Joseph Hellawell (c.1819-1886)

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.

Joseph Hellawell survived the Holmfirth Flood of 1852, but lost his wife and children. In total, he fathered 14 children.


He was born in the Township of Golcar, the son of weaver George Hellawell.

He married clothier Mary Woodhead on 27 September 1841 at All Hallows, Almondbury. The couple had five known children, all of whom perished in the Holmfirth Flood of 1852:

The 1851 Census recorded the Hellawell family living at Scar Fold, Holmfirth, with Joseph and Mary working as woollen cloth weavers.

Holmfirth Flood

In the early hours of 5 February 1852, the embankment of Bilberry Reservoir failed and a torrent of water flooded the Holme Valley, destroying buildings and killing upwards up 80 people.

According to several reports, the entire family slept downstairs in their house at Scar Fold. Joseph was woken by the flood and called for his family to follow him as he rushed upstairs (or was carried up the stairs by the rising waters), but unfortunately they were drowned in their beds. Alone, Joseph clambered onto his loom and cried out for help — his calls were heard by those in the house above and they ripped up their floorboards to allow him climb out of the water.

After the waters subsided, a neighbour named William Moorhouse went into the Hellawells' house and saw the bodies of Mary and her children "lying dead in bed."[1] The bodies were removed to the George Inn at Upper Bridge.

At the inquest, Joseph Hellawell's absence was explained by Thomas Taylor of Holmfirth, with whom Joseph was staying whilst he recovered:

The water hurried the father up stairs to an upper room by which he was saved, but the others were drowned in bed. The father was very much injured by being knocked about by the water, and had not been able to leave his bed since.
   — Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852)

Thomas Taylor, of Holmfirth, gave an account of a conversation which he had with the father of the unfortunate family, who stated that he was washed out of bed by the force of the water, and ultimately escaped by resting on a "breast beam." His wife and all the children perished, and every thing they processed was destroyed. In answer to a question by a jury-man, the witness stated that the bereaved husband had been confined to bed ever since the deplorable occurrence, partly from injuries received, and partly from anguish of mind. He was utterly unable to leave the house
   — "Adjourned Inquest: Friday" in Halifax Guardian (14/Feb/1852)

Mary and her five children were buried on Sunday 8 February at St. John's, Upperthong.

Remarriage and Later Life

Joseph Hellawell did not remain a widow for long and married 23-year-old spinster Lydia Crosland, the daughter of weaver Joseph Crosland, on 25 September 1852 at All Hallows, Kirkburton. The couple had nine children, with the first two sharing names with the sons he lost in the flood:

  • George Hellawell (1853-1904)[2]
  • John Hellawell (1856-1915?)[3]
  • Andrew Hellawell (1858-1906)[4]
  • Albert Hellawell (1860-1947)[5]
  • Aaron Hellawell (1862-1865)[6]
  • Alfred Hellawell (1865-1922)[7]
  • Joseph Hellawell (1867-1931?)[8]
  • Herbert Hellawell (1869-?)
  • Martha Hellawell (1874-?)[9]

Joseph and Lydia initially lived at Binns, Upperthong, before moving to Thornhill, Longwood, by the time of the 1871 Census.

Joseph died on 10 October 1886, aged 67, and was buried on 15 October at St. Mark's Church, Longwood.

The 1911 Census listed Lydia (81) living at 81 Thornhill Road, Longwood, with her children John (aged 52), Joseph (43) and Martha (36), and her grandchildren Lena (25), Ellen (23), Joe (9) and Herbert (4).

Lydia died the following year, aged 82, and was buried at St. Mark's on 15 May 1912.

Notes and References

  1. Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852).
  2. Born 15 August 1853 and baptised 25 December 1853 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth}}.
  3. Born 20 January 1856 and baptised 4 May 1856 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth}}. Married Mary Jane Eastwood 15 September 1883.
  4. Born 4 April 1858, baptised 16 May 1858 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth}}.
  5. Born 12 February 1860, baptised 20 May 1860 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth}}.
  6. Born 24 September 1862, baptised 10 May 1863 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth}}.
  7. Born 11 April 1865, baptised 13 August 1865 at St. Mark, Longwood.
  8. Born 20 February 1867 and baptised 11 August 1867 at St. Mark, Longwood.
  9. Baptised 14 July 1890 at St. Mark, Longwood. Married Friend Hanson on 7 April 1928.