Jonathan Sandford (1806-1852)

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.

Jonathan Sandford was a scribbling miller and engineer of Dyson's Mill, Burnlee, Holmfirth, who perished in the Holmfirth Flood of 1852 with his two surviving daughters and his housekeeper, Ellen Wood.


He was born on 19 March 1806, the son of clothier Samuel Sandford of Hinchliffe Mill and his wife Hannah (née Pontefract), and he was baptised on 7 April 1822 at All Hallows, Kirkburton.

He married Nancy Roberts on 11 April 1833 at All Hallows, Almondbury. They had two known children:

The 1841 Census listed woollen slubber Jonathan and Nancy residing at Dyson's Mill,

Nancy Sandford died on 24 June 1843.

He married spinster Elizabeth Kinder[3], daughter of Meltham clothier William Kinder and his wife Grace (née Dyson), on 29 August 1844 at St. Bartholomew, Meltham, and they had two daughters:

Elizabeth Sandford died on 9 June 1849, aged 38.[6]

By the 1830s, Jonathan Sandford was a scribbling miller at Dyson’s Mill, Holmfirth.[7] The mill was run by the Messrs. Roberts and Sandford partnership and the Sandford family resided in an adjacent house.

In June 1850, the Huddersfield Chronicle reported that a "luxuriant field of grass, belonging to Mr. Jonathan Sandford, of Dyson's Mill" had been the first of the season to be cut for hay.[8]

By the time of the 1851 Census, widower Jonathan had employed a housekeeper, Ellen Wood (aged 21).


Together with his two surviving daughters and their housekeeper, he was killed in the early hours of 5 February 1852 during the Holmfirth Flood.

A young man named Haywood gave the following account to the Huddersfield Chronicle:[9]

I could see Mr. Sandford’s house below very well. There was no light that I observed. When the water came down, it dammed up between the bank and the wall from the bridge to Mr. Sandford’s house, and then carried the top of the house off. I never saw anybody, nor heard any shrieks from Mr. Sandford’s.

The newspaper also printed the following about Mr. Sandford:

He has recently been very successful in his business transactions, and the day preceding his melancholy and premature death he had invested a large amount of money in railway stock. On the Thursday morning his broker received a communication from him, dated the previous evening, and the first intelligence which that gentleman received of Mr. Sandford’s death was at the spot where the dreadful occurrence had taken place. Mr. Sandford appears to have entertained some anxiety as to the safety of his position, for about seven o’clock on Wednesday night he sent one of his men, named Benjamin Whitehead, up to Digley to make enquiries. Whitehead returned about half-past, and reported that the shuttle was up, but that there was danger. Mr. Sandford then observed that he would sleep in the mill, amongst some wool in one of the rooms which he mentioned. This resolve, however, it is to be regretted, he did not carry out. On the following morning the man who lived in the mill, named Charles Thorpe, mason, was alarmed, and on coming out he discovered that the reservoir had burst. He could not get to Mr. Sandford’s to alarm him, and proceeded to effect the escape of his own family. Immediately after being first alarmed he saw the flood come down the river several feet high in one wave, and on looking towards the river he added, to use his own graphic language, “I saw it like a mountain over Mr. Sandford’s house, and I am satisfied no one could see the house go.” There remain but sad vestiges of the former prosperity and activity of this special locality, and the unroofed and dilapidated house, standing in the midst of ruins still more desolate, associated as it is with the memory of one who was highly esteemed by those who knew him, excites in the mind feelings of a deep melancholy and sadness.

Unlike many of the bodies, which were quickly recovered in the days after the flood, Jonathan Sandford's body remained missing. The £1,000 insurance policy on his life stipulated that a body was required, so his friends issued the following notice bills on Tuesday 10 February:

£10 Reward.
A reward of ten pounds will be given to any person for the body of Mr. Jonathan Sandford. Apply to Mr. Joseph Crosland, bookseller, Holmfirth. Description — Mr. Jonathan Sandford was about 45 years of age, stood about six feet high, rather fresh-looking in the face, and a little round in the shoulders.

A further description also appeared in the press:

six feet, stout, round shoulders, sandy hair and whiskers, slightly pockpitted, and very bald on the top of the head

The Chronicle reported that Joseph Barrowclough had departed to Hull on Friday 13 February “for the purpose of ascertaining whether amongst the six bodies there found he [Sandford] be among them.” It was later stated that those particular bodies were unrelated to the Holmfirth Flood.

The following week, the reward was increased to £100.

At around 7am on Friday 20 February, a carter named Joseph Bray passed by the tail goit of Robinson's Mill, Thongsbridge, and noticed an object in the water. The recent fine weather had allowed much of the sediment from the flood to settle and reportedly the waters had become clearer. On his return at around 9am, he noticed the object again and reported it to a boy named William Broadhead, who passed the information on to Hiram Earnshaw[10] and to a local constable, John Crosland.

By 10am, a small group was busy investigating and helping to clear the mud around the object, which was soon revealed to be a body.

Upon removing a portion of the mud surrounding the object, they discovered it to be a human body, and from certain marks on the back, they at once identified it as that of Mr. Jonathan Sandford The body was deeply embedded in the mud, as though it had been puddled in, and occupied fully half-an hour before it could be released from its position. On being taken out of the water, it was found to be dressed in a flannel shirt, linen shirt, with, a stock round the neck, — the shirt being washed over the head.

Sandford's body was taken to the Royal Oak Inn at Thongsbridge before being carted to the Crown Hotel, Holmfirth, where an inquest over the body was held at 2pm on the same day. Sandford was buried at the Holmfirth Wesleyan Chapel the following day.

The issue of the reward proved contentious, as several individuals who were involved with the recovery of the body came forward but were unable to agree amongst themselves how to split the £100. Local solicitor C. S. Floyd, Esq., was requested to intervene and, after hearing evidence, apportioned the reward accordingly:[11]

  • William Broadhead, £50
  • John Crosland, £22
  • Hiram Earnshaw, £22
  • Joseph Earnshaw, £5 — "the amount to be placed in the Savings’ Bank for his benefit"
  • Abel Goldthorp, £1

An auction of the unclaimed property which had been salvaged after the flood was held during the week commencing 8 March 1852. Mr. T. Bamforth attended and purchased a “broken silver dial lever watch” which he subsequently took to Huddersfield watchmaker Mr. Richardson to repair. Whilst there, he expressed a wish to identify the watch’s original owner in case it could be returned. Richardson was able to identify it as a watch he had sold to Jonathan Sandford circa 1844, and subsequently repaired in June 1846. Bamforth then gave the watch to the deceased’s father, Samuel Sandford, in the hope that he would "preserve it as a fond memento of his lost son".[12]

Following Samuel's death in June 1855, he was interred in the family tomb. The damaged stone over the tomb appears to read:[13]

Nancy, Wife of Jonathan Sandford of
Dyson's Mill Holmfirth: who
departed this [Life on June the] 21st 1843.

ALSO of Alice Ann, daughter of
Jonathan and Elizabeth Sandford,
who departed this Life Dec 17th 1846
Aged 16 Months.

ALSO of Elizabeth wife of the
said Jonathan Sandford, who depar-
ted this Life June the 9th 1849
Aged 58 Years.

ALSO of the above Jonathan
Sandford aged 45 years,

ALSO of his daughter Sarah Jane
Aged 9 Years and 10 Months,

ALSO of his daughter Emily
Aged 4 Years and 10 Months,

All of whom lost their lives by the
bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir
on the morning of Thursday February 5th 1852.

Also of Samuel Sandford of
Butterley Hall, father to the
above named Jonathan Sandford,
who departed this Life June 24th 1855 Aged 74 Years.

Also of Nancy, wife of the above Samuel Sandford.

An inscription of a memorial tablet inside the chapel was recorded in The History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton and of the Graveship of Holme (1861) by Henry James Morehouse on page 224:

Jonathan Sandford, of Dyson's Mill, Holmfirth, aged 45; and daughters — Sarah Jane, aged 9 years and 10 months; and Emily, aged 4 years and 10 months; all drowned by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir, February 5th, 1852.

Dyson's Mill was repaired but appears to have been demolished circa 1906 after standing unused for a number of years. A new and larger mill named Perseverance Mills was built on the site, although this was eventually demolished in the early 1980s.

In his book, Haunted Huddersfield, Kai Roberts notes that a ghost reputed to haunt Thongsbridge Mills was claimed by some to be that of Jonathan Sandford.

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Died in September 1834 aged 14 days old and buried 14 September at Holmfirth.
  2. Born 26 April 1842. Baptised 17 July 1842 at Holmfirth. Died 5 February 1852.
  3. Born 26 May 1811 and baptised 7 September 1811.
  4. Born 8 August 1845 and baptised 2 November 1845. Died 17 December 1846. Buried at Holmfirth.
  5. Born 21 March 1848 and baptised 9 July 1848 at Holmfirth. Died 5 February 1852.
  6. Elizabeth's name is given as "Esther" in the Leeds Intelligencer (16/Jun/1849), which gave the cause of death as "of decline".
  7. A Catalogue of the Textile Mills and Factories of the Huddersfield Area C.1790-1914 by Alan Brooke. Other gentlemen of the same name lived locally, including a Jonathan Sandford of Burnlee whose name regularly appears the Brewster Sessions from that period.
  8. "Holmfirth: Forward Hay Grass" in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/Jun/1850).
  9. "Haywood's Statement" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).
  10. Hiram was a woollen fulling miller of Thongsbridge.
  11. "Distribution of the Reward for the Discovery of the Body of Mr. Sandford" in Huddersfield Chronicle (13/Mar/1852). Bray, who was the one who first spotted the body, seemingly missed out on his slice of the £100.
  12. "Discovery of the Late Mr. J. Sandford's Watch" in Huddersfield Chronicle (29/May/1852).
  13. Flickr, photograph taken in 2013 by "Budby".