Holmfirth Flood of 1852 - Eyewitness Accounts

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.

The following eyewitness accounts of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 are listed by name and then date of publication.

Joseph Barrowclough (c.1804-1862)

Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852):

My residence is at the bottom of South Lane, in Holmfirth, and my threshold about sixteen feet above the bed of the river. At a quarter before one, I was awoke by my wife: she asked me what that rush was? I said it was the wind, but I was not quite awake. I put my clothes on, and made the alarm that the water was up to my door-stone : that was at one o’clock. I then went out, turned my attention to the churchyard, and saw a man just drowning — the water was about four feet deep; Matthew Fearns was his name. I dragged him out, and took him into my house, and left him there, and then went to see after my daughter living at Nathan Littlewood’s, Ribbledon Road, and on my way back I tumbled over the wife of the above Matthew Fearns, dead on the road. The thought struck me, I must not stay with the dead, but try to save the living, so I left her just where she was. My attention was next attracted by six persons on the top of a house ridge, one side of which stands in the river. I got upon a wall, and shouted out to them, “Stay where you are, for the water I believe is about to lower.” I then attempted to make my way to them, but saw that I could not with safety. I waited five minutes, and I believe the water lowered four or five feet. I then got on to a piece of timber, and from one piece of timber to another, I got to George Haigh’s shop, close to James Whiteley’s house. I then lost my footing, and fell up to the neck in water. I got out, and William Martin then shouted out of his chamber window, “Come and save us,” and I said, “I will shortly.” He said, “You can now if you will.” He then flung out a mattress out of the bed, and then flung five children, and I caught them and handed them to his brother, who had then come to my assistance, and he took, them to my house, where they were put to bed. Martin and his wife came down by a ladder which was handed over to me. Another long ladder came, and was put to James Whiteley’s window. I then went up the ladder, through the window into the back room next the river, and while I was there one part of the house side fell into the river. I went up one flight of stairs on the back side next the river, into the attic, and then up through the roof, and shouted, “Where are you.” They said, “We are all here.” “Come, then,” I said, “I’ll try to save you.” I then brought them down, put them all out of the chamber window, James Whiteley, his wife, two sons, and two daughters ; parties took them away to my house and the neighbours, and then they were put to bed. I then came down myself into the street, which was still swimming with water, and turning my head up to the place from which I had fetched Whiteley’s family, I saw four more persons. I went up the ladder again in the same way, and brought down Charles Marples, his wife and servant, and a little girl who had made their escape through the ceiling and slates of the roof of a house near to Victoria Bridge.

John Charlesworth (c.1808-1853)

Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852):

I lived in Water Street when the flood came. The houses were three storeys high, and I lived in the centre of the six houses destroyed, there being two on one side of me and three on the other. We had heard nothing about the flood until it came. [This was in answer to a question put to him in consequence of a statement made to us to the effect that the whole of the inhabitants of Water-street had been warned of the danger on Wednesday night before going to bed.] I was in bed when I heard a cry, upon which I jumped out and ran to the door. This was about one o’clock as near as I can recollect. When I got to the door I saw one of James Metterick’s daughters was coming running to my door. The water was just damming up the fold, and she ran back. I stepped back into the house and lifted my wife on to the floor in her night dress. There were six children at the stairs bottom, and one asleep up stairs. I spoke to my eldest lad (Haywood), and we each took two children, and after telling my wife to follow us instantly, we rushed out. One of the children I had hold of was the eldest but one, named James, aged 14, and as we were going up the fold, he screamed out about his hens, and got from me and ran back to the house, and I did not see him afterwards. I saw one of the lads attempt to follow us, but finding that he could not escape that way, he tried to get round the street corner but was too late. I expected my wife and the other children were following us when we left the house, but she must have remained, and been washed away with the house. Two minutes after I lost hold of my eldest lad, the water rose six yards, and in less than five minutes from my being first alarmed the whole of the six houses were swept away. There were no doors opened in the street but the Metterick’s and our’s, and I think most of the other families would be swept away whilst in bed.

Henry Haywood (c.1831-1895)

Henry was the illegitimate son of Rose Ann Haywood (who perished in the flood).

Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852):

I lived with my grandfather, John Howard, in the house nearest the river. The next was occupied by Eli Sanderson and family, and the house furthest from us by Joseph Pogson and family. Over our house was a warehouse, which was partitioned off from Pogson’s by a thin wall. We heard no alarm and found the water about us. Pogson, I believe, got his family up into the garret with a ladder, after which he pulled the ladder up after him and broke into the warehouse through a door which had been closed up. He then broke a hole through the floor, and putting the ladder down, enabled Sanderson to get up into the warehouse also. Both the families were then over our heads, but we could not get to them. When the water had subsided I got a lad on my back and tried to escape to the road, but I could not, and I turned back and put the lad on the mill step, after which nine of ns who were in the house escaped, when we placed a ladder against the end of the wall and enabled the other families to escape. Immediately afterwards the roof fell in. I could see Mr. Sandford’s house below very well. There was no light that I observed. When the water came down, it dammed up between the bank and the wall from the bridge to Mr. Sandford’s house, and then carried the top of the house off. I never saw anybody, nor heard any shrieks from Mr. Sandford’s.

Mary Hirst (c.1799-1886)

Widow Mary Hirst's Bible was recovered after the flood and became known locally as the "Flood Bible".

Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852):

I went into the house and opened my Bible, and thought I would read a little about the troubles of Job. After this I went to bed. By-and-by I was again alarmed by my neighbours, who urged me to fly for my life. The members of my family said they would go in different directions to my relations and friends, and they did so. I put, as I thought, many things out of harm’s way, by taking them from the lower rooms into the chambers. The heavy pieces of furniture, such as the piano, sofas, tables, and chairs, were left below. I got into the cellar, and there thought of staying for safety. By-and-by two of my neighbours came and urged me to run, but I refused, and clung to the cellar stone, but they forced me away. I then seized my youngest child, who was in bed, wrapped it in a table-cloth and we fled for our lives, the men carrying us along, and as soon as ever I had got over the wooden bridge I looked and saw the water coming in great force, mountains high, and dashing in the windows of the house. I just saw the white window blinds floating on the water, and then I remembered nothing more. Another minute and I had been lost. The reservoir must have burst before I left the house. All I had was swept away.

James Mettrick (1828-1902)

Morning Chronicle (07/Feb/1852):

There were ten of us in our house — my father, step-mother, and eight children. Somebody came and roused us just after one o’clock. I put on my trousers : my step-mother and I stood on the stairs. We looked out of the windows, and saw a large quantity of water and slicks coming down. From their appearance we knew the reservoir had burst. I and my step-mother came down stairs, then stood on the stairs, and my father handed us the children who were asleep in the house for us to lift into the chamber. The water burst in at the window and through the door, filled the lower room and half filled the chamber. I ran with the rest into the garret, except my father and one child, who we expected were drowned in the house. About half a minute after we had got into the garret the whole house gave way and we were all swept down the stream, and I saw no more of any of them. No part of the house touched me that I know of. When I got into Harpen’s (Bottom’s) dam I caught hold of a piece of wood and sprang up. I got a good sob of breath, and then went under the water and lost my hold of the plank ; on coming up again, I got hold of another and again rolled over ; at last I got hold of a large piece of timber and kept my hold. I got hold of a small piece of wood and paddled it towards the side. A gush of wind then came and blew me towards the land on the Austonley side. I leaped off the timber and fell up to my neck in water, but I managed to scramble out of the water, and after falling several times I got into Hannah Barry’s, and stripped my trowsers and shirt (all I had on) and went to bed. I was nearly exhausted.

Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852):

I am 21 years of age, and lived with my father and mother. There were twelve of us in the house on Wednesday night when the flood broke in upon us. My father, James Metterick, was a sizing boiler, and that night he had been out collecting money, and it was late when he came home. Some time about midnight he awoke us and told us that the flood was coming. I jumped up, and after looking out of the window, pulled a pair of trousers on, and came down stairs. I met my mother at the bottom of the steps, and we thought to get a child which was sleeping in the kitchen, but we could not, and we called of my father to come upstairs. The water was rushing in at this time, and before my father could come to us he was smothered. We had intended to escape by the door, but a “roll” of water came down and forced us back, and my mother and I ran up into the chamber, and looked out of the window. At this time the water was the height of the wall in the street, and immediately afterwards the house fell, carrying eight of us who were in the room, and one in another chamber asleep, into the river. My brother Wilson Metterick had made his escape before the flood came down. I do not remember being struck with anything, and when I recovered myself I was in Harpin’s dam, amongst a lot of wood. I caught hold of something, when I was struck by a piece of wreck, and lost my hold. I continued seizing hold of the wreck, and at last I succeeded in getting hold of a large piece of timber. I got my legs across it, when it rolled over, and I was again thrown into the water. On recovering myself I got my legs across it a second time, but it again rolled over, and left me to struggle with the water. I succeeded in recovering my hold of it a third time, when I placed one leg over it, and clasped it with my hands to my breast, and thus kept myself secure for a time, after which I seized a piece of wood, and paddled myself, with the aid of the wind, to the opposite side, or left bank of the river. When near to the side I leaped off, and fell up to my neck in water. Again, I had to struggle with the stream, but at last I escaped, and ran up the field, stumbling every now and then, until I got here [Mrs. Berry’s, who occupies a house near to the mill], I believe nobody’s door was opened but our’s and Charlesworth’s, though I have heard it said the Marsden’s were up at the time.

Peace Sykes (1826-1903)

Huddersfield Daily Examiner (14/Feb/1902):

May I be allowed to give a brief account of my experience, as I was an eye-witness of the sad calamity ― the Holmfirth flood, on February 4th, 1852. I was living at that time near the White Hart Inn, in a house within about fifty yards of a house occupied by Mr. James Shackleton, who for a long period had been the landlord of the Waggon and Horses, from which he had retired. I had retired to bed, but had not been long asleep when my wife was greatly alarmed by an awful noise outside, and she awoke me and exclaimed “The reservoir has burst.” I immediately got up, opened the bedroom window and looked out, and found her words to be too true. I hurriedly half dressed myself, put on my slippers, and ran out to awake some of my neighbours. My house was in a side street a short distance from the main thoroughfare, through which the flood was rushing in a most alarming manner. I did not then expect the water would flood my house, but when I returned and got inside again, and had locked the door I found the water had already filled my kitchen up to the ceiling and the room above to about eight inches, which would make it about eight or nine feet deep in my house. I found my wife in the bedroom, and we were unable to get outside, but were safe from the main stream.

I watched the flood do its destructive work, and the first thing I saw fall was the Old Genn, as was termed the large pillar which had been erected to commemorate some important public event. Next Mr. Shackleton’s house. Immediately afterwards I saw the house in which Mr. Richard Shackleton (the son of Mr. James Shackleton) and his family resided completely swept away, with all its inmates, and Sidney Hartley’s house I also saw go down and sink into the waters. A large empty oil cask passed along the street, and I saw it afterwards in the church burial ground, having been driven against the iron gates, which it had burst open.

In about twenty minutes the water began to subside, and I was able to leave my house, where I had been imprisoned by the flood. My wife was naturally in a state of great alarm, and before I left her, a neighbour woman came in to keep her company. I went at once to the Shackletons, and found the old man stood in the street with no clothing but shirt and trousers, and the poor man danced and cried like a child. He had just seen his son’s house and all the family swept away. At this time his own daughter and granddaughter were standing in a doorway which stood a little out of the water, and Mr. William Dyson, landlord of the White Hart, and others with myself got them safely down. Close to old Mr. Shackleton was the corpse of a woman who had clung to a piece of timber.

The corner shop near, belonging to Dr. Beeley, was occupied by William Gledhill, grocer, who had his bed in the cellar kitchen under the shop. He told me that he was awoke by a great noise, and jumped on the floor, when found he was in water. He rushed upstairs, and every step up he took the water was following on his feet. This also occurred as he went up a second flight of stairs, and got safely out into an upper room, in which his sister slept.

Richard Shackleton’s body was carried a long distance, and it was found at Ferrybridge, beyond Pontefract.