Matthew Fearns (c.1826-1864)

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.


Matthew Fearns was born in the Holmfirth area, the son of clothier James Fearns and his wife Sally, and was baptised on 26 March 1826 at Holmfirth Parish Church.

At the time of the 1841 Census, the Fearns family was living at Underbank, Wooldale, and 15-year-old Matthew was working as a woollen weaver.

He married Amelia Thorpe on 21 April 1851 at All Hallows, Kirkburton. At the time, she was around six months pregnant with their daughter, Lydia Ann, who was born on 17 July. Amelia also had an illegitimate son Charles who was born in April 1849.

The family appears to have resided in the house of Amelia's uncle, grocer John Kaye, on Hollowgate, Holmfirth.

Holmfirth Flood of 1852

In the early hours of 5 February 1852, their house reportedly collapsed in the flood unleased by the failure of Bilberry Reservoir and all of the occupants were washed out into the river. According to The Flood Came and Took Them All Away (1852):

[John Kaye] was driven by the force of the current into Victoria Square, on the opposite side, and a little lower down the street. He was espied floating on the water by the landlord of the Rose and Crown Inn, who at once stretched out a pole to the drowning man, and rescued him from almost certain death.

Matthew was saved from drowning by Joseph Barrowclough but his wife and daughter perished, along with stepson Charles.

The following account by Barrowclough was published in Huddersfield Chronicle:[1]

My residence is at the bottom of South Lane, Holmfirth, and my threshold about six teen feet above the bed of the river. At a quarter before one I was awoke by my wife : she asked what that rush was. I said it was the wind; but I was not quite awake. I put my clothes on, and gave the alarm that the water was up to my door-stone: that was at one o’clock. I then went out, turned my attention to the churchyard, and saw a man just drowning — the water was about four feet deep —Matthew Fearns was his name. I dragged him out, and took him to my house, and left him there, and then went to see after my daughter living at Nathan Littlewood’s, Ribbledon Road; and on my way back, I tumbled over the body of the wife of the above Matthew Fearns, dead on the road. The thought struck me, "I must not stay with the dead, but try to save the living" so I left her just where she was.

Amelia and her two children were buried on Sunday 8 February at St. John the Evangelist, Upperthong. She (or possibly her husband) was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids (Crown Hotel, Holmfirth) who paid £4 towards her burial costs.[2]

Matthew Fearns moved back in with his widowed mother Sarah, where he is listed in the 1861 Census as a woollen weaver. He died in April 1864, aged 38, and was buried on 24 April at St. John, Upperthong, presumably with his wife.

Notes and References

  1. "Mr. Joseph Barroclough's Statement" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).
  2. "Relief Afforded for the Interment the Dead by Benefit Clubs" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852).