underneath the window of James Lee's house" at Rotcher Bottom and was first taken to the Shoulder of Mutton before being transferred to the Elephant and Castle inn. Bailey initially identified the body and the identification was confirmed by Eliza's uncle, Benjamin Roebuck of Shepley.

Samuel and Lydia were both members of the Ancient Order of Shepherds who paid a total of £16 towards their burial costs.[3] Eliza Matthews was buried at All Hallows, Kirkburton, on Sunday 8 February 1852. Lydia Midgley was buried there on Tuesday 10 February, with Samuel Midgley being buried with her on the following day.

Their gravestone reads:[4]

In Memory of
Henry Mark Midgley the son of
Samuel & Lydia of Shepley
who died Jany 19th 1831 aged 1 year
and 8 months
Also of eight of their children who
died in their infancy
Also of Martha Ann their daughter
who died Aug 13th 1839
aged 1 week
Also of the above named Samuel
Midgley who departed this life
February 5th 1852 aged 47 years
Also of Lydia wife of the above
Samuel Midgley who departed this
life Feby 5th 1852 aged 46 years
Also Eliza Matthews their
niece who departed this life Feby
5th 1852 aged 12 years
All three of whom were drowned by the
bursting of Holme Reservoir Feby 5th 1852


On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) by Gordon and Enid Minter:

Nearest to the bridge was the Hollowgate toll bar house where lived Samuel Greenwood, gatekeeper, his wife, Lydia, and their twelve year old niece and servant, Eliza Matthews. Only a few hours before the disaster Greenwood was visited by his brother who warned him of the perilous state of the reservoir and advised him to move to a safer place. Unfortunately, Greenwood, probably because of his duties as gatekeeper, decided to remain at his post. Later, as the flood began to roll down Hollowgate he was seen to come outside holding a lighted candle. After a brief look around he returned and as he closed the door the water crashed over the house which immediately disintegrated. The body of Eliza Matthews was found at Rotcher Bottom about two hours after the water subsided but because of the accumulated debris in the area her aunt and uncle were not discovered until Saturday and Tuesday respectively, the former in the cellar of a house in Hollowgate, the latter behind a washing machine in Holmfirth Mill.

Notes and References

  1. Benjamin Roebuck stated "the father of the girl was at present in an asylum": "Adjourned Inquest: Friday" in Halifax Guardian (14/Feb/1852).
  2. The History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton and of the Graveship of Holme (1861) by Henry James Morehouse.
  3. "Relief Afforded for the Interment the Dead by Benefit Clubs" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).
  4. Inscription kindly provided by Robert Carter.