London Daily News (09/Feb/1852) - The Terrible Catastrophe at Holmfirth

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The shocking and extraordinary disaster at Holmfirth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, from the bursting of the bilberry Reservoir, continues to excite an amount of interest beyond anything ever recollected in the neighbourhood, and 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. In addition to the details of the dreadful occurrence which we were enabled to furnish on Saturday, we might add some extraordinary accounts of hairbreadth escapes, as well as hopeless struggles for life.

At Diglee Upper Mill, half a mile below the reservoir, two messengers from the Leeds Court of Bankruptcy, were in possession of Mr. Furniss’s stock-in-trade and furniture, when the alarm was given of the bursting of the reservoir ; and these men had barely time to put on a few clothes and rush up one side of the valley before the torrent came down. One of them was up to his waist m the water, so. narrow was his escape. The sad scene at Hinchliffe Upper Mill, where a row of six houses called Water Street and their 40 inmates were all carried away at a swoop, is easily accounted for on examining their situation. The valley contracts very suddenly there. Water-street was close to the river on the left bank, and immediately opposite was an immense reservoir of water belonging to the mill, elevated high above the right bank of the river. Below it stands the mill. The elevated position of the reservoir probably saved the mill from the destruction, but the torrent of water swept partially over the reservoir, and caused it to burst on the river side, opposite to Water-street. The houses in Water Street had thus an extra pressure of water thrown impetuously against them and were struck at the end and front almost simultaneously. Mr. Crossland, Mr. Metterick, and Mr. Earnshaw, who lived in three of these houses, were respectable clothiers. James, one of the sons of Mr. Metterick, was saved almost by a miracle ; but he lies in a precarious state from bruises and other injuries. He states that there were ten of them in the house — his father, stepmother, and eight children. They were roused by some one soon after one o’clock. He hastily put on a few clothes and ran to the staircase window, looking up the valley, where he met his step-mother. A glance at the approaching water satisfied them that it was the reservoir had burst. The children were asleep below stairs, but his father handed them up to him and Mrs. Metterick, and they were placed in the chamber. Just then the deluge came, and the lower room was filled in an instant, and the water burst through into the chamber. He and Mrs. Metterick again seized the children, and carried all but one a story higher, into the attic : the flood had caught his father and one child on the stairs and overwhelmed them. The next moment the whole house was carried away, and he saw no more of any of the family : he found himself in the raging torrent, swept before it for a quarter of a mile like a feather. He got hold of a floating plank, lost it, and seized smother ; was carried aside into the Bottom Mill Reservoir, where the waters on became quieter, and though of immense depth, he paddled himself out of it by means of another floating piece of wood which he seized. He reached the bank of the reservoir in a very exhausted condition. A boy in a cottage belonging to Mr. Floyd, solicitor, Holmfirth, was separated from the man-servant by the water bursting through the window, and violently closing the door of the room after, the man had passed out, and before he could follow. The little fellow was raised up the next moment by the water to within a few inches of the ceiling, where he had the presence of mind to lay hold by a beam. To this he clung for an hour, when the water subsided, and he was liberated. About 50 bodies are said to have been floated from the graveyard of the Methodist chapel in Holmfirth, and amongst them the corpse, it is stated, of the late Mr. John Harpin, the projector of the reservoir that has caused this fatal calamity.

Great numbers of men were at work again on Saturday, searching the river and the mill ponds on its banks, for the missing bodies. In addition to those taken out previously five others were discovered — the bodies of Nancy Marsden, Charles Crosland, and Sarah Hannah Dods, being taken from a mill-dam 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 Holmfirth mill-dam. A tin cash-box was found containing £500, but it has not yet been claimed. Mrs. Hirst is said to have had a sum of £1,000 swept off along with her dwelling, and the Shackletons a similar amount. Among a heap of wreck left by the flood at Holmfirth, a gentleman lifted up six sovereigns lying together.

The magistrates are endeavouring to obtain money, to relieve the present necessities of the destitute, by raising subscriptions. One mode, and perhaps one legitimate enough — is by levying subscriptions from the thousands of curious visitors who constantly flock through the town. Persons are stationed in every road and thoroughfare for this purpose with subscription boxes. A placard meets the eye on every wall, almost inviting aid in the following terms :— “To the benevolent and humanely disposed. — The magistrates in petty sessions 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, William 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 he washed, nor parchment dried by the fire, — By order, Joseph Charlesworth, W. L. Brook, Joshua Moorhouse, magistrates.” Large quantities of cloth, linen, beds, bedding, and other property, have been taken from the river, but they appear to be so saturated with mud as to he of little value. Having been taken to the Town Hall for safety, however, many of these things have been claimed and given up. A quantity of blankets, sheets, and clothing, has been distributed among those who were deprived of everything. The magistrates have not taken any steps, it would appear, towards making out or causing to he prepared a perfect list of the persons missing, or of the bodies found ; and our correspondent had great difficulty in collecting materials for the following, which, though imperfect, is the nearest approach to a correct list that could be obtained yesterday :

Lives Lost.

[The bodies of those to whose names an asterisk (*) is prefixed, have been found and identified.]

* Ashall, J. 36
* Ashall, Mrs. Margaret 30
Ashall, Jane 2
* Booth, James 60
* Booth, Mrs. Nancy 44
* Bailey, Mrs. Anna 32
* Bailey, — (female)
Bailey, — (female)
Brooke, Joseph
* Brooke, Mrs 30
* Brooke, Anna 6
* Brooke, Betty
* Crosland, Jonathan
* Crosland, Charles 14
* Crosland, Joshua 21
Crosland, Mary 19
* Crosland, Anna 17
Crosland, Martha 15
Crosland, Foster 9
* Charlesworth, Rose 45
Charlesworth, Joseph 1
Charlesworth, Hamer 9
Charlesworth, John 7
Charlesworth, James 12
Charlesworth, Joshua 14
* Charlesworth. J.
Dodd, James
* Dodd, Mrs. Hannah 36
Dodd, Sarah Hannah 2
* Dodd, Elizabeth 7
* Earnshaw, Joshua 70
* Earnshaw, Charles 30
* Earnshaw, Abel
Ann Beaumont 12
* Exley, William 30
Fearns, Matthew
Fearns, Mrs.
Fearns (child)
* Fearns, Amelia
Greenwood, Samuel 46
* Greenwood, Mrs. Mary 40
* Greenwood, Ann 12
* Healey, William 46
* Healey, Betty
* Hellawell, George 10
* Hellawell, Sarah 8
* Hellawell, Elizabeth 6
* Hellawell, Mary 30
* Hellawell, John 3
* Hellawell, Ann 1
* Hartley, Sydney
Hartley, Mrs.
* Hartley, Mary Ann
* Hartley, Martha
* Hartley, James
Hartley, —
Hartley, —
* Hinthcliffe, Martha
Kaye, — (married man)
Kaye, Amelia (female)
* Lee, James
* Marsden, Nancy 40
* Marsden, Eliza 45
Marsden, Joseph 18
* Marsden, Joshua 16
* Metterick, James 60
* Metterick, Jane 3
Metterick, Mary 36
* Metterick, William 32
Metterick, Betty 30
Metterick, Samuel 21
Metterick, Alfred 8
Metterick, Abel 8
Metterick, Joseph 1
Sandford, Jonathan
Sandford, Miss
* Sandford, Sarah Jane 15
* Sandford’s housemaid
* Shackleton, Richard
* Shackleton, Tamar
* Thorpe, Charles
Woodcroft, Alfred 13
Woodcroft, Sarah 11
3 women, not identified.
11 children, not identified.

The above list gives the names of 86 persons who have perished by this terrible catastrophe, but it is feared these are by no means all. It will be seen by the list that of these 50 bodies have been found and identified ; 21 others of whom four were taken out of the Humber at Hull, have been found, but not identified. This makes a total of 67 bodies found in the neighbourhood ; and taking into consideration the four bodies found at Hull, there remain to be accounted for at least 15 bodies.

A meeting of about 60 influential gentlemen of Huddersfield, presided over by Jno. Brooke, Esq., was held in that town, on Saturday afternoon, at which it was unanimously

resolved that a public meeting of the inhabitants should be held on Monday next, in the Philosophical Hall, to sympathise with the surviving sufferers by the recent calamity at Holmfirth, and to consider what measures can he taken for the relief of their distress. A committee was appointed to wait upon the inhabitants of the town, to solicit subscriptions in aid of this benevolent object. A subscription was then opened by the gentlemen present at the meeting — Messrs. John Brooks ana Sons subscribing £500 ; C. F. Schwann, Esq,., £200 ; and Wm. Willans, Esq., £100. Other subscriptions of smaller sums followed, and altogether £1,600 was raised before the meeting terminated.

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 by the recent heart-rending calamity in the neighbourhood. 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. It had been understood that J. Charlesworth, Esq., J.P., would preside at the meeting ; but at the commencement of the proceedings it was announced that that gentleman would be prevented, by indisposition, from doing so. The chair was accordingly taken by W. L. Brooke, Esq.

The Chairman said, he considered that this was one of the most important meetings ever held in Holmfirth, when they reflected upon the serious and disastrous nature of the calamity which had befallen the town and neighbourhood, the great sacrifice of human life, and the serious loss of property. And it must be remembered that mill property had been destroyed on which their artisans had depended for their daily bread. The effects of the calamity were not confined merely to the mills destroyed and to the loss of life, and he feared that they would be felt in the district for years to come. For some months the artisans would be, numbers of them, thrown penniless on the wide world ; and he therefore hoped that something would be done for them. A small subscription would be of little avail ; something must be done on a large scale. He trusted they came there that night prepared to subscribe liberally, and show that the inhabitants of the district were desirous of doing all in their power to mitigate the distress which had befallen their neighbours ; otherwise, how could they expect that feeling to be echoed throughout the length and breadth of the land?

Mr. Turner said he had been deputed by the meeting held at Huddersfield, in the afternoon, to announce that a public meeting would be held in that town, at seven o’clock on Monday evening, and that £1,600 had already been subscribed for the benefit of the unfortunate sufferers. (Applause.) One individual, who was intimately connected with that neighbourhood, a man whose generosity on all occasions was universally admired, had in the most princely manner subscribed £500. (Applause.) Mr. Schwann, another gentleman well known for his liberality, had given £200 ; and Mr. Willans, £100 ; besides which many gentlemen had subscribed smaller sums. (Applause.) He had been requested by the Huddersfield committee to invite those gentlemen who were taking so active a part in the movement at Holmfirth to meet them at five o’clock on Monday evening at Huddersfield, previous to the public meeting, and to furnish as much statistical information as they were able with respect to the estimated loss of life and property, how long the people were likely to be out. of employment, and the mode of relief which they suggested. The committee thought that the business would thus be greatly facilitated. (Applause.)

The Rev. T. G. Vearon said he felt that on an occasion like the present there was little need to invoke the sympathies of the meeting. To use many words would be rather to reduce the impression produced, he hoped, by the noble example sot them by Huddersfield. (Hear, hear.) He felt that it was a time for deeds and not for words.’ The more they reflected on the calamity, the more disastrous it appeared. At first sight, the loss of life was heartrending ; but when they considered the loss which the survivors must feel for some months to come, they must feel with still greater intensity the extent of the catastrophe. There was every reason to hope that not only Huddersfield ; but other parts of the district, would share in the public sympathy. He might state, with regard to gentlemen he had seen — clergymen from neighbouring counties had expressed great sympathy, and were ready to stir up the minds of their people — (hear, hear) — in aid of their distressed fellow-countrymen. For six or eight months to come, there would probably be no adequate supply of labour for those who had been deprived of the means of earning a subsistence ; and during that time they must depend for support on the assistance of their countrymen. He believed that 6,000 labourers bad been thrown out of employment by the calamity. There were 13 mills stopped, and they well knew the collateral branches required to keep up those establishments. The resolution which had been committed to him for proposal to the meeting was rather indefinite, hut it struck him as peculiarly suitable to the present occasion. It recommended that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the actual loss sustained, in order that they might he better able to compute the probable assets, and to determine the amount of subscription that it was desirable to raise. He felt that this was an occasion when they ought all to sit down seriously in their closets, and resolve to give, not according to the usual scale of liberality, but to exceed it. (Hear, hear.) It was such a calamity as their fathers never knew, and he trusted their children would never know after them. (Hear, bear.) He hoped they would resolve, and the example had been already set them by Huddersfield, to give abundantly. There was a lower motive for liberality, which it was desirable to consider also. There were many eminent artists connected with the trade of the valley, and whom it was desirable to retain there, but who, it was to be feared, would leave in consequence of the effects of the recent disaster, and this might prove a source of great difficulty to the district. He admitted that it was a low motive, but he thought this ought to be taken into account among the reasons for a liberal subscription being entered into. The resolution he had to move was to the effect that the sufferers by the recent calamity had undoubtedly strong claims upon the assistance and sympathy of their neighbours, “but that it was desirable that no more should be done at present than appointing a committee to report upon the catastrophe, and the best method of affording relief.” He might state to the meeting that the Vicar of Huddersfield had kindly promised to do all in his power to promote their object, by collections in the churches. There was also a letter from their excellent diocesan, promising them all that he was able to contribute. It seemed to him (Mr. Vearon) that much good might be done by a pastoral letter being sent to the clergy of the diocese, which would no doubt be promptly responded to. (Applause.)

The Chairman said it had been suggested that it would be desirable to enter into a subscription at once, and he was decidedly of that opinion himself.

Mr. Joshua Moorhouse immediately moved “That a subscription he entered into to-night.”

Mr. James Charlesworth seconded the motion. 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.

This resolution was carried unanimously, Mr. Vearon readily consenting to withdraw the original motion.

The following committee was subsequently appointed to carry into effect the resolution just agreed to :— W. L. Brooke, Esq., James Charlesworth, Esq., Joseph Charlesworth, Esq., Joshua Moorhouse, Esq., Rev. R. Leech, Rev. T. G. Vearon, Rev. J. Fearne, Joshua Charlesworth, Esq., George Hinchcliffe, Esq., C. T. Floyd, Esq., John Harpin Esq., Sidney Moorhouse, Esq., Joseph Firth, Esq., Rev J. M’Farlane, Rev. Thomas Carbutt, Dr. B. Firth, George Tinker, Esq., William Meikle, Esq., M. Kidd, Esq., and — Iveson, Esq.

Mr. C. S. Floyd moved a resolution requesting the Huddersfield bankers and their London agents to open subscription lists in behalf of the sufferers by the recent calamity ; and to make application to the bankers generally throughout the United Kingdom, soliciting their aid in this benevolent object.

The Rev. J. M’Farlane seconded the resolution, and it was carried.

A resolution was then agreed to thanking the Lord Bishop of the diocese and the clergy for their expression of sympathy with the sufferers.

The following subscriptions were announced in the room :— Messrs. W. and C. Brooke, £200 ; Mr. Joshua Charlesworth, £100 ; Mr. Joshua Moorhouse, £100 ; a friend, per Jos. Firth, £100 ; Mr. Jos. Firth, £75 ; and Mr. Joshua Charlesworth, £50 ; besides numerous smaller sums of £25 and under. The total amount raised at the meeting was £1,010.

We stated on Saturday that great fears had been entertained that the Holm Styes reservoir, another of the immense bodies of water belonging to the commissioners, impounded in the valley above Holmfirth, was in an unsafe state ; and that measures had been taken to prevent accident by drawing off the water to a considerable extent of its height. A scene which took place during the meeting above reported, shows the pertinacity with which people can be found to disregard such terrible lessons as that just experienced at Holmfirth. It was stated at the meeting that two out of a committee of three of the commissioners of the Holme 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.

The adjourned inquest will be commenced on Wednesday, 17th February.

The Coroner stated that he should write to the Secretary of State, to know if it was thought desirable to send down a government agent to inspect the reservoirs and watch the proceedings.