Holmfirth Flood of 1852

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In the early hours of 5 February 1852, the Bilberry Reservoir to the west of Holmfirth burst its embankment and an estimated 86 million gallons of water poured down the Holme valley along the route of the River Holme, causing considerable destruction to buildings and bridges, as well as claiming the lives of around 80 people.


Although it is usually stated that 81 people perished in the flood, only 78 were named by contemporary local newspaper articles. When the body of James Mettrick was recovered in July 1852, the Huddersfield Chronicle stated that "eighty individuals [...] were swept down by the flood" and that one body was still to be found (that of teenager Joseph Marsden).[1]

The situation is further complicated by the fact that not all the bodies — particularly of the children — were formally identified before burial and one girl was even identified as three different people. Also, some of the lists of the missing and dead reported in the press — especially newspapers outside of Huddersfield — contain people who survived or incorrect names.[2]

The Huddersfield Chronicle produced a list at the time of the inquest containing the details of 61 formally identified bodies, along with 4 unidentified male children (ages approximate 4, 6, 11 and not stated), 2 unidentified girls (aged about 2 and 5), and 14 missing people (including 3 boys aged 2, 6 and 8, and 3 girls aged 3, 4 and 4½), giving a grand total of 81 (or 75 named individuals). However, it seems almost certain that some of the unidentified bodies of the children would be of those in the missing list.

A contemporary commemorative single-sheet document was printed locally in Holmfirth by Joseph Crosland and titled "The Flood came, and took them all away", measuring 17 by 12 inches. The document lists 78 names, tallying with the list collated from local newspaper articles.

Local newspaper reports also include two identified bodies who are not included in the list of 78 names below:

  • Martha Hinchliffe (child)
    Initially identified at the New Inn, Hinchliffe Mill. However, John Charlesworth then identified the body as that of his infant daughter, Ruth, and the body was released to him. No other references to Martha Hinchliffe were found and her name was not transferred to the list of missing.
  • Ann Greenwood (12)
    Supposedly the daughter of Samuel and Lydia Greenwood. This was almost certainly an initial misidentification of their niece, Eliza Matthews, who had lived with them since at least aged two (1841 Census). The couple had no daughter listed on the Census nor have any other records been found to support the existence of Ann Greenwood. Most likely Eliza was also known as "Ann" (perhaps after her mother Ann Matthews) and some locals believed her to be the daughter of Samuel and Lydia.

It seems likely that the accepted total of 81 was arrived at by adding the known 78 names to the fact that 3 children were buried on 9 February without having been identified, although almost certainly one of those three was either Ellen Ann Hartley or Ann Bailey. A boy and a girl were buried at St. John the Evangelist, Upperthong, although no approximate ages were recorded in the burial register, and a girl around 2 years of age — "found drowned in the River at Thongsbridge"[3] — was buried at All Saints Church, Netherthong.

The surviving burial registers show entries for all of the named girls, with the exception of of 3-year-old Ellen Ann Hartley[4], which implies that at least one girl was never reported missing and her name therefore remains unknown.

A number of the newspaper reports make reference to the body of a young infant — some reports claiming it to be only a few hours old, whilst others imply it was one or two months of age. Although some named it as an infant child of Hannah Bailey, her husband seemingly made no reference to it at the inquest. Therefore, perhaps it was the body of 3 month old George Hartley, the youngest of the named victims.

Although not victims of the flood itself, a subsequent outbreak of typhus in district claimed further lives.

Hinchliffe Mill: Fold Gate
  1. James Booth (60), his wife Nancy Booth (44), and their lodger William Healey (45)
Hinchliffe Mill: Fold Head
  1. Lydia Brook (28) and her daughter Hannah Brook (11) — Lydia's husband Joseph Brook survived
Hinchliffe Mill: Water Street
  1. Jonathan Crosland (39) and his children Charles Crosland (13), Hannah Crosland (19), Martha Crosland (17), Foster Crosland (8) and Ralph Crosland (3)
  2. Rose Charlesworth (40) and her children Joshua Charlesworth (16), James Charlesworth (14), John Charlesworth (7), Hamer (or Emor) Charlesworth (6) and Ruth Charlesworth (1) — her husband, John Charlesworth, survived
  3. Joseph Dodd (48), his wife Hannah Dodd (30), and their children Elizabeth Dodd (7) and Sarah Hannah Dodd (2)
  4. Joshua Earnshaw (72), his son Charles Earnshaw (36), and his grandchildren Joshua Crosland (21), Mary Crosland (19) and Ann Earnshaw Beaumont (12)[5]
  5. Nancy Marsden (53), her unmarried sister Eliza Marsden (47) and two nephews Joseph Marsden (19) and Joshua Marsden (14) — the body of Joseph Marsden was seemingly never found
  6. James Mettrick (60), his wife Mary Mettrick (38), his children William Mettrick (30), Samuel Mettrick (20), Alfred Mettrick (8), Jane Mettrick (3) and Joseph Mettrick (1), his married daughter Betty Earnshaw (30) and her son Abel Earnshaw (5), and his son-in-law William Exley (32)
Dyson's Mill
  1. Jonathan Sandford (45), his daughters Sarah Jane Sandford (9) and Emily Sandford (3), and their housekeeper Ellen Wood (22)
Holmfirth: Upperbridge
  1. Hannah Bailey (40) née Crookes, and her daughters Ann Bailey (4) and Martha (2) — her husband, tailor Aner Bailey, survived
Holmfirth: Hollowgate
  1. John Ashall (32), his wife Margaret Ashall (30) and their son Alfred Ashall (2) — a woman who claimed to be John's real wife came forward in March 1852 stating that John and abandoned her to live with Margaret, and that his real name was John Spencer[6]
  2. Amelia/Emily Fearns (23) [née Thorpe], her illegitimate son Charles Thorpe (2y 10m), and her daughter Lydia Fearns (6m) — her husband, Matthew Fearns, was saved from drowning by Joseph Barraclough
  3. Samuel Greenwood (46), his wife Lydia Greenwood (46), and their niece Eliza Matthews (12)
Holmfirth: Scarfold
  1. Mary Hellawell (28) and her children George Hellawell (9), Sarah Hellawell (7), Elizabeth Hellawell (5), John Hellawell (3) and Ann Hellawell (11m) — Mary's husband, Joseph Hellawell, survived and soon married[7]
  2. Alfred Woodcock (17) and his sister Sarah Woodcock (12) — children of Richard Woodcock
Holmfirth: Rocher
  1. James Lee (65)
Holmfirth: Mill Hill
  1. Sidney Hartley (41), his wife Mary Ann Hartley (40) [née Lodge], and their children Martha Hartley (16), James Hartley (14), Elizabeth Hartley (5), Ellen Ann Hartley (3) and George Hartley (3m) — four of the sons managed to escape
  2. Richard Shackleton (31), his wife Tamar Shackleton (33) [née Green], and their children Hannah Shackleton (9), Grace Hirst Shackleton (4½) and James Shackleton (1) — Tamar and Richard had a daughter (Ann Shackleton Green) outside of marriage who had lived with Tamar's parents and was classified as a flood orphan
Honley: Smithy-Place
  1. Elizabeth Healey (8) — name also reported as Betty, she was the daughter of Thomas Healey

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. "Funeral of James Metterick" in Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Jul/1852).
  2. For example, this list reproduced from the Manchester Guardian, which claims to be "the nearest approach to a correct list of the missing persons which has yet been made" contains duplicate names, names of survivors (such as Matthew Fearns and his step-uncle John Kaye) and a "Brooke" family who don't appear in any of the Huddersfield newspaper articles (possibly mixed up with Lydia and Hannah Brook).
  3. The bodies taken to inn in Thongsbridge included "an infant child", "a girl two and a half years old" and "a girl six years old". The age of around 2 would imply the body was possibly that of Ellen Ann Hartley.
  4. Although there is circumstantial evidence that Ellen Ann Hartley's body was buried as Ann Bailey, in which case Ann Bailey was likely one of the two unidentified girls.
  5. The first two grandchildren were the children of Jonathan Crosland and his late wife Sally (née Earnshaw), who was Joshua Earnshaw's daughter.
  6. "The Flood at Holmfirth" in Morning Post (29/Mar/1852).
  7. He married Lydia Crosland on 25 September 1852.

Holmfirth Flood of 1852


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This page was last modified on 27 March 2017 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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