Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852) - The Recent Calamity

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project and its content is believed to be in the Public Domain.

The edition carried a large number of articles relating to the flood, which occurred in the early hours of 5 February 1852. The other sections from this edition are:

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


By the time these remarks meet the public eye hundreds of thousands will have been convinced by occular demonstration how utterly inadequate is either the most facile peu or the powers of the most ready pencil, to convey to the mind anything like a true idea of the devastation, havoc, loss, and suffering inflicted upon the property and upon the inhabitants of the beautiful Yale of the Holme. Every one on witnessing for himself the outward and visible signs of the destructive force of the overwhelming flood, which unhappily lay in terrible profusion where but a few days ago beauty of the most romantic kind united with ever-recurring evidences of the most active industry, cheered the heart and elevated the soul of the stranger, — instinctively feels that the now prostrate condition of the Vale is one which defies exaggeration. At the best, and with the aid of the most vivid imagination, we can only approximate in conception to the dreadful reality. The calamity of fire is terrible enough ; and especially when a large amount of human life falls a sacrifice to the devouring flame. But, — fortunately with us in England, — these terrific disasters are comparatively confined in their operation ; they in the main destroy but a limited amount of property — seldom more than that belonging to some half dozen owners, and more frequently only a portion of that belonging to one. Besides, against the destructive ravages of fire the sufferer can be insured. For a comparatively trifling annual payment each owner can be placed in a position that the loss of his property by fire shall not fall exclusively upon himself. It is true that in such cases a large number of workpeople may be thrown out of employment, and much suffering and individual loss be the consequence ; but employment is generally given to others to rebuild or restore the partially destroyed mill (it may be) ; and in a short time the usual course of industry is pursued anew, with perhaps, greater facilities than before. But against the disaster which has fallen upon the valley of the Holme — fallen upon the owner of mill property, upon the tradesman and the shopkeeper, and upon the operative inhabitant of a cottage, indiscriminately — no such insurance could be effected. The loss sustained is individual, as it affects particular parties, but general enough as it regards extent and number of sufferers. Some idea of the manner in which individuals are affected may be formed from the fact that the day before the disastrous flood parties were residing in this vale and conducting industrial operations, who had accumulated and were worth £30,000 : in one hour they were left not worth one shilling! To this fact maybe added the intensely touching incident related at the Huddersfield meeting, of the young lady whose family were worth £10,000, but who are now so utterly destitute that she had to make application to private benevolence for articles of clothing. And then, as a deeper shade of misery and wreck of human hopes and human happiness, in this picture of desolation and woe, forget not the husbands and fathers, whose families — wife and children, in their peaceful homes — all, all, but the sire, swept down by the overwhelming torrent of destruction ; forget not the agonised mother as her dear ones, torn from her fond embrace, were borne away before her eyes — and she the moment after hurried also to destruction: forget not the sighs and the groans — the shrieks, and the wailing, piteous, piercing, cries of despair, which rose into the air, as the surging, boiling, turbulent flood hurriedly approached and engulphed its victims one after another, to carry them onwards to death with irresistible force: forget not the bleeding hearts, the tearful eyes, the anguish, and the lamentation amongst the survivors, at the untimely end of parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends: forget not these : and when the mind has idealised all that can be crowded together in the most vivid and intense manner that imagination can paint, awake to the conviction how far short it all is of the dread reality! And with this conviction, give free scope to the other, which instinctively follows, that a calamity so dire, a devastation so great, and the infliction of an amount of human misery so enormous, demand the sympathy, aid, and succour of all who (possessed of the means) have the heart to feel and the disposition to give.

Glad are we to be able to say that different portions of the sheet now in the hands of the reader afford most cheering proof that this duty towards our suffering fellow creatures has not been forgotten ; and that there has hitherto been no disposition to shrink from it — but on the contrary a desire to perform it with promptitude, and with a munificence which testifies to the benevolence and humane feeling of the district. While there has been no occasion within the memory of the present generation which so loudly called for relief and prompt exertion, there has also been no instance within our recollection where sympathy and aid have been so promptly and so generally tendered throughout the district immediately adjoining the locality wherein the awful devastation has occurred : an example which, we have every confidence in asserting, will be followed throughout the length and breadth of the land.


It was peculiarly fitting that the first effort towards the relief of the mass of sufferers by this terrible calamity should be made on the spot, immediately amid the scenes of devastation, wretchedness, and woe, abounding on every hand. Though the general havoc and destruction spread around were such as to paralyze the stoutest heart, and though there was scarcely one left who could say that he was not individually affected by the disaster, yet the few who had means promptly and freely gave towards the relief of those who were reduced to a state of absolute destitution. We say again that it was peculiarly fitting that the first effort in this direction should be made in Holmfirth itself, and such was the fact: for though the meeting at Holmfirth was held a few hours later than the preliminary meeting at Huddersfield, — which was attended by such a generous exhibition of munificent benevolence, — yet the arrangements for the Holmfirth meeting were made before those for the one at Huddersfield ; and immediate and efficient measures for the temporary relief of the pressing cases of destitution had been taken by the Holmfirth gentry before the arrangements for either meeting were thought of. Still while it was so fitting that the efforts for this much needed aid should be first begun upon the spot, all must admit that the effort at the Holmfirth meeting (under the circumstances) was all that could be expected, or even desired. In a district literally prostrate, literally ruined, subscriptions to the amount of £1020 were in a few moments handed in! A most noble beginning — and an earnest of the great success which is to follow the general appeal now being made.


With pride do we record the fact, that, in this work of benevolent duty, Huddersfield has nobly and promptly done its part. There has been no backwardness — no hesitation ; but all ranks and all classes, have, as if with common consent, spontaneously thrown themselves into the breach, and laboured both willingly and arduously to repair the damage done. We believe that such a meeting as that witnessed in Huddersfield on Monday night last was scarcely ever seen ; a meeting in which the subdued but all-pervading evidence of human sympathy was manifest, and in which the benevolent feeling of affection for the human kind suffering deprivation and loss was not ostentatiously, but most effectively exhibited. The glorious subscription raised at that meeting was not the result of fervent appeals addressed to the interests or to the passions of the hearers. It was not the result of political enthusiasm, or given under the idea that it would secure more than compensating benefits. It was not contributed for the success of party, or the promotion of individual or party objects. It was simply the tribute of benevolence to alleviate the sufferings and mitigate the wants of the destitute and prostrated. There was no exuberance — no noise — none of the ordinary manifestations of enthusiasm, which often hurry people into acts of which they afterwards repent. There was spread throughout the assembly an intense feeling of awe at the dire calamity which was the occasion of their meeting together, and of deep commiseration and pity for the sufferers by the devastating result. The mute eloquence of the occasion itself, and the simple words of the speakers, words which went to the heart and suffused the eye of every hearer, because they came from the heart, and bore with them the self-evident impress of intense human feeling and unaffected sincerity, — were sufficient for the appeal. The welling-out of human affection, as one of the speakers happily expressed it, was at once one of the most interesting and the most glorious sights in connection with mundane affairs. For more than one hour the silent but eloquent (because silent) evidences of unobtrusive benevolence were handed up to the chairman from the body of the meeting in rapid succession ; and when it is stated that up to last night the Huddersfield subscription amounted to nearly £9,000, we are sure that we are more than justified in saying that Huddersfield has done its part in the good work.


The example so well set at Holmfirth and Huddersfield has already produced its proper effect in other and contiguous towns. Our columns already give evidence of proceedings in Leeds, in Bradford and other towns ; and we know that arrangements are being made for movements in many other places. For instance, during the week, some Huddersfield gentlemen waited upon Mr. Samuel Gurnet, the banker, in London, and the latter at once accompanied the parties calling upon him to Baron Rothschild, when arrangements were made for convening together a number of the influential and leading merchants and bankers of London with a view to a combined effort for assistance and aid. From the manner in which the duty of aiding in the relief of the destitute has been spontaneously undertaken, and from the indications of sympathy manifested in every quarter, we feel assured that by the next week we shall be in a position to report that the subscription has been entered upon generally, and that even our sanguine hopes as to the result of the appeal made will not be disappointed.


Upon this committee there has naturally devolved a more than usual share of duty. They have not only had to take measures for the collection of contributions within their locality, but they have had also to examine into and afford temporary relief for the many urgent cases of destitution which have been pressed upon their attention. These duties they have performed with alacrity, and with a most persevering assiduity. They’ meet daily at nine a.m., at two p.m., and again in the evening. Their labours are also aided by a committee of ladies — or, as one of our correspondents well designates them — “Sisters of Charity,” — who meet daily at the Town Hall, and who seek out for those cases of secret, silent, unobtrusive suffering, which, unless thus sought out by the “ministering hand of charity,” would never be seen ; and who also carry condolence and hope to the hearths of the bereaved in that soft, harmonising, and graceful manner which it is woman’s privilege only to possess. In addition to these calls upon their attention and labours, the Holmfirth Committee have taken steps to ascertain, as far as this is practicable, the extent of the loss sustained and damage done. They have also initiated other measures of a most necessary and obvious character ; and their labours, under the most trying and difficult circumstances which men could be called upon to encounter, have been such as to entitle them to the respect and admiration of every man of humane feeling throughout the land.


Here again the utmost praise is due, if energy promptitude, perseverance, and judgment form any passport to public esteem. The locality has been divided into districts, and collectors set to work ; the machinery has been devised and put in motion to rouse the whole country to the aid of the sufferers. Addresses and appeals have been issued to the chief magistrates of every town in the kingdom, and other means taken to bring the appalling facts of this urgent case under the attention of those likely to influence the conduct of their fellow-men. Deputations have been appointed to visit the neighbouring towns and also London, to personally urge the large claims of the sufferers to public liberality upon the attention of the benevolent in their several districts. Indeed every means that prudence could suggest have been taken to secure the success of the object aimed at — a national movement for the alleviation of the miseries inflicted by a national loss.


It was a happy thought that which suggested an union of the energies of the Holmfirth and Huddersfield committees, under the title placed at the head of this section of our remarks, for the transaction of the general business connected with the subscription, and its particular appropriation. There is work which each committee can best perform separately. It would have been impossible for the Holmfirth committee, in addition to the duties we have before detailed, to take the other steps necessary to rouse the nation at large to a lively sense of the nature and extent of the disaster, and to the necessity there exists for speedy and general aid. It would have been equally impossible for the Huddersfield Committee, however much inclined to undertake the task, to perform the peculiar duties of the Holmfirth Committee ; for they could only be performed by men almost constantly upon the spot — and by men who had an intimate local knowledge of every party applying to them, and of every place affected by the flood. But there are duties which can be better performed by both united, than by either singly. The amount of the subscription will be materially influenced by the confidence the public may have in its appropriation ; and the union of an equal number of the two committees for this particular purpose, and the names and standing of the gentlemen constituting such united committee, is at once a guarantee warranting the utmost confidence on the part of the public. As to the extent to which the committee may be enabled to go in affording relief, — it is more a matter to receive a practiced solution than to be decided by theoretical speculation, or the laying down beforehand of imaginary limits. The extent of relief will depend upon the amount contributed. That is the only practical test. All parties are instinctively agreed that the first duty is to alleviate the sufferings of the destitute — to succour the friendless — to aid the homeless and the bereaved. Till the pressing wants of this large class have been in some measure supplied, there is obviously no means for other but most desirable purposes. But should the amount placed at the disposal of the committee be equal to more than this, there are obviously large and most urgent calls for its appropriation. We need not particularise — the nature of the calls we allude to being so manifestly obvious. But this must be the second consideration, to be determined only by the practiced test we have before indicated. To accomplish the first will require a most generous effort on the part of the public at large ; but should it fortunately so happen that the United Committee are enabled “by the liberality of the nation to accomplish more than the first, we are certain that the character of the gentlemen comprising such United Committee will form the best guarantee the public can have that the confidence reposed will not be abused. And, we own to a strong hope, — hope almost amounting to confidence, — that the Committee will be enabled to do something in the second direction indicated. When we reflect on the fact that the voluntary generosity of Englishmen resulted in a contribution of £30,000 towards the resuscitation of Hamburg, — a foreign city, when ravaged by fire ; when we reflect on the munificient contributions in England for the relief of the Quebec sufferers from a similar calamity, and, at various periods, for the relief of the Irish suffering from the horrors of destitution ; when we reflect upon these facts, we cannot imagine that the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, will be less sensitive to the awful calamity which has befallen an entire population at home of their own fellow-subjects, or that they will be less energetic or less generous to relieve and to aid.


One of the most satisfactory features and touching incidents of the Huddersfield meeting was the announcement that the workingmen of the district had, of their own spontaneous action, begun their subscription. The news was as gratifying to those who heard it as it was honourable to those whose noble conduct gave rise to it. The disaster has inflicted severe suffering upon the working classes of Holmfirth. In addition to the loss of furniture, loss of clothing, and total loss of home, sustained by many of this class who escaped the destruction of their own lives, there are, it is calculated by practical men, some 2000 hands thrown directly out of employment. Those 2000 hands, with their families dependent on their labour, represent a fearful number deprived of their ordinary means of livelihood. Who should sympathise with the sufferings of this class so early or so deeply as working-men themselves? And how satisfactory that amid the first contributions named, the workmen of the district had their fitting representatives. A reference to the published lists will show that the contribution of the workmen in the employ of Messrs. John Brooke and Sous, at Armitage-bridge, has been followed by noble ones from the workmen at the Messrs. Starkey’s works, and from the workmen at the manufactories of the Messrs. Armitage Brothers, the Messrs. Crosland and Sons, John Wrigley and Sons, Netherton, &c.

We trust that the workmen throughout the district will follow the examples set ; that they will subscribe in their shops, and that the amounts from the small shops will be published and held in as much honour as the amounts from the larger works. The widow only gave her “mite ;” but it was her all ; and the widow’s mite, with the good-will and large-heartedness which attended it, was not despised.


Last week, in reference to this subject, we stated that all attempts to estimate the amount of loss and damage sustained and caused by the fearful inundation were mere speculations. Indeed, from the nature of things, it could be nothing else. These estimates have ranged variously from £250,000 to £600,000. Our own estimate, after consulting with several practical men well acquainted with the district, was nearly half-a-million. The Times estimated the amount at £600,000 ; a sum also stated as its estimate by the Daily News. Measures are taken, under the direction of the Holmfirth Committee, to ascertain, by means of competent valuers, as nearly as is practicable, the actual amount of loss inflicted and damage sustained ; and we have it on the authority of those gentlemen — who would not be likely, for their own sakes, as valuers, to indulge in mere idle surmises — that though they have not had time and opportunity to enter upon their enquiry in a systematic manner, they have seen enough to justify them in stating it as their opinion that the amount can not be less than £250,000. Whatever the amount may actually turn out to be, after due enquiry and investigation, one thing is certain — that be it a few thousands, more or a few thousands less than the amount last named, there is enough for all to do to alleviate the suffering caused by the calamity.


On Wednesday next the proceedings before the Coroner as to the cause of death of the many bodies viewed by the jury will be resumed. Those proceedings involve necessarily an enquiry into the state of the reservoir, — the direct cause of all this devastation and loss of life ; and also as to how far negligence, inattention, or neglect may affect any parties directly in the charge and management of that reservoir. It will be seen, from a correspondence with the Home Office, which we publish elsewhere, that the Home Secretary will send down a gentleman on behalf of government to assist at such enquiry. We have also heard of certain other matters connected with the reservoir and its management, which must come before the Coroner and the jury for investigation — matters which it would be unfair now to detail or to express an opinion upon ; but which must make that inquest one of the most important enquiries of its kind ever held. In relation to that inquest, we shall do as we have done with all other matters connected with this painful and lamentable calamity ; we shall spare neither pains nor expense to obtain the earliest and the best information as to its proceedings ; we shall give those proceedings as they occur, that the public may judge for themselves ; and we shall accompany them with such observations as may be required for the full elucidation of the subject.