Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Mar/1852) - The Holmfirth Catastrophe
The following are the items relating to the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 that appeared in this issue of the newspaper.
SALES BY AUCTION.
SALE OF UNCLAIMED SALVAGE.
MR. TINKER is instructed to SELL by AUCTION, on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday NEXT, the 10th, 11th, and 12th days of March inst., at the places where the articles are described to be in the Posting Bills which have been distributed throughout the district, unless the said articles be previously claimed and properly identified.
Sale to commence each day at ten o’clock a.m.: on Wednesday, at the Town Hall, Holmfirth ; on Thursday, at the Red Lion Inn, Lockwood ; and on Friday, at the place next to where the sale of Thursday is concluded.
The Salvage at other places, not described in the Posting Bills, will be advertised for sale in a subsequent Bill.
Instructions are given to prosecute any person or persons removing or appropriating any of the Salvage without my written authority.
- GEO. TINKER.
- Holmfirth, March 2, 1852.
THE RECENT CATASTROPHE AND THE VERDICT OF THE JURY.
While the enquiry into the “cause of death” of the many victims of the recent catastrophe at Holmfirth was pending, we studiously refrained from any observations or comments which would in the slightest degree interfere with the peculiar province of the coroner’s jury, or have a tendency to affect the minds of those who we sworn to deliver “a true verdict according to the evidence” adduced before them. Before the Coroner deprecated any observations by the press upon that evidence until the proceedings before him were closed, we had publicly determined upon that line of action ; for we felt that fair play to those who might by possibility be criminated by the judicial enquiry to be instituted demanded such a course. We have been glad to perceive that this rule of conduct has been universally. followed by our brethren of the press, for we do not know of a single instance where a contrary course has been pursued.
But now that the enquiry has terminated, and that we have the result of the investigation before us, we are no longer precluded by the considerations which operated before from commenting upon the evidence adduced, and upon the extraordinarily neglectful and reckless conduct evinced by the “management” of the Holme Reservoir Commissioners. We have no hesitation in at once saying that with every portion of the jury’s finding we most entirely agree ; and especially with that portion expressive of regret that the “management” whose criminal apathy and entire disregard of the most obvious prudential measures for the safety of life and property, has resulted in such awfully disastrous consequences, cannot be legally made answerable for their corporate conduct. We do not think a more reckless and criminally neglectful state of things, from first to last, ever characterised any “management” other than that of the Holme Reservoir Commissioners. First, we have the construction of the Bilberry Reservoir — notoriously imperfect — avowedly unsafe. We have the operating causes of danger going on for years before the eyes of these managers — the leakages regularly and constantly washing away the puddle-wall of the embankment, and leaving indubitable evidence of the mischief going on, in the subsidence of that portion of the embankment which could alone be relied upon to pen up the mighty mass of water beyond. And even before this, we have the imperfect plans of construction — the working of a large reservoir in a ravine of disrupted rock, without puddle-linings to prevent the escape of the water through the fissures and cracks everywhere abounding. For this defect the engineer employed is clearly alone answerable. The Commissioners, not knowing anything of reservoir-making, engaged him (at least) “to furnish plans and specifications,” relying upon his judgment and skill for a reservoir so constructed as to hold water. They do not appear to have imposed any restriction — but to have left it to the engineer to devise his own plan of construction. We take it as evident that it is this gentleman alone who is answerable for that form of construction which left the bottom and sides of the reservoir composed of nothing but naked disrupted rock : in fact, a broken dish, expected to hold water at a pressure of from 30 to 40 lbs. to the square inch! It is not easy to determine who is or was responsible for the due carrying out of the plans of the engineer — such as they were ;— for he considers that he was only engaged to furnish the plans and specifications : and yet the fact that it was only upon his certificate that the works had been properly executed, and his plans and specifications faithfully carried out, that payment could be obtained by the contractors, would indicate a much deeper degree of responsibility than the engineer seems now disposed to acknowledge. But be that as it may, it is certain that there were matters in connection with the construction of the works which attach a fearful amount of criminal neglect somewhere. The “spring under the embankment,” as it is called, was known of before the foundations of the embankment were laid. It came, boiling up, a stream as thick as a man’s arm. “It followed us up,” was the evidence, “some twenty feet ; and we put in a crescent of puddle on the outside the embankment, to force the spring through the puddle into the reservoir.” Now, either the existence of the “spring” was known to the engineer or it was not. On this point the evidence is a point-blank contradiction. Mr. Leather declares on oath that the fact was never brought to his knowledge ; other evidence says directly the contrary — and that the works were suspended for weeks waiting for the engineer’s instructions how this “spring” was to be treated. If the facts were kept from the knowledge of Mr. Leather, and the parties either under him or the Commissioners presumed of themselves to deal with such a fearful cause of constant danger in the manner it was dealt with, it says little for that sort of “management,” either on the part of engineer or Commissioners which subjected the plans and intentions of both to be so criminally interfered with. And on the other hand, if the facts were communicated to the engineer, and if what was done was done under his directions through Mr. Falshaw (his own clerk), as is positively sworn to by one of the witnesses, a deeper degree of responsibility rests upon that head. For our own part, we incline to believe Mr. Leather that he was not made acquainted with the source of danger under consideration ; for we cannot believe that any engineer, — the merest tyro or the greatest bungler that ever essayed the profession — would resort to such a means of curing such a dangerous defect as was resorted to in this case.
But defective in plan, and still more defective in construction as this reservoir was, it was used by the Commissioners. The defects were notoriously known ; they were manifest to every eye ; the embankment was visibly subsiding ; the leakages were palpable, washing out the puddle from beneath, and the whole settling down, until the bye-wash, the only means of safety against extra-ordinary floods, — became worse than a mockery. Still the reservoir was used by the Commissioners. They themselves have recorded the fact that it was unsafe ; they have tendered evidence before parliament, and proved that it was unsafe ; they have adduced testimony to establish the fact that there was danger in continuing to use it in its then state ; still the reservoir was used by the Commissioners. Tell us not that the Commissioners were unable to repair the reservoir ; that they had no funds, and no credit ; that they sought to obtain power to raise both, and put the reservoir in a safe state, but failed ; tell not this story ; for what can it avail? The simple fact is that the reservoir was unfitted for use — was unsafe ; still it was used. There was nothing to have prevents the Commissioners from discontinuing that until they were in a position to make it safe. A prudential regard for the lives and property of those exposed to imminent danger from the breaking down of the notoriously imperfect embankment dictated this course. The reckless disregard of what prudence demanded — and the wanton endangering of the numerous lives held (as it were) at the mercy of these Commissioners, which have characterised the “management” of this commission, can be designated by no other term than criminal — criminal in the highest degree. With the jury we much regret that this “management” cannot be made criminally answerable for the awful loss of life which has been, beyond doubt, caused by the neglectful recklessness before described.
STATE OF THE HOLME STYES RESERVOIR.
PUBLIC MEETING AND GREAT EXCITEMENT AT HOLMFIRTH.
A public meeting, called by the head constable of the Greaveship of Holme, in compliance with the request of a numerously signed requisition, was held yesterday afternoon in the Town-hall, Holmfirth, “to consult on the duty of the inhabitants of this district, with regard to the Holme Styes Reservoir.” The hall was crowded in all parts chiefly by the working men of the neighbourhood, who were evidently labouring under strong excitement, there being not less than 600 persons present. On the platform were Joseph Charlesworth, Esq., J.P., Joshua Moorhouse, Esq., J.P., James Charlesworth, Esq., Sydney Morehouse, Esq., Geo. Robinson, Esq., J. H. Farrar, Esq., the Revs. R. E. Leach, James Macfarlane, Benjamin Firth, and Wm. Flower ; Messrs. William Meikle, Richard Harrison, Alfred Wood, Joshua Moorhouse, jun., James Boothroyd, James Brook, Thomas Heaton, John Bower, W. Hinchliffe, Harry Booth, David Hinchliff, and a large number of other leading gentlemen of the neighbourhood.
James Charlesworth, Esq., having been unanimously called to the chair, proceeded in a few brief and pertinent remarks to introduce the business of the meeting, after which
Mr. S. Wimpenny, in an energetic address, which was frequently applauded, moved the following :— “That in consideration of recent statements concerning the Holme Styes Reservoir this meeting resolves to petition parliament to take immediate steps to secure us against danger in future, and to make the Commissioners responsible in law as they are in fact”
Mr. Joshua woodcock seconded the motion, which on being put by the Chairman, was carried unanimously.
The Rev. James Macfarlane, independent minister, in moving the adoption of a memorial to the House of Commons, reminded the meeting that they had no desire to deal harshly by the Reservoir Commissioners, but they had at the same time a perfect right to take measures to preserve themselves, their families, and their property ; and they were then met together to see if they could not secure that safety, not by physical force, for violence could only be resorted to as a last resort, but rather than be drowned, and have their families beggared, they would even defend themselves by physical force. This he believed was not necessary, but they must have this reservoir kept in thorough repair not only when it was fair but so that it would resist any subsequent amount of rough weather in future years. (Cheers, and cries of “that’s it ;” “pull it down,” &c.) This must be done, whatever it might cost — (hear, hear) — for it must no longer be a question of money but one also of human life. (Cheers.) If that could not be done, then let it be removed at once and for ever (Cheers.) To secure this they must endeavour to put these Reservoir Commissioners in a new position as to responsibility, so as to make them feel that any wilful neglect on their part subjected them to criminal proceedings. (Cheers, and cries of “That’s it.”) To this no Commissioner had a right to object if he desired to do what he ought to do ; and if the Commissioners would not do this then the inhabitants, who had formerly done without them, could also do without them again. (Cheers.) This they proposed to do by an appeal to the House of Commons. By this course they showed their sympathy for those who had lost property, kindred, and friends, and removed all fears of a similar disaster in future. The rev. gentleman concluded by reading the following memorial, of which he moved the adoption :—
- The Petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Holmfirth and neighbourhood.
- Showeth, — That your petitioners were lately witnesses of, and sufferers by, a tremendous calamity, resulting from the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir.
- That your petitioners have heard with much concern the statements of Captain Moody, the inspector appointed by government, respecting the dangerous condition of the Holme Styes Reservoir, which covers an extent of eight acres, in close proximity to Holmfirth, and the water from which flows through the town with a rapid descent.
- That your petitioners have no reason whatever to believe that any immediate or satisfactory steps for the security of their lives and property will be taken by the Commissioners, through whose culpable neglect the recent catastrophe occurred
- That your petitioners have learned with deep regret that the state of the law exempts the Commissioners from criminal responsibility, — a regret deepened by the consideration that the insolvent state of their affairs precludes the possibility of obtaining pecuniary compensation.
- May it therefore please your Honourable House to allay the oppressive fears of your petitioners, by immediately appointing that such measures may be carried into effect as will render the Holme Styes Reservoir no more a source of reasonable apprehension ; and may it please your Honourable House to amend the law with regard to the responsibility of the Commissioners of such reservoirs, so that when guilt attaches to them, la fact, it may at the same time be legally recognised.
- And your petitioners will ever pray.
Mr Meikle seconded the motion in a neat speech.
The Rev. R E. Leach, incumbent of Holmfirth, moved that the petition be entrusted for presentation to the Commons, to B. Denison, Esq., M P., and that Mr. Cobden be requested to support its prayer.
Mr. Joseph Dyson seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.
On the motion of the Rev J. Macfarlane, seconded by the Rev. R. E. Leach, a vote of thanks was awarded to the Chairman by acclamation.
Joseph Charlesworth, Esq., J.P., said — I wish to know whether this meeting considers the Holme Styes Reservoirs in a safe state? (Sensation and cries of “no,” “pull it down,” and great excitement in the meeting)
The Chairman said he had visited the reservoir that morning, and though he was merely a theorist, he believed it was now quite safe.
J. Charlesworth, Esq. — Can we receive an assurance now from those gentlemen who have set all measures of precaution at nought — can we receive an assurance from them that they will pay some respect to the feelings of the public, and that they will not in future let the water accumulate above a certain height, — say 40 feet (Hear, hear, and cheers.)
Mr. David Hinchliff, one of the managers of the reservoir in question, said that if anything was to take place there, they would give him credit when he said (cries of “no, no, David”) that he would be one of the greatest sufferers ; but so long as he had the key they did not intend to let the water rise above 40 feet, and yesterday it was considerably lower. (Hear, hear, and cries of “pull it down.”)
Joseph Charlesworth, Esq.—I would have it drawn down altogether. (Great cheering.)
Joshua Moorhouse, Esq., J.P., said he quite coincided that it ought to be drawn down altogether ; and he had signed a requisition to that effect. (Hear, hear.) He would take care as far as he could that this was done ; but if they would nor run it off properly then let them rise in a body and go up and determine that it should be. (Applause, and great sensation.)
Mr. Lawson — I ask if this meeting has any confidence in the three gentlemen who form the drawing committee? (Cries of “no, no.”)
Joseph Charlesworth, Esq. — I have no confidence them. (Sensation.)
The Chairman said those gentlemen had pledged their word to the meeting, and he believed them — (A voice, “We don’t”) — that they would keep it below a certain height.
It was then explained to the meeting by the Chairman, Mr. Wimpenny, and others, that the present intention was to gradually lower the water day by day until it should be finally empty, and on this assurance the meeting, which was a very excited one, was brought to a conclusion at a few minutes past four p.m.
SPIRIT OF THE PUBLIC JOURNALS.
THE LATE CATASTROPHE AT HOLMFIRTH.
- (From the Times.)
There mere damage to property caused by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir has been fixed at £250,000 as a low estimate. Now, in the evidence given before the Coroner by Mr. G. Leather, who for a considerable time acted as engineer to the works, it appeared that immediate danger might have been averted at a most trifling expense. In order to render the few lines we are about to extract from Mr. Leather’s evidence intelligible, it is perhaps right to explain that the “shuttles” are a contrivance for regulating the supply of water to the mills. The object of the “waste-pit” is to prevent an overflow of the reservoir. Now, what Mr. Leather stated was this :—
If a hole had been made in the waste-pit 18 feet above the shuttle, the accident would, in all probability, have been prevented. He himself would have lowered the waste-pit below the level of the embankment. This could have been done at a trifling expense ; in fact, would only have cost about £12. 10s.
Nor can it be said that ample notice had not been given the impending calamity. For many days previously the dangerous condition of the reservoir was the common talk of the dale. The evidence of Charles Batty, the drawer at the Bilberry Reservoir, shows that some days previous to the fatal occurrence, as well as upon the very night when it happened, Mr. John Roebuck visited the reservoir in his company, and satisfied himself of the imminence of the calamity. The amount of peril with which the Commissioners and their agents were trifling may be readily conceived by the following brief statement :— There is an embankment of 150 to 200 yards wide towards the head of the Holmfirth dale. The waters impounded in this deep gorge are those of the river Holme and the Digley brook. Behind the embankment they maintain an average depth of from 85 to 90 feet. Such was the nature of the danger with which the Commissioners of the Holme Reservoirs were trifling. But then they were a corporate body, free from prosecution, as against individuals. There was a chancery suit. There were futile applications to parliament for fresh powers. What was everybody’s business was nobody’s business. The result was, that after some heavy and continuous rains, about 1 o’clock in the morning of the 5th of February last down burst this huge collection of waters on the ill-starred valley below. The terrible element swept all before it. Cottages were carried away like loose sticks. Mills, dwelling-houses, stables, barns, horses, cattle, everything disappeared that lay across the course taken by the inundation. Four large mills were entirely destroyed, and 17 so greatly injured that they cannot for a long time resume operations. Of the labourers’ cottages 27 were destroyed, and 127 more or less injured. The dead are gone — so we will not dwell upon the hundred lives that have been sacrificed by the culpable neglect of those who were charged with the duty of maintaining this embankment. To confine ourselves simply to the living, we find it stated on the most respectable authority that from 7,000 to 10,000 persons have been thrown out of employment by the result of this terrible disaster. Are we justified in con eluding that the evidence given by Mr. Leather is in the main correct, and that the expenditure of £12 10, or thereabouts, would in reality have averted the danger until there had been time to arrive at the real seat of the mischief? This appears to have lain much deeper. The embankment was radically unsound by reason of a spring, which welled through the “puddle,” and gradually undermined the very foundation of the work.
We are the more inclined to give credence to Mr. Leather’s words from the concordant testimony of Mr Littlewood, an architect and a Commissioner of the Holme Reservoirs from the beginning. This gentleman stated that so far back as the year 1846 he had considered the reservoir dangerous, if filled, — that he had mentioned his opinion to the Commissioners — and that an order was given that an opening should be made in the waste-pit 18 feet above the shuttle. The general direction of the work was entrusted to Mr. Littlewood, who employed the firm of “Jonathan Thorpe and Co.,” stonemasons, to carry out the contemplated improvement. When Thorpe went up to prepare the necessary scaffoldings, he was met by some of the Commissioner’s, who told him he should not do so — the opening should not be made.
The Coroner. — What else did he (Thorpe) say?
Mr. Littlewood (in great agitation, and after a pause). — They told him (Thorpe said) that if he attempted to make it they would resist by force (sensation) ; that they were parties he worked for, and he did not like to have anything more to do with it.
The entire evidence given before the Coroner was calculated to produce the same impression as the brief fragments we have extracted. There is plenty to show that there was 6upineness and difference ; that there was abundance of idiotic bickering about ratings and supplemental acts and Chancery suits ; but there is nothing to show that, down to the very last, any one active or well-considered measure was taken to avert the frightful calamity that impended over the heads of so many human beings. The Commissioners had warning years and years ago of the unsound condition of their embankment. They took no steps to get at the real root of the evil. The lives of the inhabitants of the whole dale might be said to lie at the mercy of three days’ continuous rain. A very trifling expenditure would have sufficed at least to postpone the occurrence of the calamity. Nothing, literally nothing, was done. As was well pointed out by the Coroner, the Commissioners cannot shelter themselves under the flimsy pretext that they were unable to obtain a parliamentary sanction to their applications when they sought leave to raise money for the purpose of repairing the reservoir. Their course at least was obvious and simple enough. They had but to lower the water in the reservoir to that point at which it would no longer threaten destruction to the dalesmen, and they might have felt well assured that they could have snapped their fingers at all informations or penalties when they had so satisfactory and praiseworthy a defence. In place of this, what did they? Nothing, literally nothing! There was no effort to remedy, none to avert the evil. Ample notice was given to them — years, months, weeks, and days before the fatal 5th of February, but they turned a deaf ear to all warning and all remonstrance. The result of their most wanton and criminal neglect may be read in any journal which gives a report of the inundation and its fatal consequences.
We are happy to see that the opinions which had been so generally formed out of doors have been confirmed to the fullest extent by the finding of the jury.
We reprint the verdict in extenso, that it may act as a warning to all other persons, if any such there be, who are placed in similar circumstances of responsibility, and who are trifling with the lives of their fellow-creatures in a similar way :—
We find that Eliza Marsden came to her death by drowning, caused by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir. We also find that the Bilberry Reservoir was defective in its original construction, and that the Commissioners, engineers, and overlookers were grossly culpable in not seeing to the proper regulations of the works ; that the Commissioners, in permitting the Bilberry Reservoir to remain for several years in a dangerous state with a full knowledge thereof, and not lowering the waste pit, have been guilty of wilful and culpable negligence ; and we regret that the reservoir being under the management of a corporation, prevents us bringing in a verdict of manslaughter, as we are convinced that the gross and culpable negligence of the Commissioners would have subjected them to such a verdict had they been in the position of a private individual or a firm. We also hope that the Legislature will take into its most serious consideration the propriety of making provision for the protection of the lives and properties of her Majesty’s subjects exposed to danger from reservoirs placed by corporations in situations similar to those under the charge of the Holme Reservoir Commissioners.
Penal consequences to the Commissioners in any direct shape are, we fear, out of the question. The legal fiction is stronger than their demerits. But what kind of arrangement can this be under which no responsibility in law co-exists with the most terrible responsibility of fact? It is clear that the duty to be performed was of the most anxious and critical nature — is there to be no penalty for infraction or neglect of such a duty? When a hundred lives are swept away by the act or neglect of others, are we to be gravely told that no one is answerable for the consequences? Was there anything to be done? Was there any one to do it? Something to be done there clearly was. The many lives of many hundred persons were to be preserved by keeping up an embankment of earth and brickwork. There might be persons ostensibly charged with the execution of this duty, but they escape from our grasp as soon as they have sacrificed a hundred of their fellow-creatures by their wanton neglect. Better than all remedies of government inspectorship — although this should not be neglected in such a case — is to fix responsibility somewhere. Let gentlemen in the position of the Holmdale Commissioners feel that they are both civilly and criminally answerable for their neglect of duty. The surviving relatives of person who may have been sacrificed by the carelessness of railway officers have their action against the company. Why should not such a provision be extended to other corporate bodies? We can perceive no connection between a common seal and common irresponsibility.
A BRIEF STATEMENT OF FACTS RELATIVE TO THESE RESERVOIRS, IN ADDITION TO WHAT HAS ALREADY APPEARED IN THE “HUDDERSFIELD CHRONICLE.”
The occupiers of mills, &c., on the river Holme, and the Digley, Ribbleden, and New Mill streams, which low into the river Holme, being subject to great inconvenience in consequence of our insufficient supply of water in times of drought, and also to great floods in very wet seasons, by reason of the rapid descent of the water down the surrounding hills, the formation of certain reservoirs on the several streams above mentioned became a subject of conversation among the owners and occupiers of mills supplied with water from these streams, and in the year 1836 meetings of the several where and occupiers of mills were held from time to time to take the matter into consideration. The scheme met with general approbation ; and it was alternately resolved that application should be made to parliament during the ensuing session for an Act to carry the project into effect, and Messrs. W. and S. Stephenson, solicitors, Holmfirth, were instructed to take the necessary steps relative thereto.
When the bill was before the Committee in the House of Commons it was opposed by the late Sir John Ramsden, Bart., the owner of King’s Mill, Shorefoot Mill, and Aspley Dyehouse, in Huddersfield ; the late Mr. Armitage, of Thick-hollings, and the Rev. Mr. Dawson, owner of Colne-bridge Mills.
Mr. Armitage opposed the bill in consequence of an objection he had to land being taken from his estate at Nedderley in Holme, for the site of the reservoir intended to be made there, and he succeeded in getting a clause inserted in the bill that the Commissioners should not have power to make that reservoir without his consent. This reservoir, in case it had been made, would have been considerably larger than any of the three that have been made.
Sir John Ramsden and the Rev. Mr. Dawson also succeeded in getting protective clauses inserted in the bill. Some alterations were also made in the rating clauses, and eventually the bill passed, and received the royal assent on the’ 8th June, 1837.
The act provides that all owners or occupiers or joint Occupiers of any fall of water or mill of the annual value of £100 or upwards, liable to be rated by virtue thereof, shall be — and they are thereby declared to be one body, politic and corporate, by the name of “The Commissioners of the Holme Reservoirs,” and the Commissioners, before they begin to act, are required to make and subscribe a declaration that they will faithfully, impartially, and honestly, according to the best of their skill and judgment, execute and perform the several trusts, powers, and authorities vested and reposed in them by virtue of the said Act.
Several sums were subscribed or invested in the undertaking, and other large sums were borrowed by the Commissioners for the purposes of the act on security of the rates, and mortgages of the rates were granted for the same.
The act also provides that the Commissioners shall levy rates, to be payable at yearly or half-yearly periods, as they shall think proper, upon all occupiers of mills and other works deriving benefit from the water in the several streams above-mentioned, and on the river Colne from the junction of the rivers Holme and Colne down to the river Calder, including a distance of eleven or twelve from the reservoirs, for the purpose of raising money to pay the interest on the money borrowed, and for the general purposes of the act. These rates vary in amount on the different streams.
For the purpose of avoiding litigation respecting the rates, a very proper provision is made in the act that, in case at any time after the making of any rate, any occupier shall think himself over-rated, the question shall be settled by referees, one to be chosen by the occupier complaining and the other by the Commissioners, and in case the two referees cannot agree, then by an umpire to be appointed by the referees, and the determination of such referees or umpire to be final.
Soon after the passing of the act, the Commissioners proceeded to put the same in execution, and it was determined to make one reservoir on the Digley stream, to be called the Bilberry Mill Reservoir, one on the Ribbleden stream, to be called the Holme-styes Reservoir, and one on the New Mill stream, to be called the Boshaw Whams Reservoir ; and land was purchased for the sites of the reservoirs intended to be made.
In October, 1838, the making of the three reservoirs above-mentioned was let. Messrs. Daniel Sharp and Son were the contractors for the Bilberry Mill Reservoir, at the sum of £9324 ; Messrs. Pearson and Horsfall were the contractors for the Holme-styles Mill Reservoir, at the sum of £9875 ; and Mr.-George Marsh was the contractor for the Boshaw Whams Reservoir, at the sum of £3516 6s. 3d. ; but the three reservoirs (including the cost of obtaining the act of parliament and land purchased) cost altogether upwards of £38,000, besides a disputed claim Messrs. Sharp had against the Commissioners in respect of the Bilberry Mill Reservoir, and for recovery of which they filed a bill in Chancery against the Commissioners, and which suit was pending at the time of the death of Messrs. Sharp.
Mr. Leather, of Leeds, was engaged by the Commissioners as their engineer, and continued such during the progress of the work at the respective reservoirs. The reservoirs were let to be constructed according to his plans and specifications and directions, and early in 1839 the contractors commenced with the various works. Mr. John Tait was appointed to superintend the masonry and general work, and two other men were appointed to superintend the puddling.
The Holme-styes Mill Reservoir and the Boshaw Whams Reservoir were completed in May, 1841 ; but the work at the Bilberry Mill Reservoir not being done in a satisfactory manner, Mr. Leather refused to certify that it was completed in 1843. It never proved watertight.
The first rates made by the Commissioners were for the year ending 31st July, 1840. These rates Mr. Gartside, the occupier of Holmfirth Mill, Mr. Robinson, the occupier of Thongsbridge and Smithy-place Mills, and Messrs. Haigh, the occupiers of Banks Mill, refused to pay. The Commissioners caused warrants of distress to be obtained, but they were not executed, the parties having ultimately agreed to pay the rates.
Mr. William Stephenson, clerk to the Commissioners, having died at the latter end of the year 1841, Messrs. Floyd and Booth, solicitors, Holmfirth, were then appointed clerks.
The same parties who had objected to pay their first rates still continued their opposition, and objected to pay the rates for the two following years, and were joined by Messrs. Moorhouse and Co., the occupiers of Choppards Mill, and when threatened with warrants of distress to recover the amount of the rates due from them, they gave notice to the Commissioners of their being dissatisfied with the rates, and of their having appointed a referee to act for them, pursuant to the provision contained in the act of parliament, and required the Commissioners to appoint a referee to act on their behalf. This proposition was readily acceded to by the Commissioners, and it was then expected that the matter in dispute would soon be finally settled.
The referees, after more than a year and a half’s delay, at last fixed a day to enter upon the reference, but the objecting parties, instead of attending to the appointment made by the referees, gave notice that the day named was inconvenient, and wished the matter to stand over.
The Commissioners, being anxious that their opponents should have no cause of complaint in this respect, consented to a postponement, and after the referee had given notice of another day being fixed to enter upon the reference, the oppositionists then refused to go into a reference at all or to pay their rates. Another year’s rates having become due from the same parties, warrants of distress were then obtained against them and levied upon their goods, and they then paid their rates under protest.
The opposing party having rejected the equitable and reasonable mode provided by the Act of settling the question as to the rates, and of which they had given notice, still fostered the spirit of opposition, and commenced four actions of replevin against the Commissioners, and used their influence in endeavouring to persuade others not to pay their rates.
This state of things had a tendency to cause several of the ratepayers, who up to that time had willingly paid their rates, to become dissatisfied, and they objected to pay, saying it was not fair or reasonable for them to pay rates year after year, when the opposition party, who derived the same and in some instances greater benefits than they did, not only refused to pay but caused the rates which others paid to be spent in litigation.
Preparations were made to try the actions at law, which were pending, at the spring assizes in 1845 ; but previous to the assizes it was arranged that only one action should be tried as that would settle the whole question, and after the case was partly gone into it was agreed that all the cases should be referred. Had this plan been adopted at first, several hundred pounds which had been foolishly and obstinately spent in litigation would have been saved, and might have been applied in payment of the interest due to the unfortunate and ill-used individuals whose money the Commissioners had borrowed.
Several of the acting Commissioners from the then state of affairs and the imperfect and insecure state of the Bilberry Mill Reservoir, were anxious that application should be made to parliament for further powers to enable them to raise more money for the purpose of repairing that reservoir, and to secure the due payment of the interest on the money borrowed for the purposes of the reservoirs, and at a meeting of the Commissioners held in October, 1845, it was resolved, notwithstanding the opposition that the proposition met with from some of the Commissioners, that application should be made to parliament, during the ensuing session, for an act.
At the close of that year Messrs. Floyd and Booth tendered their resignation as clerks to the Commissioners, and Mr. Kidd, solicitor, was appointed to the office, but he only held the office a few weeks, and then Mr. Jacomb, solicitor, Huddersfield, was appointed clerk, and he prosecuted the bill in parliament in the session of 1846.
The oppositionists still attended the Commissioners in this proceedings, and opposed the bill in committee, and after several unsuccessful attempts to come to an arrangement, the opposition party promised the promoters of the bill that in case they would withdraw the bill, they, the oppositionists, would assist them in framing another bill which would be more satisfactory to all parties, against the next session. This proposition the promoters of the bill imprudently acceded to, and the bill was accordingly withdrawn, not “upset” as stated by Mr. George Robinson, one of the opponents, in a paper he read to the jury on the coroner’s inquest on the body of Eliza Marsden, one of the unfortunate individuals who was drowned by the bursting of the Bilberry Mill Reservoir.
The consequence was that instead of withdrawing the opposition and assisting in preparing a measure for parliament the next session, the opponents tried all the means in their power to add numbers and strength to their opposition, and to frustrate the intentions of°those favourable to the measure.
Nothing having been done by the Commissioners to improve the state of affairs, and there being a very considerable arrear of interest due to the mortgagees, and they could Dot obtain payment of either principal or interest, in the session of 1849 they, the mortgagees, applied to parliament for an act to enable them to have control over the rates to be levied in order to secure due payment of the interest on their respective securities. This measure had the sanction and support of several of the Commissioners, and clauses were inserted in the bill to enable the Commissioners to borrow money to repair the Bilberry Mill Reservoir and for other purposes, but the opposition party again presented themselves and opposed this bill, and although the House of Commons acknowledged the reasonableness and justice of the measure, and passed the bill, the opposition was continued in the Committee of the Lords with better success, and the bill was “upset.”
Thus matters remain, and after causing an expenditure of £7000 or £8000 of the money of the Commissioners and mortgagees in litigation and parliamentary expenses, as well as the expense attending the opposition, which could not be much less, amounting altogether to considerably more money than would have made a new reservoir, the Bilberry Mill Reservoir was suffered to remain in its dilapidated and insecure state ; and the individuals who have advanced upwards of £43,000 to benefit these Commissioners are told by some of the Commissioners in the most cool and insulting manner that they should have taken care to have put their money out on better security.
[The above is from the pen of a gentleman whose knowledge of these transactions is extensive and complete ; whose veracity is unquestionable ; and whose only object in kindly placing the above at our disposal is a desire that a fair and truthful (if not on all points complete), statement of the position of this unfortunate commission should be laid before the public. In case his statement contains any material point at which any of the parties incidentally alluded to can take just umbrage, if they will address us in terms equally business-like and concise our columns shall be at their disposal also. — Ed. H.C.]
THE HOLMFIRTH CATASTROPHE.
SUBSCRIPTIONS FOR THE SUFFERERS.
WORKING MEN’S MEETING IN SHEFFIELD.
- (From the Sheffield Times of this day.)
We reported last week a meeting held in the Council-hall, in this town, at which £550 was subscribed on the spot towards the Holmfirth fund. A meeting of the working classes in furtherance of the same object was held on Monday evening in the Town-hall. At half-past seven o’clock, when the meeting began, there were scarcely more than 100 persons present, but at a later period the numbers augmented nearly two-fold. The meeting consisted in the main of the better sort of working men, but we observed on the platform the Mayor (Mir. Carr), the Master Cutler (Mr. Webster), the Vicar, the Rev. J. Knight, the Rev. H. Parish, the Rev. H. J. Witty, the Rev. W. Wilkinson, the Rev. John Manners, Mr. Badger (Rotherham), Mr. W. Harvey, Mr. W. Groves, &c. The meeting was attended by a deputation from the scene of the calamity, consisting of the Rev. T. G. Fearne, incumbent of Upper Thong, Holmfirth, and the Rev. J. M. Maxfield, incumbent of Marsden. The Mayor presided on the occasion.
Mr. James Wilson, secretary of the people’s college, moved the first resolution :— “That this meeting deplores the suffering occasioned by the recent calamity at Holmfirth, and feels that it is the duty and privilege of all classes to endeavour by a lively and active sympathy to ameliorate the condition of the sufferers.” He reminded the audience that in a cause of this kind it was more blessed to give than to receive.
Mr. Stephen Bacon seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.
Mr. Nadin moved that a subscription be entered into in the various manufactories or by the trades of the town in accordance with the object of the preceding resolution.
The motion was seconded by Mr. Samuel Skelton.
The Rev. T. G. Fearne then appealed to the benevolence of the meeting in a very forcible and touchingly eloquent manner, which produced a powerful effect on the audience. In acknowledging the ready response of the working men of Sheffield he said that his days and almost his nights had been spent on behalf of the sufferers ever since the calamity occurred, and he had attended within that period many meetings, but he had not till now discovered the fact that they had not done justice to the working classes in calling upon them to aid in this undertaking. They owed much to their Sheffield friends for initiating them in this mode of dealing with the matter. The six or seven thousand people who were deprived of home and food by that. terrible flood, where were they ] On enquiry he found them on the hills and in the dales and at a distance in the cottages of the poor man. (Hear, hear.) In overlooking the sympathies of the working classes they (the promoters of this movement) had done them great injustice : but he trusted they would do that no more. The rev. gentleman poetically described the effect produced on his mind on first beholding the Holme moss and the valley of the Holme. The latter it struck him at that time might be with propriety styled “the happy valley,” but now alas it was the valley of desolation. He gave a graphic and most interesting account or the ravages of the flood as exhibited on the face of the country and in its effects upon families and individuals, and observed that the nature and extent of the destruction could only be appreciated by those who thoroughly knew the locality before it was swept by the terrible visitation. Mr. Fearne illustrated this part of the subject by thrilling pictures of the murderous operations of the flood, relieved by a charming narration of instances of miraculous escapes, even when the menacing foe had shrouded from the human vision the barest possibility of escape. He then remarked upon the moral characteristics of the inhabitants of Holmfirth. He reminded the meeting that he was pleading for the very flower of the manufacturing population. They were a people much more prone to give than to receive. If indigent and pauperised they would have a claim upon their fellow-men, but being of such a generous, self-reliant character, their claim was more than doubled. Saturday was a glad day amongst them. It was the day on which the first instalment of £5 was given to the cottagers towards renewing or repairing their household furniture. The number of cottages destroyed or seriously injured amounted to 256. The average number of inmates for each cottage was such as gave a total of 1408 persons, driven from their homes by the flood. If he appealed to the working classes in Sheffield to assist those unfortunate people with the means of re-furnishing their houses, he felt sure he should not plead in vain. (Cheers.)
The Rev. J. M. Maxfield then addressed the meeting in an impressive manner, pointing out the great improvement in the moral and social state of the working classes of Sheffield of late years. The following portion of his remarks on that subject have a strictly local bearing. — In the early spring of 1817 a boy jumped upon his pony to journey to the town of Sheffield. Cantering over Attercliffe common he met an anxious horseman or two at full speed. He knew not the men — he knew not their errand. In a little while that boy was in the town of Sheffield. And what was the scene which presented itself to his unpractised eye? A riot! — the chief scene of which was the “bull-stake.” That riot was led on by a man familiarly known no doubt to some now present by the name of Jockey Blacker. Who were the rioters? The truth must be told : they were a section of the working men of Sheffield unlawfully assembled together against the lawful constituted authorities. When that boy saw this sight what were his feelings? His first feeling was to get away as soon as he could from that scene of threatened bloodshed to a place of safety ; and the practical consequence of that feeling was to run down to t’ Bull an’ Maath (imitating the Sheffield dialect), ask for his poany, tak over t’ brig an’ along t’ Wicker i’ less then noa toim, an’ hoam in a jiffey. (Laughter.) Mr. Mayor, 35 years have now rolled over our heads since that time, and now what do I see in the self-same town of Sheffield? Sir, I am the boy who rode over on that pony and saw with my own eyes what I have just presumed to detail. I see surrounding yourself, sir, a section of the working men of Sheffield, not met by those Scotch Greys, not taught their duty of proper submission to the laws by the proper and prompt administration of those laws, necessarily severe as that administration was at the time. I see no such sight as that now, sir, but I see a section of the successors of those working men assembled in the very same hall, in the very same room, where certain parties were once examined before Mr! Justice Parker, I see them assembled together and taking part in a benevolent cause. Sir, I call this improvement. I venture to go further and to term it historical improvement. Mr. Maxfield concluded, amidst cheers, with an urgent exhortation to all ranks and conditions to give according to their ability.
The following resolution was then moved by Mr. John Wilson, seconded by Mr. John Elliott, and unanimously adopted “That as sympathy with the suffering ought not to be confined to particular localities, this meeting recommends the operative classes throughout the country to contribute in like manner to a deserving cause.”
On the motion of Mr. Nicholson, seconded by Mr. Beardshaw, a committee of working men was appointed to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Mr. James Ironside announced a donation of a sovereign from Mr. Samuel Etherington, of Old No. 12.
The Rev. J. Knight gave an affecting account of his observations and sentiments on a recent visit to Holmfirth.
Mr. James Smith, Britannia metal smith, stated that the union of the trade to which he belonged had authorised him to say that they voted to give £10 to the working man’s committee now formed.
Mr. Fearne moved a vote of thanks to the chairman tor presiding, and took the opportunity of remarking how important a sum would be raised if every working man in Sheffield would contribute a shilling.
Mr. Maxfield seconded the motion, and it was supported by Mr. Harvey, who stated that the workmen at Sheaf Works recently collected amongst themselves the handsome sum of £22 for the sufferers of the Rawmarsh colliery explosion, without a single word of prompting from their employers.
The motion having been carried, the Chairman returned thanks, and said he hoped this benevolent enterprise would realise the secondary effect of creating a better feeling between the artisans and the gentlemen. (Cheers.)
The meeting broke up shortly after half-past nine.
A public meeting, having reference to this unfortunate occurrence, was held in the above town on Monday, the mayor in the chair, when about £500 was collected.
We understand that the workpeople in the employ of Messrs. Abel Buckley and Co., Ryecroft Mills, Ashton-under-Lyne, have collected for the relief of the sufferers at Holmfirth the handsome sum of £16. The committee appointed in Dukinfield to collect subscriptions on behalf of the Holmfirth sufferers, brought their labours to a close on Monday evening, when it appeared that they had collected upwards of £200. Amongst the list of subscribers we noticed Messrs. Nathan Lees and Brothers, £50 ; Mr. F. D. Astley, £25 ; the hands at Messrs. Hyde’s mills, £17 7s. ; the hands at Messrs. Lees and Brothers, £17 4s. 6d. ; Mr. Whyatt, agent of Mr. Astley, £5. On Sunday last, upwards of £50 was collected at the Old Chapel, Dukinfield ; and at the Albion Chapel, Ashton, on the same day, nearly £50 was collected for the relief of the Holmfirth sufferers.
On Sunday a sermon was preached in St. Peter’s Church, by the Rev. William Lees ; and a collection, which amounted to £52 13s. 4d., was subsequently made for the Holmfirth sufferers. — On Monday evening there was held a public meeting, called by the mayor, in compliance with the unanimous opinion of a number of gentlemen, who met at his invitation to consider the course to be taken with reference to the late unfortunate accident. At the hour appointed the number of persons assembled was very small, but it afterwards increased. The mayor presided, and there were present the Revs. Messrs. Dunn, Parsons, Bumstead, Ireland, Reynolds, Godson, Hodgson, and Waddington. Aider-men Worthington, Lees, Redfern, and Taylor ; and Councillors Josiah Radcliffe, E. A. Wright, Samuel Taylor, and John Wild, and Messrs. George Barlow, Henry Ratcliffe, Henry Tipping, J. S. Hague, John Bamford, W. Cooper, James Lees, Soho Simmons, J. Whitehead, J. H. Mellor, Edward Wright, Vineyard ; Reuben Cooper, Daniel Evans, Joseph Ryley, George Heywood, John M’Farlain, and James Schofield, Bank-side. These gentlemen, by a subsequent resolution, were appointed a committee, with power to add to their numbers, to obtain subscriptions. — The Rev. Mr. Glen-denning and Mr. Wrigley attended as a deputation from Huddersfield. — The mayor briefly opened the proceedings, and said he was sure he need not appeal to their Christian principles, when such an appalling calamity called so loudly for their aid. — Mr. Wrigley and the Rev. Mr. Glendenning drew harrowing pictures of the sufferings of many of the survivors at Holmfirth, and the dreadful loss of property. — Mr. E. A. Wright said that since the receiving of the verdict of the jury it appeared that great blame was to be attached to the commissioners ; and he understood that many of the sufferers were also commissioners. He wished to ask the deputation if their losses were included in the gross estimate, and whether it was intended to extend relief to them, as he believed the general feeling in this district would be that they should not be participators, as some had embarrassed the commissioners by not paying the rates. — Mr. Wrigley said he believed that all the mill owners were commissioners, but they had been like a house divided against itself ; and all knew when public bodies became embarrassed and divided in opinion, how great was the difficulty of obtaining proper management. — Mr. Glendenning said the committee were going on the principle of giving as little gratuitous relief as possible. Great numbers of persons were employed in clearing the bed of the river, and removing the wreck ; and these the committee allowed 1s. 6d. per day, the proprietors paying the difference. These expenses were in addition to the actual loss of £250,000, and amounted to about £40 per week. — Mr. J. Radcliffe wished to ask if it was the intention of the committee to relieve from this fund such commissioners as had suffered. — Mr. Glendenning said the case would be a very difficult one to determine, but in many instances there would be great hardships if relief were not allowed, as the whole of their property had been swept away. It was particularly desirable that the Huddersfield Committee should not have the responsibility of deciding these claims, but that a general committee should be established and should be composed of gentlemen from all parts of the country contributing who should decide as to the disposal of the funds. Mr. J. Ratcliffe moved, “That this meeting deeply laments the great amount of suffering and distress occasioned by the awful occurrence which took place on Thursday the 5th of February last, in Holmfirth.” This was seconded by Mr. Alderman Taylor, and carried unanimously. Mr. E. A. Wright, in proposing the second resolution, said that although there might be great difficulty as to the distribution of the fund, yet he should be inclined to look very charitably in every case. He moved, “That a public subscription be entered into forthwith in the borough, to aid in relieving to some extent the misfortunes of the poor families involved in this calamity.” Mr. Henry Radcliffe seconded this resolution, which was passed. Mr. Alderman Lees moved “That the banking companies, employers, and shopkeepers of the borough and neighbourhood, be requested to allow subscription books to lie open in their establishments.” Mr. Alderman Worthington said he felt great sympathy with the Holmfirth sufferers ; but there was one thing they should bear in mind, and that was, that charity begins at home. Since this catastrophe had happened, Oldham had been visited with a shocking calamity. One family, at least, had been left in a state of great destitution, and many others required aid. He hoped an accompanying subscription would be set on foot for their relief. On behalf of himself he should contribute to the Holmfirth subscription, and also to the Oldham one. (Cheers.) He concluded by seconding the resolution, which was passed. The Rev. F. Parsons moved, and Mr. Redfern seconded, the next resolution, appointing the above-named committee. Mr. Tipping was appointed treasurer, and the Revs. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Ireland were appointed secretaries. Subscriptions were then entered into, and at the close they amounted to about £400 for the Holmfirth sufferers, and about £30 for those who suffered by the Westhill explosion. After thanks had been voted to the mayor and to the deputation, the proceedings terminated, shortly before eleven o’clock.
THREE MORE BODIES FOUND.
On Saturday last, the bodies of Mr. Richard Shackleton and Mr. Joseph Dodd were taken out of the river, — the former at Ferrybridge, near Pontefract, and the latter at Horbury-bridge. They were removed to Holmfirth on Tuesday, and have since been interred. On Sunday last, the body of Mary Crosland was taken out of the river at Bradley Mills. An inquest was held on the body on Monday, at the Waggon and Horses, Leeds Road, before Geo. Dyson, Esq., when a verdict of “found drowned” was returned.
THE HOLMFIRTH CALAMITY. — On the afternoon of Sunday last, the Rev. Mr. Hextall, the worthy incumbent of St. George’s Church, Mossley, preached in behalf of the sufferers by the recent calamity at Holmfirth. At the close of the service, a collection amounting to the handsome sum of £18, was made for the relief fund. We understand that the above amount has since been increased to £20.