On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) - Beyond Holmfirth

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.
© Gordon & Enid Minter
The text of On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) is the copyright of Enid Minter and has been made available on this web site with her express permission.


As the river Holme leaves Holmfirth, it is crossed by a county bridge leading to the railway station. The bridge was badly damaged, its battlements washed away and the occupants of a nearby cottage had a narrow escape when the building collapsed around them.

Immediately beyond the bridge the fields on both sides of the river were strewn with all manner of wreckage and debris from which several valuable parcels of title deeds were later recovered. A quarter of a mile away at Bridge Mill, which was occupied by Messrs J. Broadbent, the willow room was swept away and a recently constructed goit was destroyed. Just beyond the mill, Sands House, the residence of Mr. Cookson Stephenson Floyd, was damaged and a cart, belonging to John Furniss of Upper Digley Mill, was deposited on the arch of a nearby bridge. Soon after daybreak on Thursday morning seven bodies were recovered from a field near Sands House bridge.

At Thongsbridge, the destruction of property was immense. One end of Robinson’s mill was forced down, the goit was broken and a steam engine, two scribbling machines, two carders, a billey, a washing machine and the fulling stocks were swept away in a tangled mass. The lower storeys of five adjacent cottages were shattered but fortunately for the occupants, who took to the roof tops, the buildings stood firm. After the flood subsided three coffins and their contents, washed down from one or another of the graveyards upstream, were taken from the river at Thongsbridge together with the bodies of eight flood victims.

When the flood reached Smithy Place, a hamlet two miles north east of Holmfirth, it had one more life to claim. Elizabeth Healy, aged eight, lived with her parents and three siblings in a cottage near to the river. Shortly before the flood arrived a warning reached Smithy Place and Mr. & Mrs. Healy hastily carried three of their children to the safety of higher ground. Unfortunately, before Mr. Healy could return for Elizabeth the flood hit the house and the little girl was swept away. The height of the water at Smithy Place was described as ‘fearful’ and there is no doubt that the loss of life would have been much greater had the alarm not been given and heeded.

Beyond Smithy Place the river runs close to the former Wadsley and Langset turnpike (now New Mill Road, A616). The Smithy Place barhouse on the road side was flooded and the gates destroyed. Four hundred yards (363 M) further on the Travellers Inn was damaged and the landlord reported losing all his stock of beer and spirits and twelve apple trees. Before ten o’clock on Thursday morning eight bodies had been recovered from the river between Smithy Place and Hooley and taken to the inns nearest to where they were found.

A witness who saw the flood arrive at Honley described the scene as ‘awfully terrific’. The flood, now some four hundred yards wide, reached to the tops of the tenter posts in the fields and swept before it walls and hedges, weirs and dams, barns and haystacks and everything else that was moveable. At Honley Bar the toll gates were carried away and several houses in the neighbourhood were flooded.

Further down the river at Armitage Bridge the front and back walls of St. Paul’s church yard, which were seven feet high, disintegrated but only a small quantity of water entered the church and the damage inside was slight. Near the church the bodies of two children, one with a long pillow round its neck, were found in a tree. They were later identified as Martha Bailey and Elizabeth Hartley.

Beyond Armitage Bridge the flood still had enough force to cause considerable damage to Dungeon Mill (now Park Valley Mill) and to the bridge, public baths and brewery at Lockwood. The scene at Lockwood, when dawn broke on Thursday morning, was said to resemble a battlefield; lying in every direction was a tangled mass of mill machinery, rollers, warping creels, boxes, barrels, old coffins, wheelbarrows, oranges and apples, cart loads of turnips, brushes, shattered furniture, uprooted trees, large quantities of soap and candles and the carcases of several horses, sheep, cows and pigs.

At Kings Mill a wooden cart-bridge over the river Colne, built seven years previously by Joseph Kaye, was swept away. On the other side of the town, at Bradley Mills, the body of a man was taken out of the river two days after the flood. Between Bradley Mills and Mirfield the river banks were scattered with debris but, as the flood had lost most of its force at this stage, this consisted mainly of timber, uprooted trees and broken furniture.

In the cold revealing light of that Thursday morning the dazed and bewildered inhabitants of the Holme Valley began to count the cost: eighty-one people dead and many many more suffering from injuries and exposure; thirty-three industrial premises, thirty-four houses, seven shops and seven bridges completely destroyed; thirty-one mills and dyehouses, one hundred and thirty-six houses, forty-four shops, eleven public houses, three churches and six bridges badly damaged, some of them beyond repair. In addition, some five thousand people were thrown out of work and consequently did not have the wherewithal to provide for their families.

The material loss, initially estimated at £250,000, was subsequently declared to be £67,224. 10s. 9½d. although it was acknowledged that the final sum did not cover the total amount of losses sustained as a number of sufferers were known to have made no claim.

Continue to The Aftermath...