Morning Chronicle (06/Feb/1852) - Great Floods in Yorkshire and Lancashire

This page is part of the Holmfirth Flood Project and its content is believed to be in the Public Domain.
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.



HOLMFIRTH, Thursday.

Holmfirth, a populous locality in the West Riding of Yorkshire, situated a few miles from the town of Huddersfield, has this day been the scene of one of the most terrific catastrophes we have ever had to record, caused by the bursting of what is called the Bilberry Reservoir. This reservoir is situated in a part of the locality above the village of Holmfirth, to answer as a feeder to the mills, &c., of the district.

By the recent heavy rains (which caused an unusual pressure of water upon it) it burst this morning so early as two o’clock. The rush of water was tremendous; and the current, which flowed resistlessly upon the village below, caused appalling devastation and destruction of human life. Whole rows of houses (one row alone having fifty-four persons in it) were carried away by the water; and mills and warehouses were also levelled with the ground. Aroused by such a terrible visitation, it is impossible to describe the horror and consternation of the inhabitants who had escaped the wreck around them. The streets wore literally blockaded with the ruins of houses, warehouses, &c. The missing inmates of the destroyed houses (most of whom had been no doubt sent into eternity while asleep, unconscious of the instrument of their destruction) were the first objects of solicitude and search. Body after body was recovered, and within a few hours no less than sixty were found dead. At the time of writing, however, it is impossible to give anything approximating to a full description of the calamity, or an estimate of the number of dead.



This morning a most dreadful occurrence, attended with a fearful loss of life and destruction of property, happened in the Holmfirth Valley, about six miles south of this town. Holmfirth is situated at the foot of a range of hills which form a portion of what is termed the “Back-bone of England.” The valley between that village and Huddersfield is studded with woollen mills, advantage having boon taken of the many excellent sites which the rapid fall of water from the hills to the lowlands presents. Upon the many streamlets which flow from the hills above Holmfirth, the same characteristic is presented, and the several valleys and hill-sides teem with a busy and enterprising population, a very considerable portion of the woollen cloths for which the West Riding is so celebrated being manufactured in this locality. As in summer time the mills often had to stand for want of water, there being but little from the hills in dry weather, but more than enough in wet, a company was formed some years ago and a number of gentlemen were incorporated by act of Parliament, and empowered to construct large reservoirs for the storage of water in winter, to be let down the rivulets in summer, as it might be required for the use of the mills, power being also given to rate the several mill properties for the benefits thus conferred. Amongst others the Holmfirth Reservoir Commissioners constructed a reservoir called the Bilberry Reservoir, situated about three miles and a half above Holmfirth, to the south-west. During the lost week there have been very continuous falls of rain, and the water has overflowed the embankment of the reservoir for several days. Indeed, fears were previously entertained of its safety by parties who resided near to it, and who were aware that it had never been accounted as a work of first-rate quality. Wednesday was a day of incessant rain; and the rivulets and streams in the neighbourhood were much swollen. About 1 this morning (Thursday) the embankment of this large reservoir was swept away, and an immense volume of water thereby suddenly liberated. The torrent rushed onwards with devastating force ; some mills were swept down — others were gutted — machinery and materials, both wrought and unwrought, being either rendered worthless or carried away by the flood. Dwellings shared the same fate. With a suddenness that rendered all alarm impossible, the buildings with their sleeping inmates were swept along the engulphing torrent. At Holmfirth, a whole street of houses was thus carried away, with their inhabitants, to the number of sixty souls. Hundreds of other dwellings were flooded, and the escape of many of the inmates from death has been most miraculous. The destruction of property has been enormous. The stocks of the shopkeepers who lined the streets on each side of the Holme are wholly destroyed, or damaged so as to be all but worthless. The furniture and clothing of private dwelling-houses are also destroyed. One of the most beautiful valleys in the world has been rendered a scene of awful devastation! Bridges have been carried away, and large steam-engine boilers lifted from their seats, and borne along by the overwhelming torrent for miles, and then left in the fields. Trees torn up, and the soil washed away from the lands adjoining the course of the main stream. But more awful still, more than seventy lives have been lost! At the time we write it is impossible to tell the exact number, or even to approximate to it correctly. Whole families are swept away, and there are none left to tell the number. Upwards of fifty bodies have been recovered. They are deposited at the several public-houses along the line of devastation ; and the mangled appearance of many testify to the force of the torrent which had swept them before it. It is impossible in this hasty account to particularise; but it may be stated that millowners, shopkeepers, and workpeople have met with a common fate. The calamity is a most frightful one, likely to be the ruin of one of the most spirited of our manufacturing districts. All classes will suffer — the manufacturers from the loss of mills, machinery, and materials — the shopkeepers from the loss of stock, and the operatives from loss of employment. Some of the bodies recovered were found fourteen miles from the place where the reservoir (the cause of this awful havoc) was situate. Preparations are being made for holding an inquest on the bodies already recovered.

Notes and References

  1. This account also appeared in the London Evening Standard (06/Feb/1852). A much truncated version was printed in the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette (06/Feb/1852).