Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Apr/1852) - Holmfirth Flood

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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.

The following are the articles related to the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 which appeared in this issue.




In reply to Mr. David Hinchcliffe’s statements, which appear in your journal of last Saturday, in which he says, in answer to a letter of mine, published some time since, respecting the unfortunate and melancholy bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir — first, that he was not a member of the parliamentary committee appointed to assist in procuring additional powers ; second, that I was on the reservoir bank within two years of the present time ; in the third place, attacking the charge I made against the parties having the care of the Holm-styes Reservoir, — in reply, I may say that I made use of the report of the government surveyor to the jury, with respect to the conduct of the parties at Holm-stye Reservoir ; that I have not been to or seen the Bilberry Reservoir until the fatal morning of the flood since 1845, before the first parliamentary opposition ; and, as to his first denial, I have to repeat that Mr. D. Hinchcliffe and a few others were the principal obstacles to an amicable, and, as far as the mortgagees were concerned, a very beneficial arrangement being come to in London. If such men acted without any authority, or without any appointment or power so to act, I submit that the case is worse still against them.
Yours, &c.,
Crosland Moor, April 15.


My last letter closed with an illustration of what the result of the application to parliament would have been to a considerable number of the millowners had it succeeded, viz., confiscation and ruin. Anxious to avoid a parliamentary contest, the opposing mill-owners tried every means in their power to bring about a compromise. The promoters would listen to nothing, and always answered that it would be time enough for them to consider our propositions when both parties got before parliament. They no doubt then thought the opposition was too feeble ever to make its appearance there. However, the day before the bill came before the committee, the opponents proposed to consent to their obtaining powers to levy rates on the principle of their then act sufficient to pay 5 per cent on the money borrowed, or to be borrowed, and all current expences. The following is the substance of the proposal :— “To raise £10,000. To pay interest by rate on the several mills, according to the degree of benefit received by each, and such benefit to be ascertained by a surveyor, to be appointed by the commissioners. The reference clause of the old act to be inserted in the new one. The money borrowed to be applied — first, in completing the Bilberry Reservoir ; second, to pay the expenses of promoters and opponents, and then to pay the debts owing. This was at once contumaciously and insolently rejected, but, to the honour of one gentleman amongst the promoters, who has since shown his sympathy with the sufferers from the late catastrophe by a donation unequalled in its munificence, stated that the proposition was most reasonable and ought to be adopted. The counsels of other men prevailed, who were occupiers of other mills nearest the reservoirs, and who feared by this proposal they might have to bear their legitimate share of the burthen. The next day the committee decided they could not repeal the act without the consent of all parties. That, whilst it gave the commissioners powers to levy rates, it was also a guarantee to the mill-owners that those rates should not be increased, and this was the more imperatively required since they had so miserably failed in completing their works. The bill was consequently withdrawn, the committee declining to proceed without the consent of the opponents, and, as they failed to induce the promoters to adopt the “beneficial clauses” of the act with an extended maximum rate, a compromise was impossible.
I need not further refer to this matter, as it has been so fully and ably explained in the letter of T. P. Crosland, Esq.
At length, in December, 1846, the award of Frederick Robinson, Esq., the barrister to whom the action to try the validity of the rates was referred, made its appearance, and it fully confirmed the views and opinions of the opposing millowners as to the rating powers of the act. In order that your readers may understand the question, I shall quote a portion of the award :—
And I further determine the legal mode and principle of making the rates to be, that the commissioners, having first appointed some person or persons as inspector or inspectors, surveyor or surveyor’s, for the purposes in the said act in that behalf specified, such inspector or inspectors, surveyor or surveyors, ought to inspect and survey the streams, rivulets, brooks, and rivers which he or they shall have been appointed by the commissioners to inspect and survey, and ought to measure and ascertain the height of the falls respectively, and to enquire into and ascertain and determine the relative degree or proportions of the benefit and advantage which the mills, factories, and premises using the waters of any such falls, streams, rivulets, brooks and rivers, received therefrom or thereby ; and that, for the purpose of determining such relative degree or proportions of benefit and advantage as aforesaid, such inspector or inspectors, surveyor or surveyors, ought to ascertain the number, power, and capacity of the water-wheels, or other engine or machine driven or moved by water, and giving the first motive power at the said mills, factories, and premises respectively, and to determine the relative degree or proportion of the benefit and advantage which such mills, factories, and premises receive from or by such waters, according to the greater or less moving power which the mills, factories, or premises respectively derive from such water-wheel, engine, or machine.
Could anything be written more clear and explicit than this, and yet singularly it embodies almost the very words of the act. The height of fall was first to be ascertained in order to fix the maximum rate that could be levied, and then the relative degree of benefit as between each mill was to be decided by the amount of horses’ power. Will it be believed that even after this decision Mr. Jacomb advised the Commissioners to make another rate on the “foot of fall,” precisely of the same amount as those that had preceded, and that they actually did make the rate of 1847 on this principle? Mr. Jacomb further attempted to coerce the complaining ratepayers into the payment of these rates as they were originally, made in direct defiance of this award, and the few Commissioners who then acted (perhaps not one-tenth of the whole) were willing instruments in his hands.
I ought here to mention that for a period of eight years these millowners, in consequence of this disputed ratal, were precluded by the act from attending or voting at any of the meetings of the Commissioners.
As the matter now stood there were three courses open to the millowners, either to give it up in despair, to go over the previous ground with the same expense, or to refer this new rate under the reference clause of the act. The latter course was adopted, and Messrs. Bateman and Jones, engineers, were the referees, with Mr. Robinson, barrister, as umpire. The result was, as every man of the most ordinary capacity must have foreseen, the confirmation of the previous award, and the application of the principle again affirmed in figures. The aggregate rate was reduced from £1870 to £785.
This award again entailed a large expense, and I appeal to the public whether the clerk was justified in thus squandering the funds of a scheme already in great pecuniary difficulties? Would it not have been more consistent to have instructed the surveyor, in making this rate, to have conformed to the spirit of this first award?
At length, when every artifice and legal trickery had failed, the same surveyor was instructed to make the rates of 1848 and 1849 on this principle, and consequently there was no objection by any party to them.
This serious reduction of the income of the Commissioners induced the same clique as before to attempt another application to parliament in 1847, but when the Commissioners, generally, were made acquainted with it, and as they were now not precluded from acting, they at once told Mr. Jacomb they would be no parties to such a procedure.
In the session of 1849 the mortgagees thought proper to apply to parliament. Certainly a most extraordinary proceeding on their part. By their bill the Commissioners were empowered to make additional rates sufficient to pay all interest and other expenses ; and if, at any time, they neglected to do so, three trustees, appointed by the mortgagees, should assume the functions of the Commissioners, and make such rates as they might think proper ; and as a grand finale, the costs and expenses of these trustees were to be met by a separate rate, and those incurred by the passing of the bill were to be paid by the Commissioners out of the first monies coming into their hands in preference to every other payment whatsoever.
There is no doubt the case of the mortgagees is an extremely hard one. They had lent their money on the faith of five per cent, but they ought first to have ascertained that the rates authorised to be levied would be sufficient to pay this interest. The mill-owners also sanctioned the obtainment of the act on the faith that they should have the benefit of six reservoirs for the present rates, and yet three of them have not even been commenced. Besides the greater portion of this money was subscribed as a speculation before the obtainment of the act, and was the main guarantee to parliament that this was a legitimate undertaking, and had there been at the time of payment no possibility that any interest would ever accrue, yet they were legally bound to provide the means to that amount, in order to carry out this undertaking.
I envy not the feelings of those subscribers who, having pushed the undertaking with a zeal worthy of a better cause, then made themselves mortgagees, and sold their interest to innocent parties, ignorant of the real position of the undertaking.
Unfortunately, in this country, we have many similar illustrations of golden visions, which the reality has suddenly dispelled.
The first day the committee sat on the bill they verbally decided “to refuse the promoters power to rate beyond the rating clauses of the original act,” but when Mr. Hope, the promoters’ leading counsel, stated that their case then was at an end, they re-considered the matter and put their decision in writing as follows:—
The intention of the committee is to refuse the promoters power to rate beyond and in addition to the bona fide and obvious intention of the rating clauses in the original act. They have no objection to hear parties in reference to additional powers to make the clause available.
The promoters immediately caught at this addition to their previous decision, and at first inserted a clause which neither promoters nor opponents could define what it meant, and then brought in another bill which, following a suggestion of the committee, left the whole question in the hands of three engineers to be appointed, “who shall enquire into and settle a system of rating most likely to do justice to all parties.” I cannot suppose for a moment that the committee ever intended that this further decision should over-ride their previous ones, and thus delegate to these three men the whole power and province of parliament, but simply that they should be guided in their decision by the bona fide intention of the original act. I could bring many proofs from the short hand writer’s notes of the frequent declaration of the chairman of the committee, that they did not intend to affect or alter the intention of the original act, would your valuable space allow. It was quite clear the committee misapprehended the position they had taken, and the opponents feeling that parliament would never consent, in another place, thus to delegate its powers, they withdrew from the committee and renewed their opposition in the Lords. Lord Beaumont was the chairman of the committee, and with his usual ability and perspicuity of intellect, at once saw to the bottom of the question, and declared that in all his experience in parliament he had never known so strange a proceeding. The committee did not put the opponents to the trouble of calling a single evidence but upset the bill. Thus ended the parliamentary contest of 1949. During the progress of the bill in the Commons Mr. Jacomb appeared for the Commissioners ostensibly on a petition to oppose but really as an ardent promoter. The main argument adduced in favour of this bill was that the rates authorised to be levied were altogether inadequate to pay the interest. No one doubted for a moment that Mr. Robinson in his award had put a proper construction on the provisions of the act. The counsel on both sides declared it was impossible to impugn it. Mr. Robinson was called as a witness himself, and in answer to a question of the chairman, he said — “I put that construction on the act of parliament which, after very much consideration, I may say almost learning these clauses by heart, I was satisfied in my own mind any court of law would feel compelled to put upon them.”
He is further asked by the chairman — “You did not take into consideration the engineering part of the question which your two referees—the persons over whom yon were arbitrator—had taken into consideration when referred to you?”
Answer — “I took it very much into consideration Of course the two different views were contended for by two engineers, and both of them men of great ability. I could not help seeing the different way in which those results formed by them would affect very considerable interests. It was with a view of seeing which of those two views the words of the act compelled me to adopt, that I looked at the act and studied it as I have told you, and at last came to ‘the conclusion which I felt myself bound to do, whichever way it might affect either one party or the other.”
Question — “In short your decision was given according to the bearing of the case in equity?”
Answer — “Entirely so.”
Well, one would have thought after all this engineering ability and legal lore had been brought to bear upon the question, there would be no occasion for any further disputes, but that both Commissioners and Clerk would conform to this decision. Not so. It does not suit Mr. Jacomb, when parliamentary contests have ceased, that contests about rates should cease also. He would have nothing to do but call a meeting annually to lay a rate and divide the proceeds amongst the mortgagees or creditors. There would then be no pretext for his bill of costs absorbing a large portion of it. As parliament won’t interfere, the game is up in this direction ; but could he not with the aid of their very tractable and accommodating surveyor increase the rate so as to raise another opposition? He has made a rate at £1800, £785, and therefore there would be no great harm in trying one at £1200 also. Never mind if the whole increase is absorbed in litigation, “there is nothing like leather.” Perhaps, Sir, you will think this all fiction, but it is a fact that the very next rate was raised to £1200, and in this way some parties’ rates nearly increased three-fold ; and by a legal quibble (a nominal reference and award got up to defeat a real and bona fide one) they have been unable as yet to take measures to set this matter right. Can you, or the public wonder at anything when such counsels as these can prevail?
As to the general expenditure, I find that out of £3007 5s. 7d. disbursed in the year 1846, 1847, 1848, and 1849, £2376 2s. 10d. was paid either to the clerk, parliamentary agents, or in some other way for litigation, and that only £631 2s. 9d. was paid for interest and other contingent expenses. Since 1849 no statement of accounts has been laid before the Commissioners, although about £2400 has been received, and at the last meeting of the Commissioners, about a month ago, not a figure had been entered since then. The clerk has kindly relieved the treasurer of the duties of his office for the last six years. Nor are the Commissioners troubled much with the disbursement of the funds coming into his hands. When it suits his purpose he does net hesitate to break the law, as you will see from the following extract from the act:—
And if any person shall accept both the offices of clerk and treasurer for the purposes of this act, or if any person being the partner of any such clerk, or the clerk, or any person in the service or employ of the partner of any such clerk, shall accept the office of treasurer, or shall act as deputy of such treasurer, or in any manner officiate for such treasurer, every such person so offending, shall for every such offence forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred pounds to any person who shall sue for the same, to be recovered with full costs of suit in any of her Majesty’s Courts of Record at Westminster.
Even during the inquest it occasionally oozed out how extremely careful Mr. Jacomb has been that no money should be expended in needful and urgent repairs of the reservoirs. Mr. John Mitchell, in his evidence tells us, that at the close of 1850 he took off the iron work necessary to draw one of the shuttles at Bilberry, and that it has never since been replaced in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining payment for the work already done, — that the cost of all these repairs would only amount to about £5, and yet for the want of this trifling sum one of these shuttles could not be put down since that time. Then again, Jonathan Woodcock, the previous drawer, states that the reason he gave up was that he could not obtain his wages ; and when he applies to Mr. Jacomb he tells him “that he has something else to do than to attend to such men as him.” Although Mr. Littlewood attempts to get out of the responsibility of not having complied with the orders of the Commissioners to cut a hole in the waste pit at the height of eighteen feet from the shuttle, by stating that Jonathan Thorpe told him that two of the Commissioners stated that they would resist any such attempt by force ; yet, I fear, the real cause was the difficulty of extracting the necessary funds for the payment of the work to be performed, or otherwise a careless indifference whether the order was executed or not. From the evidence there is no proof that there was any obstruction to the cutting of this hole, but the very contrary. Is it not singular that Mr. Littlewood could just remember that some one threatened to cause some obstruction to this work, but when the names of the parties were asked for his memory failed him? He knew full well that if any one had dared to interfere they would have been at once answerable to the law ; and, therefore, to say the least of it, this is a most lame and paltry excuse. James Morton, the mason who went with Jonathan Thorpe to cut the hole, says — “I went up with Jonathan Thorpe to do some work at Bilberry waste pit. We saw Charles Battye there, and he assisted us in taking dimensions for some timber we wanted. Thorpe told me I was to cut a hole in the waste pit about a yard square on the outside, and rather more in the inside, that if anything got in it might pass through. We went to borrow some timber, and he told me I was to wait for further orders. No one obstructed me in making this hole.” But as this is not the only time the Commissioners have ordered this to be done, it is quite clear that Mr. Jacomb either neglected to find the means, or he did not use due diligence in carrying out their orders.
In conclusion I submit that there is nothing to show that if the orders and requirements of the Commissioners had been duly carried out there could possibly have been the slightest blame attaching to them with reference to the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir. They appointed, as they thought, a competent engineer to carry out the works, and they expended at different times more than four times the first estimated cost in endeavouring to make it water tight. The deficiency of the embankment appears to have been entirely caused by a spring in the bottom of the puddle bank. Mr. Leather stated that he was not aware of this until the inquest. But on the other hand we have the evidence of James Morton that both Mr. Leather and Mr. Falshaw, his clerk, saw it. We have also the evidence of Mr. Tait that a quantity of puddle, in the form of a crescent, was put in by the direction of the same parties, in order to drive the spring into the inside of the embankment. I have reason also to know that a gentleman was present at the inquest, and ready to tender his evidence, that he had written more than a score letters by the orders of the Commissioners to Mr. Leather, especially in reference to this spring. He could also have proved that a vast number of letters had been written to him, and which he had never thought proper to reply to, and that generally he had treated the Commissioners in a most strange and unprofessional manner.
The Commissioners ought long since, in order to have vindicated their own proceedings, to have brought an action against him for the great loss they had sustained in consequence of his gross neglect and mismanagement. The late John Harpin, Esq., might truly say (as given in evidence) they had been “Leathered” enough!
It would be as reasonable to charge every ratepayer in a township, after they had made every enquiry as to his ability and general conduct, with the dishonesty and neglect of their officer, as to charge the whole body of Commissioners with this catastrophe. So soon as any person becomes either owner or occupier of a mill, by virtue of such, he may attend any meeting of that body as a Commissioner, but I confidently ask was there any thing in the prospects or position of this undertaking to induce them to attend? Four-fifths of the millowners have had no more to do with this scheme than the public themselves. Is it likely if they had known there was the slightest probability of danger they would not have endeavoured to remedy it, especially as their property would be mainly affected by it, and when they knew if the reservoir was even destroyed they might be liable to the rates as before?
The case of the millowners, instead of being liable to the censure of parties ignorant of the facts, calls for the especial commiseration of the public. They have lost their property, then mills have been stopped, and all their trade arrangements deranged, and as a climax to their disasters clinging like a millstone round their necks, they will be called upon yearly, so long as their mills exist, for a rate in respect of this reservoir, although it does not now exist.
Had the shuttle not been blocked up by a large stone weighing 6½ stones, there is not much doubt but that this opening would have reduced the quantity of water in the reservoir so as to have prevented an overflow. The distance of the points of influx of the water into the reservoir from where the shuttle is placed makes it improbable that it got there by accident. From the amount of dead water intervening, it is almost impossible to have been swum there. Whether it has been placed there by design, or by parties anxious to impede the usual draw of water, or rolled in by some mischievous person, it is impossible to solve. There is a mystery hanging about this stone which will never perhaps be cleared up, but at any rate it was one of the causes, if not the main one of the catastrophe.
There are many other points which I might have thrown some light upon, but I feel that I have already transgressed too much upon your space.
I am, Sir, yours respectfully,



Death of Joseph Charlesworth, Esq. — It is our melancholy duty this week to record another death, which is as much the effect of the flood as if the individual had been washed down by the water. On the morning of Saturday last, a little before eleven o’clock, a.m., Joseph Charlesworth, Esq., of Eldon House, the chairman of the Holmfirth bench of magistrates, breathed his last, in the 60th year of his age. Of all the deaths caused by the flood this is the most awful in many respects. Mr. Charlesworth was the oldest of a firm of four brothers, sons of the late Mr. Joseph Charlesworth, manufacturer and merchant, of Holmfirth, a gentleman who from comparative obscurity raised himself to affluence by his own unaided exertions, and bequeathed to his sons, as his successors in business, in addition to considerable wealth, a name characterised by integrity, combined in an eminent degree with the essential qualities of a successful tradesman, namely, perseverance and business tact. The deceased, who entered into business in early life, inherited many of his father’s qualities, and the firm of Joseph Charlesworth and Sons, after the death of the principal, first under the management of the deceased, and afterwards under that of one or other of the junior partners, has lost none of that high business character to which it had formerly attained. The deceased, a member of the establishment, was early the subject of deep religious impressions, and we have heard many, who were once his trading acquaintances, speak of him as a man of such uprightness of character, amiability of feeling and devout religious principles as is seldom to be met with in commercial circles. He has been for many years, ever since the year 1822, intimately connected with the interests of the Holmfirth Church Sunday Schools, by the friends of which his worth will be long remembered and his loss deeply felt. His spiritual pastor, the Rev. T. G. Fearne, incumbent of Upperthong, in alluding to him at a late school festival, said that he combined, in a degree seldom to be met with, the qualities of a Christian tradesman and an amiable man; and if he had ever hesitated about the fervour of his religious feeling, he hesitated not then, after having attended him in his last illness. The deceased qualified as a magistrate in the year 1839, at the time a petty sessions was first established for the Holmfirth district. He and the late John Harpin, Esq., were the first dispensers of justice in the Holmfirth valley, and at the death of the latter gentleman, which took place on the 8th May, 1849, he succeeded to the chairmanship of the bench. His conduct in his magisterial capacity has been such as to give general satisfaction, and the integrity of his conduct has nowhere displayed itself with greater force than in his desire to administer impartial justice in all cases brought before him. He has been three times married. His first wife was a Miss Rhodes, of Tintwistle, by whom he had two children, viz., Joseph Rhodes and Penelope. His second wife was a daughter of the late Mr. Barber, of Field-end, who presented him with one daughter, who was named Ruth. His third wife was a Miss Hare, of Kinder, near Hayfield. His son, who imbibed the religious feelings of his father, and cherished to good purpose the early precepts instilled into his mind, was some time ago presented to the incumbency of Linthwaite, and married a Miss Micklethwaite, of Darfield. His daughters are still at home, and unmarried. The deceased’s dwelling stood in the way of the water on the morning of the late flood, and was inundated to a considerable height. The excitement was too much for him, and after the abatement of the water it became gradually apparent that his nervous system had received a severe shock, although he, along with his colleagues, W. L. Brook and Joshua Moorhouse, Esqs., discharged arduous duties at the Town Hall immediately following the catastrophe, in swearing in special constables, and attending generally to the requirements of the neighbourhood at that distressing time. In the meetings of the committee, likewise, when all the judgment, energy, and decision that could be brought to bear was required, the deceased most admirably acquitted himself. Mr. Charlesworth’s health perceptibly gave way, gout appeared, and other internal disorganisation supervened, which on Saturday morning last suddenly terminated his valuable life. His loss will be much felt in the neighbourhood, as he was held in high esteem by all. His interment took place on Wednesday morning last, at the Old Church, Holmfirth, and as a mark of respect to the deceased the shops were all closed. The church Sunday-school teachers walked in the funeral procession, two and two. The pall-bearers were William Leigh Brook, Esq., J.P., Joshua Moorhouse, Esq., J.P., James Bates, Joseph Hinchliff, George Hinchliff, James H. Farrar, C. S. Floyd, and John H. Farrar, Esqs. A large concourse of people also assembled to witness the mournful ceremony.

Re-opening of the Norridge School Room. — On Sunday last, the above school-room (one end of which was taken away by the late flood) was re-opened. Mr. R. Carling, of Bolton, preached two sermons in the afternoon and evening to slender but attentive audiences. Collections, amounting to 13s., were made in aid of the funds.

Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds (Ashton Unity). — The annual meeting of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds (Ashton Unity), was held at Brother Thomas Boothroyd’s, Rose and Crown Inn, Holmfirth, on Easter Monday and Tuesday, April 12th and 13th, when fifty-four delegates form different districts assembled. At nine o’clock on Monday morning the officers of the order, Robert Willis, C.S. ; John Beardsall, D.C.S. ; and William Hall, Cor. Sec., opened the business of the meeting in due form, when the C.S. delivered an excellent address. The trifling difference which had arisen in the order was settled, we are happy to say, satisfactorily. After the proposition for new laws and for rescinding of amending those already in existence had been gone into, in which business the delegates by their moderate and straightforward conduct shewed their brotherly love to each other and their desire to service the order at large in as efficient a manner as possible, the late catastrophe at Holmfirth was taken into consideration, when it was agreed to make a present of £10 to the relief committee. There has been about fifty new lodges opened in the past year, with an increase of three thousand members. Two new lodges have been opened in London, and applications were now before the brethren for four more new lodges. After the transactions of the usual business the next annual meeting of the brethren was arranged to be held at Mossley.


Subscription on Behalf of the Poor Sufferers at Holmfirth. — The local subscription for this object is now closed, and amounts to the very handsome sum of £378 6s. 5d. The same has been paid by the treasurer, John Dowse, Esq., into the Huddersfield Bank, to the credit of the united committees of distribution. A brief report of the transactions of the Marsden committee, together with an alphabetical list of the subscribers, is now in the press, and will be ready for distribution in a few days.