Hannah Pickles (1841-1897) née Hartley

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.

Hannah Hartley, also known as Ann, was a survivor of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 and one of the eleven official flood orphans.


It is believed she was born on 10 July 1841, the daughter of mill engineer Sidney Hartley and his wife Mary Ann (née Lodge).[1]

The 1851 Census listed the family residing at Mill Hill, Holmfirth, along with an apprentice woollen carder, 16-year-old Henry Dearnley of Wooldale.

In the early hours of 5 February 1852, the Bilberry Reservoir embankment failed, unleashing a torrent of water down the Holme Valley. With the flood waters rising in their property, the Hartley family attempted to escape by breaking through the roof. David Hartley recounted what happened next:[2]

When we were in bed early in the morning we heard a noise as if the slates were falling off the house. I got up and cleared away a number of slates so that I was able to get out on to the thack. I then pulled up my sister Ann beside me ; after that I managed to get John, my brother, up and also the apprentice boy. I tried long and hard to pull brother James up but had to give up the attempt or we would both have been dragged down together. While we were standing on the roof we saw many persons with their heads a little above the water struggling and crying for help. We could see into the chamber where my mother was lying but it was impossible to reach her, the water had risen so high. We saw her look towards us and heard her say farewell and then she was swept away.

Hannah's own account of the events was summarised in the Morning Post:[3]

Her mother had heard on Wednesday night that the reservoir was likely to burst, and resolved not to go to bed. She, however, put her family of eight children to bed, and sat up to await the issue, hoping to get sufficient warning to enable all to escape, if the report should prove correct. She sat up until one o’clock on Thursday morning, and then went to bed ; almost immediately after which the alarm reached her. The girl states that the water burst upon them before they could get out of the chamber ; and that when her mother found she could not escape, she held up her infant child above the water outside the window, hoping to save it, but finding the front of the house giving way, she turned and bade her family farewell, and, with the infant was immediately swept away by the foaming torrent. So also perished the father and four other children ; but this little creature, with two sisters and the apprentice boy who had also been sleeping in the house, being suddenly floated up to a part of the roof which yet remained, caught hold of the rafters and clung to them. When the flood began to abate, the apprentice, John Dearnley, got out upon the roof and assisted the three girls to do the same. Here they remained at least 20 minutes; and he afterwards carried them one by one into the portion of Holmfirth Mill which had escaped destruction where, in their night clothes, standing up to their knees in mud, they were exposed to the inclemency of the night air, and to the falling rain. Ultimately, however, they discovered a way into a room nearly full of wool, and burying themselves amongst it, they obtained the warmth they so much needed, and remained till morning.

With the exception of Ellen Ann Hartley, the family members who died in the flood were buried on Sunday 8 February at Christ Church, New Mill.

Hannah Hartley was initially looked after by "an uncle and aunt, named Ainley, at Armitage Bridge", but they requested that she be placed in “that excellent institution”, namely an orphan asylum.[4] This was Hannah's maternal aunt, Elizabeth (née Lodge) and her husband stone mason John Ainley. In 1851, they were residing at Robin Hood Hill, Berry Brow, with their infant daughter Ellin.[5]

As a flood orphan, the Central Relief Committee recommended that she be awarded 5 shillings per week until the age of sixteen, however it was suggested that part of that be paid to the orphanage — "such part of the principal of the grant recommended as may be thought be paid to such orphan institution."[6]

Aged 21, Hannah married clothier and mechanic Joseph Pickles of Dewsbury, the son of clothier John Pickles, on 9 February 1863 at Dewsbury Parish Church. The couple had at least six children:

  1. Machell Pickles (1863-1937)[7]
  2. Martha Pickles (1865-1922)[8]
  3. Charles Sidney Pickles (1869-1949)[9]
  4. Hartley Pickles (1872-1952)[10]
  5. John Pickles (c.1875-?)[11]
  6. Lily Pickles (1879-1967)[12]

In January 1872, Hannah was brought before the West Riding Police Court at Dewsbury, charged with assaulting Elizabeth Garforth of Nursery Top, Hanging Heaton. Both women worked as weavers at Greenhill Mill and Elizabeth had taken to derisively calling Hannah "Old Wreck" on account of her surviving the flood. On 16 January, Hannah snapped – she "ran after [Elizabeth], and, after making use of foul expressions, struck her with a breakfast can, having previously got her down, and beat her with her fists". The magistrates fined Hannah 20 shillings and costs or face three weeks' imprisonment. According to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Hannah replied, "I sall goa to prison"![13] The Dewsbury Chronicle also noted that she'd been given the cruel nickname "Floody".[14]

Hannah Pickles died on 24 April 1897, aged 55, in Batley, and was buried on 26 April at St. Paul, Hanging Heaton.

Notes and References

  1. Her baptismal record was not found during research.
  2. On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) by Gordon and Enid Minter, page 34.
  3. "The Holmfirth Catastrophe" in Morning Post (16/Feb/1852).
  4. "The Holmfirth Flood" in Huddersfield Chronicle (22/May/1852).
  5. By 1861, they had moved to School Lane, Berry Brow.
  6. "The Holmfirth Flood: Important Meeting, Yesterday, of the Central Committee" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Aug/1852).
  7. Worked as a miner. Married Elizabeth Brett on 23 May 1885 at All Saints, Dewsbury. Death registered in Q1 1937 at Dewsbury.
  8. Married Joseph Hall of Earlsheaton (son of Henry Hall) on 25 December 1882 at All Saints, Dewsbury. The couple had at least 6 daughters: Elizabeth, Ellen, Lilian, Hannah, Hilda and Alice. Buried 2 December 1922.
  9. Born 16 June 1869. Worked as a coal miner. Married widow Sarah Ann Cooper (née Goodlad) on 24 October 1896 at Batley Carr. Imprisoned in August 1903 for unpaid debts. Death recorded in Q2 1949 at Spen Valley.
  10. Possibly born 12 April 1872. Believed to have died 5 May 1952.
  11. Worked as a miner. Married Sarah Elizabeth Wright on 16 July 1898 at St. Paul, Hanging Heaton. Served in the Royal Defence Corps (#71207). Believed to have died during or shortly after the war.
  12. Born 14 December 1879. Married 8 April 1905 to Joseph Holdsworth at St. Paul, Hanging Heaton.
  13. "A Row Amongst Operatives: Saved from the Holmfirth Flood" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (24/Jan/1872).
  14. "Hanging Heaton: A Women's Quarrel Settled" in Dewsbury Chronicle and West Riding Advertiser (27/Jan/1872).