Leeds Mercury (14/Feb/1852) - The Catastrophe at Holmfirth

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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.



Seldom has public sympathy been more widely or earnestly expressed than in behalf of the sufferers by the catastrophe in the valley of the Holme, recorded in our columns of last week; and seldom, if ever, has it been more required by the circumstances in which the victims of a tremendous calamity have been placed. We need only point to the statements which appear in another part of our impression this week, in proof of this remark. The coolest observers who have visited the scene of the inundation sum up their impressions of the nature and extent of the ruin by declaring that “it beggars description;” and we may be quite sure that if this is the case with the mere external aspect of mills, houses, shops, and fields over which the mighty mass of waters pitilessly rolled, the human misery consequent on all this wreck is yet further beyond the power of adequate conception. One cause of this misery, no stranger can alleviate or repair : the lives lost are irrecoverable. But happily this is not so with other urgent causes, affecting multitudes who may not even have lost a relative. It is estimated by those best qualified to form an opinion, that property of the value of £200,000 to £250,000 was destroyed on the morning of February 5th; and it is known that about 4,000 individuals connected with the manufactories in one way or other were then wholly thrown out of employment. Many of these have families, hitherto dependant on their earnings, and in addition there are numerous persons who have lost employment of other kinds. Then there are the employers themselves and the tradespeople, over whose prospects so sudden a destruction has come. It was stated at a preliminary meeting in Leeds held on Thursday, that the hands dependant on factory operations, and thrown out of work, cannot all be set to work again in less than from three to four months; and that the amount of wages lost by the stoppage will be about £2,000 a week.

Such is the position into which the industrious inhabitants of one of our Yorkshire valleys have been brought. Dismal as is their prospect, it would be hopeless indeed but for the spirit of generous self-denial which it has awakened in towns not far distant, and which has already borne such noble fruit. The example set by the people of Huddersfield and such of the inhabitants of Holmfirth itself as have not lost their property, is admirable. We feel sure it will be followed in every town of the West Riding. An excellent meeting in aid of the object was held yesterday in Bradford, at which upwards of £1,000 was raised, and further liberal things devised; and we trust that the results of the Leeds meeting, on Monday next, will be worthy of the town. Indeed, we cannot doubt it : we do not remember to have been on any occasion more gratified than by witnessing the number of gentlemen who answered the Mayor’s call to a preliminary meeting, and the earnestness with which they entered on the consideration of the course to be pursued in this town.

We trust there are many places beyond the borders of the West Riding, which will join in these efforts to alleviate the condition of the surviving sufferers. Indeed, notice of a motion was given on Thursday in the London Court of Common Council, for a grant of £200 in aid of the subscription fund; and from the feeling then manifested, we expect the motion will be unanimously adopted. May the spirit of sympathy and liberality spread far and wide! The case is most urgent, the losses sustained are enormous, the want of employment will be felt by thousands for months to come. Such are the claims of the sufferers on those who have been spared calamities so dreadful; and we are convinced they will be acknowledged and met by thousands of our fellow-countrymen.


It will be perceived that, in addition to the means being resorted to in Leeds and other places to raise subscriptions for the relief of the sufferers by this calamity, Mr. Thornes, proprietor of the Princess’s Theatre, in this town, gives an entertainment at his establishment, on Thursday evening next, for the same philanthropic object.

The ladies of Cleckheaton having for a number of years constituted themselves a Dorcas Society, whose annual charities to the poor widows and the aged of both sexes in the village are gratefully remembered by them, have kindly come forward to the relief of the distressed and destitute in Holmfirth and its neighbourhood, and sent them a large quantity of new-made, as well as of cast-off, clothing.


On Thursday week, as a person named James Clegg was walking on the banks of the river at Mirfield, he saw something in the water which he supposed to be a human being, and on obtaining assistance it was got out, when it proved to be the body of a young female, apparently about twenty years of age. The body was quite destitute of clothing of any kind whatever, and on the fourth finger of the left hand was a wedding ring. The body was conveyed to the nearest public-house until Friday, when T. Lee, Esq. held an inquest upon it, and a verdict of “Found drowned” was returned. Shortly after the inquiry had closed, a relative of deceased’s came forward and identified the body as that of Betty, the wife of Enos Earnshaw, and also stated that deceased had been washed away from her home at Hinchliffe Mill, near Holmfirth, and was one of the victims of the recent calamity caused by the bursting of one of the Holme reservoirs at Holmfirth.

The friends of the deceased not being able to bear the expense of her removal to Holmfirth, she was buried on Saturday wains at Mirfield church.




(From our last week’s Second Edition.)

The coroner for the district, Geo. Dyson, Esq., of Halifax, arrived in Holmfirth this morning, for the purpose of taking the inquest on the bodies recovered; but, in consequence of some mistake in the communications which had taken place between him and other parties, some little delay took place before proceedings could be taken. Before three o’clock, however, the jury had inspected all the bodies in the vicinity, (60 in number), and a little after that hour they met the Coroner at the Town Hall, where the judicial inquiry was formally opened.

The Coroner said he was sorry to have to meet them on a melancholy occasion like the present, when so much destruction of life and property had taken place. But, looking at the confined place where they resided, it was a matter of some surprise that the destruction of life and properly was not greater than it had been; yet even as it was, it was very large, and truly frightful. He was sorry that a communication of his respecting the inquest had not been understood, as he had in consequence had to wait for them since ten o’clock that morning. He was sorry, not on his own account, but on theirs, as he should have to ask them to do some portion of the work they had been doing over again. He did not intend to go into the evidence on that day, as he did not consider that the public mind was at present prepared for it, neither was it possible that the evidence required in the case could be brought before them in so short a time. What he proposed to do was, to have the reservoir examined by some competent engineer, with a view to ascertaining whether there were any defects in its construction from which this catastrophe might have arisen, and also whether the rules and instructions given by the engineer had been attended to. Probably, too, Government might wish to send down an engineer of their own. At least he should think it his duty to communicate with the Government to that effect, in order that the Commissioners, or whoever they were, who had the management of these reservoirs, might have an opportunity of giving such explanations as might, be necessary to satisfy the public that, if these reservoirs were to be continued, they could be made secure, and that they had not been guilty of any neglect. From this statement, the jury would see that it was accessory for them again to view the reservoir itself, which would require them to walk over the ground, and be would accompany them for that purpose either on that or on the following day.

A Juror. — We bad better finish that to-day.

The Coroner. — In the next place, he would ask them to adjourn to some future day, probably in next week, in order to give time for him to communicate with the Government and other parties. As to the day, they would fix it to suit their own convenience. How would Monday week suit?

The jury conferred together for a short time, after which it was agreed that the Coroner and themselves should view the reservoir that afternoon; and that the further inquiry should be adjourned until Wednesday, the 18th instant, at half-past ten o’clock in the forenoon.

The following gentlemen were then sworn on the jury:—

Mr. Godfrey Mellor, manufacturer, Thong’s-bridge.
Mr. Thomas Mellor, manufacturer, Thong’s-bridge.
Mr. Thomas Moorhouse, gentleman, Holmfirth.
Mr. Thomas Dyson, manufacturer, Thong’s-bridge.
Mr. James Brooke, manufacturer, Bridge-mill.
Mr. Wm. Day Martin, clock and watch maker, Holmfirth.
Mr. Joseph Crawshaw, saddler, Holmfirth.
Mr. Charles Taylor, linen draper, Holmfirth.
Mr. Joshua Moorhouse, shopkeeper, Holmfirth.
Mr. John Burton, schoolmaster, Holmfirth.
Mr. Richard Bower, manufacturer, Holmfirth.
Mr. Josh. Crosland, bookseller, Holmfirth,
Mr. John Wylie, schoolmaster, Holmfirth.
Mr. James Horncastle, gentleman, Holmfirth.
Mr. David Brook, manufacturer, Burnlee.
Mr. Thomas Hinchliff, manufacturer, Upper Thong.
Mr. Ralph Carter, manufacturer, Upper Thong.

The jury having proceeded to view the reservoir, the inquiry was then duly adjourned to Wednesday, the 18th.

Our account of this terrible accident, which appeared in last Saturday's Mercury, brought up the details to the previous evening (Friday). We now proceed to give such additional particulars as have reached us. On Saturday the number of people attracted to the town was very great. Every train from Huddersfield was crowded, and it was found necessary to attach two powerful engines to each load. The Magistrates took advantage of the occasion, and endeavoured to obtain money to relieve the present necessities of the destitute. Persons were stationed in every road and thoroughfare for this purpose with subscription boxes, and altogether upwards of £50 was raised. A placard met the eye on every wall, inviting aid in the following terms:—

“To the benevolent and humanely disposed, — The Magistrates in petty session assembled, hope that parties from a distance will leave subscriptions at the railway station, the bank, at Mr. Crossland’s, stationer, and with authorised collectors, towards affording immediate relief to those unfortunate individuals who are deprived of house and home by the sad and disastrous calamity which has befallen this district. — Joseph Charlesworth, Wm. Leigh Brook, Joshua Moorhouse. — Court House, Holmfirth, Feb. 6, 1852.”

The following is another notice issued by the Magistrates

“Public notice: All persons finding any deeds, books, money, papers, and other portable valuable property, are hereby requested to deliver or forward the same immediately to Mr. Martin Kidd, clerk, Town Hall, Holmfirth, for safe custody; and it is particularly requested that deeds or writings may not be washed, nor parchment dried by the fire. — By order, Joseph Charlesworth, W. L. Brook, Joshua Moorhouse, Magistrates.”

It is calculated that by this catastrophe not less than 2,000 workmen are deprived of employment, consequently, reckoning four to each family, dependent upon them, here is a population of at least 8,000, left without the means of subsistence.

We see it stated by a contemporary that the mouth of the byewash, built near the front of the reservoir, to take away the surplus water, is considerably above the embankment, and therefore utterly worthless for the object for which it was built. The same local authority calculates that the quantity of water in the reservoir at the time the embankment came down, would be not less than eighty-six millions two hundred and forty-eight thousand eight hundred gallons, or the enormous and fearful amount of three hundred thousand tons weight of water. Thus a faint idea may be formed of the mighty mass of this destructive element let loose, in one moment, to uncontrolled and irresistible power, scattering death and havoc on every side.

The rumour, very generally current, to the effect that the body of Mr. Harpin, which lies in the Wesleyan chapel grave-yard, had been swept away, is not correct, it having been satisfactorily ascertained on investigation, that though the tomb is destroyed, the body still remains in the same spot as that in which it was deposited.


An influential meeting of gentlemen connected with Huddersfield and its vicinity was held on Saturday, in the Commissioners, large room. South Parade, for the purpose of devising measures for the alleviation of the sufferings caused by this disastrous calamity. The meeting was convened by circular, sent out by Thomas Mallinson, Esq., the constable; and the response in attendance and result was everything that could have been desired. Among those present were John Sutcliffe, Esq., John Brooke, Esq., Wm, Willans, Esq., F. Schwann, Esq., J. T. Armitage, Esq., the Vicar of Huddersfield, Rev. N. Maning, Rev. J. Glendenning, Rev. R. Skinner, Rev. James Carr, Rev. John Mc Owan, Messrs. J. W. and H. Shaw, Mr. Wright Mellor, Mr. J. C. Laycock, Mr. J. Freeman, Messrs. J. Beaumont, sen. and jun., Mr. Wm. Moore, Mr. Edmund Eastwood, Mr. Wm. Mallinson, Mr. Alexander Hathorn, Mr. Thomas Brook, Mr. Thomas Firth, jun., and Mr. Isaac Robson.

Upon the suggestion of F. Schwann, Esq., a subscription was opened in the room, and amongst the donations announced were the following:— Messrs. John Brooke and Sons, Armitage-bridge, £500; Frederick Schwann, Esq., £200; W. Willans, Esq., £100; George Mallinson and Sons, £ 100; Joseph Beaumont, Esq., £50; and many other sums, amounting in the aggregate to between £1,400 and £1,600. Subsequently other sums, including a subscription of £150 from Messrs. George Crosland and Sons, were added, making the total raised on Saturday nearly £1,700.


Since our last, the search for bodies has been prosecuted, and with some success. On Saturday, the bodies of Nancy Marsden, Charles Crosland, and Sarah Hannah Dodd, were taken from a mill-dam (Harping) a little below the houses in Water Street, in which they perished; and the bodies of one of the Misses Sandford and another person from the mill-dam of Bottoms Mill. The body of Mrs. S. Greenwood, the wife of Mr. Greenwood, the keeper of the Hollogate toll-bar, was also found in the shop of Mr. J. Haigh, draper, Hollogate, on the opposite side of the stream. In addition to this, the body of a boy, about fourteen years of age, was found at Dalton Bank, Huddersfield, on Monday morning. On the same day, the body of a female, about fourteen years of age, supposed to be the daughter of Richard Woodcock, was discovered by some labourers in Holmfirth Mill Dam. Four bodies, it is said, have been taken out of the Humber at Hull!

A tin cash-box was found, containing £500. Among a heap of wreck left by the flood at Holmfirth, a gentleman lifted up six sovereigns lying together.


A meeting was held at the Crown Inn, Holmfirth, on Saturday evening, to take into consideration the propriety of raising a subscription for the benefit of the surviving sufferers, Amongst those present were J. Charlesworth, Esq., J.P., Wm. Leigh Brooke, Esq., J.P., Joshua Moorhouse, Esq,, J.P., Rev. R. E. Leech, Rev. T. G. Vearon, Sidney Moorhouse, Esq., J. Littlewood, Esq., Martin Kidd, Esq., George Tinker, Esq,, S. Tinker, Esq., J. Firth, Esq., John Hixon, Esq., Charles Brooke, jun.. Esq., T. Charlesworth, Esq., F. Littlewood, Esq., Henry Booth, Esq., and Joseph Turner, Esq.

Wm. Leigh Brook, Esq,, presided, and a subscription was at once entered into, which before the close of the evening amounted to £1,050.

Mr. James Charlesworth said he believed he was correct in stating that between his house, near the Upper bridge, to Victoria bridge, a distance of 200 yards, the loss sustained by tradesmen amounted to upwards of £5,000.

It was stated at the meeting on Saturday, that two out of a committee of three of the Commissioners of the Holm-sties reservoirs had on Thursday given a written order to the drawer, or person in charge of the reservoir, to lower the water from its extreme height of 75 feet to 40 feet. It was now stated, that notwithstanding this order, the water had only been reduced to 46 feet, which did not bring it below the point at which danger might exist; and it was alleged that the third member of the committee, who had opposed the proposition for lowering the water, and refused to sign the order, had used his authority with the drawer to prevent the order being carried into effect. Upon this, Joseph Beaumont, the drawer, was sent for by the meeting and examined as to the truth of the allegation. On his admitting the facts stated, two policemen were despatched by the magistrates present, with orders to have the water immediately drawn off, even should any of the Commissioners interpose their authority. The deepest indignation was expressed by the meeting at the conduct of the individual alluded to.


At the New Inn, Hinchliffe Mill:—

James Booth, aged 60.
Nancy Booth, his wife, 44,
William Heeley, 45.
Betty and Hannah Brook, (two young women, ages unknown,)
Elizabeth Dodd, 7.
Sarah Hannah Dodd, 17 months.
Martha Hinchliffe, a child,
Nancy Marsden, 53.
Charles Crosland.

At the George Inn, Holmfirth:—

Jonathan Crosland, 39.
Joshua Crosland, (his son) 21.
Mary Helliwell, 28.
George Helliwell, 9.
Sarah Helliwell, 6.
Elizabeth Helliwell, 4.
John Helliwell, 2.
Ann Helliwell, 10 months.
Hannah Dodd, 30.

At the Elephant and Castle Inn, Holmfirth:—

James Lee, 65.
Joseph Marsden, 14.[1]
William Exley, 26.
Eliza Matthews, of Shepley, and servant of Mr. Greenwood, at the tollgate, 12.
Lydia Greenwood, 45.

At the White Hart, Holmfirth:—

Hannah Crosland, 19.
Ellen Wood, Mr. Sandford’s housekeeper, 22.
James Charlesworth, 14.
Alfred Woodcock, 17.
Emily Sandford.
A female (unknown.)

At the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, Holmfirth:—

Emily Fearnes, 30.
Joshua Charlesworth, 16.
A boy (unknown), about 11.

At the Rose and Crown Inn, Holmfirth:—

Eliza Marsden, 48.

At the King’s Head, Holmfirth:—

Abel Earnshaw, 8.

At the Waggon and Horses Inn, Holmfirth:—

James Metterick, 1.[2]
A female, about 4 years old (unknown).

At the Crown Inn, Holmfirth:—

Sidney Hartley.
George Hartley (his son) 10 weeks.
Charles Earnshaw, 25.
John Ashall, (Mr. Crawshaw’s, the currier’s man), 32.
Margaret Ashall, (his wife), 30.
Sarah Jane Sandford, 9.
Martha Crosland, 17.

At the Rose and Crown Inn, Thongs Bridge:—

Hannah Bailey, 40, and an infant, supposed to be hers, a few days old.

[We may mention here, as rumours have obtained currency, as to the unfortunate sufferer being drowned whilst in the pains of labour, that if this is her child, it bears evidence of not only having been born, but dressed, and is to all appearance of the age stated.]

Ann Shackleton, 2.[3]

At the Royal Oak Inn, Thongsbridge:—

Joshua Earnshaw, 70.
Tamor Shackleton, 33, and her son James, 1.
Elizabeth Hartley, 5.
A girl, about three years of age (unknown).

At the Rock Inn, Smithy Place:—

William Metterick, 38.
A daughter of Matthew Fearns, 6 months.

At the Travellers’ Inn, Honley:—

Mary Ann Hartley, 39.
James Hartley, 14.
John Metterick, 3.[4]
A boy, about four years of age (unknown).

At Jacob’s Well Inn, Honley:—

Martha Hartley, 16.
Charles Thorpe, 3.
Betty Heeley, 7.
A boy, about six years of age (unknown).

At the Golden Fleece, Armitage Bridge:—

A little girl, identified by Abraham Bailey, as his daughter.
A little boy, (unknown).


On Sunday, the friends and relatives of a large number of the sufferers by Thursday morning’s calamity, performed the last sad duty of following the bodies to their resting place; and such was the interest felt in the proceedings that, though the rain poured down in torrents, and the wind beat boisterously, yet large crowds assembled at each place to witness the ceremony.

Our correspondent, writing from Holmfirth on Tuesday, says—

The scene of the late fatal and devastating calamity continues to attract thousands of the curious from all parts of the country. On Saturday and Sunday, notwithstanding the heavy and almost ceaseless showers of rain on the latter day, the crowds that flocked into the town and up the valley were enormous. The ordinary trains were found inadequate to accommodate the vast multitude that pressed into the stations all along the line to Holmfirth, and extra engines and carriages, cattle pens, and horse boxes were brought into use to convey the people to the scenes of misery spread on every side in a valley which, last week, could boast of all the comforts of civilized and industrious life. It is stated that one train from Bradford landed 2,000 people in the town on Sunday morning; and at the Huddersfield railway station, where the average of daily fares to Holmfirth and the valley of the Holme amounts to about £5, the receipts are said to have increased to upwards of £120.

The body of Mr. Jonathan Sandford, of Dyson’s Mill, still remains undiscovered, and his friends, anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to one so generally esteemed for his upright conduct and manly bearing, have offered a reward of £10 to any one who can discover the body. His two children and servant, who were hurried to destruction at the same moment, have been found, and the last sad offices have been performed over their bodies. Mr. Sandford is described as being six feet high, fresh-looking, and rather round-shouldered,

The Magistrates and police have been very active in the district; and the latter have received instructions to proceed against parties who have appropriated portions of the property washed away by the flood.

The light-fingered gentlemen have flocked here from all parts, and have taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the crowds to exercise their nefarious vocations. During Monday and Tuesday five of these depredators were apprehended in Holmfirth, and sent to Huddersfield, handcuffed together, by the last train. Two were also apprehended at the Huddersfield station during Tuesday for the same offence. In the latter case the object of the rascals’ plunder was one of the Holmfirth manufacturers who had loot considerably by the inundation, and had attended the Huddersfield market to sell a few goods to enable him to procure a few of the necessaries he had been deprived of by the flood. Before stepping into the railway carriage, he found that his purse containing upwards of five pounds had been extracted from his pocket. The porter at the station had witnessed parties operating, and some of the money fell on the platform as the operators were stepping into the carriage. Two of a gang of five who had been seen together were taken into custody and lodged in the lock-up.


  1. This should be Joshua Marsden, as Joseph's body was seemingly never found.
  2. This should be Joseph Mettrick.
  3. Presumably Hannah Shackleton although the age is incorrect.
  4. This should be Jane Mettrick.