Flood Oak, Digley

The Flood Oak was the name given to an old oak tree situated below Bilberry Reservoir at Digley which survived the devastating flood of 5 February 1852.

Within a few weeks of the flood, renowned geologist Joseph Prestwich[1] conducted a survey of the area which was published as "On Some of the Effects of the Holmfirth Flood" in the the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (April 1852). Within his report, he briefly mentions the tree:

Although the greater part of this portion of the valley is covered with debris, there are places where its surface has been torn up to the depth of from 4 to 5 feet. This also occasionally occurs in other places lower down the valley, but generally the centre of the valley has been covered with debris, which the denudation of the banks in the narrower passes has furnished. In the middle of the open part of the valley, above Upper Digley Mill, an old oak-tree still stands, notwithstanding the many hard blows it received, and of which the marks remain on the bark. In fact, all down the valley, trees, chiefly ash, have stood, where buildings have given way. It is also to be observed that, although many have been uprooted, few have been broken down. These results probably are due to the branches having been in most cases above the reach of the flood, and to the absence of foliage.

A story became attached to the oak that a man had survived the flood by climbing to the top of the tree. However, this is almost certainly apocryphal and was possibly invented for dramatic effect by one of the locals who took visiting sightseers on tours of the area.[2] However, as noted in Prestwich's report, the lack of lower branches, coupled with the fact that the trunk would have been slippery due to the prolonged heavy rain, make it seem unlikely anyone would have been able to climb the tree, and there are no references to such an escape in contemporary newspaper reports.[3]

The tree reportedly survived until the valley was flooded to form the Digley Reservoir in the 1950s.

Whilst the tree's exact location remains uncertain, analysis of surviving photographs places it in the vicinity of O.S. grid reference SE 106 070 on the northern edge of Further End Wood.

The 1893 O.S. map shows a solitary tree next to the road at this location, which matches the available photographs:

Flood Oak 1893 OS map.png


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Notes and References

  1. Wikipedia: Joseph Prestwich
  2. According to contemporary newspaper reports, one local tour guide named Joel claimed that a mill chimney which survived the flood was moved from its original location: "you perhaps won’t believe it, but it is as true as I am here — that chimney was swum away six yards from the spot where it used to stand, and was planted in the place where you now see it." (Huddersfield & Holmfirth Examiner 3 April 1852).
  3. The story also ignores how unlikely it would be for the man to climb what was apparently the only tree in Further End Wood that was not uprooted by the flood.