Elizabeth Healey (1843-1852)

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.

Elizabeth "Betty" Healey[1] was a victim of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


She was born in Honley[2], the daughter of Thomas Healey[3] and his wife Priscilla (née Baldwin), and was also known as Betty. She had three older sisters and three younger brothers.

No baptismal record was found for Elizabeth during research, despite the fact that her nearest adjacent siblings were both baptised at St. Mary, Honley.

Thomas was illiterate and the spelling of the family's surname amongst his children is recorded as both Healey and Heeley.

At the time of the 1851 Census, the family was living at Smithy Place, Honley, where Thomas worked as stone delver.


In the early hours of Thursday 5 February 1852, the embankment of the Bilberry Reservoir failed, causing a deadly torrent of water to pour down the Holme Valley. Although much of the power of the flood had been dissipated in the valley between Holmfirth and Brockholes, the narrowing of the land towards Smithy Place meant that flood waters once again gained power and height — contemporary reports suggest height of the flood was around 15 feet (5 metres) above the normal height of the river.

In The Holmfirth Flood (1910), it was reported the heavy rains that had fallen in the days before the flood had caused the river to rise at Smithy Place, stopping the waterwheel at Smithy Place Mills from working. This had caused locals to be more concerned about the rumours that the Bilberry Reservoir might overflow than had perhaps been the case in Holmfirth, and the alarm was raised in time to save the families who lived in the low houses by the bridge.

According to Honley historian Mary Jagger, Elizabeth "was washed out of the cottage near the bridge which was in the track of the flood".[4] The Minter's provided the following description in On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996):

When the flood reached Smithy Place, a hamlet two miles north east of Holmfirth, it had one more life to claim. Elizabeth Healy, aged eight, lived with her parents and three siblings in a cottage near to the river. Shortly before the flood arrived a warning reached Smithy Place and Mr. & Mrs. Healy hastily carried three of their children to the safety of higher ground. Unfortunately, before Mr. Healy could return for Elizabeth the flood hit the house and the little girl was swept away. The height of the water at Smithy Place was described as ‘fearful’ and there is no doubt that the loss of life would have been much greater had the alarm not been given and heeded.

However, a contemporary newspaper report stated that Thomas "was endeavouring to save his family, four in number, and was battling with the stream with a child under each arm" when a "floating substance struck one from his grasp and it was hurried away with the torrent".[5]

Elizabeth's body was found and taken to the Jacob's Well Inn at Honley. She was buried at St. Mary, Honley, on Sunday 8 February.

By the mid-1860s, the Healey family had moved to Wyke, near Bradford, where Thomas worked as a coal miner at Crowd Hill Pit. Sadly, two of their children — Caroline and Richard Henry — died within days of each other in March 1865 and were buried at St. Mary, Wyke.

Notes and References

  1. The family surname is sometimes recorded as "Heeley".
  2. Birth registered in the 4th quarter of 1843.
  3. The surname is also recorded as Haley, Heeley, Healy and Heely.
  4. The History of Honley and its Hamlets from the Earliest Time to the Present (1914) by Mary A. Jagger, page 65.
  5. "Awful Catastrophe and Fearful Loss of Life at Holmfirth" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Feb/1852).