James Shackleton (c.1788-1857)

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project which aims to make content available to researchers in advance of the 175th anniversary of the 1852 Flood which will be commemorated in 2027.

James Shackleton was a Holmfirth innkeeper whose lost several members of his family in the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


He was born in the Holmfirth area, the son of Richard Shackleton and his wife Grace (née Hirst), and was baptised on 21 June 1788 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.

He married Anne Dyson, daughter of Joshua Dyson, in August 1812 at All Hallows, Almondbury. The couple had three known children:

By 1828, he was the landlord of the Waggon and Horses Inn in Holmfirth.

Ann Shackleton is believed to have died in 1839.

By 1851, he had retired and was living near the Market Cross at Mill Hill, Holmfirth, which was situated on the other side of the road to the White Hart Inn.

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

On the night of the Holmfirth Flood, James was in his house along with his daughter Mary and her daughter Ann. Contemporary reports suggest that their house had partially collapsed by the time William Dyson (landlord of the White Hart Inn) ran across and urged them to evacuate the building.

Dyson have the following statement to the Huddersfield Chronicle:[2]

Mrs. Dyson awoke me about one o’clock, and said the water was coming into the house. I immediately jumped out of bed, ran down to a back door on the second floor, intending by that means to let my family out by the back door, which is on a level with the ground behind, though chamber high. At the same moment the water burst in the door, and I with difficulty escaped with my life. The water completely filled the lower rooms, washed down the bread creel, which was affixed to the kitchen ceiling, and swept down everything before it. As soon as I had secured my own family, I ran across the stream in the street to Mr. James Shackleton’s, one side of whose house had fallen. I said, ‘Where are you all?’ and a voice cried out ‘We are here.’ I passed the children over to Jonathan Roebuck, and succeeded in carrying Miss Shackleton on my back, in her night dress, into my own house in safety.

A similar account appeared in The Flood Came and Took Them All Away: A Sermon on the Holmfirth Flood (1852) by Rev. Joshua Fawcett:

Immediately opposite the White Hart stands a dwelling occupied by Mr. Shackleton, a retired publican. The water had already made sad havoc with it, and washed away the furniture, when Mr. Dyson made a desperate effort to rescue the inmates, and succeeded in carrying them out of the house on his back; Mr. Shackleton’s daughter and grand-daughter being in their nightdresses.

In 1902, local artist Peace Sykes recalled the events:[3]

May I be allowed to give a brief account of my experience, as I was an eye-witness of the sad calamity ― the Holmfirth flood, on February 4th, 1852. I was living at that time near the White Hart Inn, in a house within about fifty yards of a house occupied by Mr. James Shackleton, who for a long period had been the landlord of the Waggon and Horses, from which he had retired. [...] I watched the flood do its destructive work, and the first thing I saw fall was the Old Genn, as was termed the large pillar which had been erected to commemorate some important public event. Next Mr. Shackleton’s house. [...] In about twenty minutes the water began to subside, and I was able to leave my house, where I had been imprisoned by the flood. My wife was naturally in a state of great alarm, and before I left her, a neighbour woman came in to keep her company. I went at once to the Shackletons, and found the old man stood in the street with no clothing but shirt and trousers, and the poor man danced and cried like a child. He had just seen his son’s house and all the family swept away. At this time his own daughter and granddaughter were standing in a doorway which stood a little out of the water, and Mr. William Dyson, landlord of the White Hart, and others with myself got them safely down. Close to old Mr. Shackleton was the corpse of a woman who had clung to a piece of timber.

The body of his son, Richard, was eventually recovered from the River Aire on Saturday 28 February near Pontefract. William Dyson accompanied James to identify the body:

It may be added that poor Shackleton having been nearly a month in the water when found, his features were so distended and livid as to render his identity a matter of great difficulty, even by his own father; nor was the recognition fully made out, until it was remembered that he bore a palpable "mother's mark" on one arm, which, being found patent, at once removed all doubts as to the remains being those of Richard Shackleton.

Richard's body was then returned to Holmfirth and buried on Wednesday 3 March at St. John's, Upperthong.

Later Life

James Shackleton died aged 69 towards the end of June 1857 and was buried on 1 July at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.

  1. Born 10 October 1812. Married Joshua Morrey (died 1840) on 23 September 1832, and then Benjamin Burton on 4 November 1841. Died 26 October 1882.
  2. "Mr. William Dyson's Statement" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).
  3. "The Holmfirth Flood" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (14/Feb/1902).