On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) - Introduction
On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) by Gordon and Enid Minter
At infrequent intervals over the centuries the Holme Valley has been inundated by flood waters and not so many years ago if something unusual happened the words ‘it only happens once every Holmfirth Flood’ were commonly used to emphasise the rarity of the event – whatever it was. The first flood of which there is any record occurred in 1313, the last on Whit. Monday 29th May, 1944. Naturally, many local people over the age of – say – sixty have vivid memories of the last flood, of the ‘cloudburst’ that caused it and the death and destruction that resulted from it.
Ninety-two years earlier the valley was overwhelmed by an enormous mass of water when, in the early hours of Thursday 5th February, 1852, in the hills above Holmfirth, the embankment of the Bilberry Reservoir collapsed and released the eighty-six million gallons of water it had contained. As a result, eight-one people lost their lives, many more were injured, mills, workshops, houses, barns and stables were swept away, damaged or gutted and thousands of people were left ruined, homeless and without work.
This booklet follows, on foot and by car, the route of the 1852 flood from Bilberry to Holmfirth and examines some of the causes and effects of the tragedy. To those who will doubtless point out that there are already many books about the Holmfirth flood we can only ask, where are they? It is true that short accounts of the flood have appeared as part of one or two general histories of the area but, as far as we are aware, there is no modern, detailed account of the events of that calamitous night. For many years the flood remained part of the local consciousness, remembered in newspaper accounts, poetry, drama, radio broadcasts and lectures, but the memory of it is fading and a surprising number of people now know nothing of it. For many years we have waited for someone from Holmfirth to produce a full account of the flood but when a friend – aged thirty-seven – asked if the Holmfirth flood was a pop-group we decided, with some temerity for we are not of Holmfirth, to undertake the task ourselves. The result, we hope, is an easy to follow account that might be of interest to those who know a little about the flood as well as to those who know nothing of it.
It will, reasonably, be asked whether the events of more than a hundred and forty years ago have any relevance today. We believe that they have. Hardly a week went by in the mid-nineteenth century without newspaper reports of incidents in factories, mills, mines and on the roads and railways most of which were avoidable, many of which resulted in fatalities. The study of this one, wholly preventable, event shows that it was caused like so many others by the carelessness, complacency and penny-pinching negligence that were fairly common working practices in Victorian times. And its relevance today lies in the fact that it is a powerful reminder that the safety measures we so often take for granted were, so to speak, put in place on the backs of those people who, in the past, suffered and died through no fault of their own.
Unlike our other books, which deal with a variety of historical themes, this work sticks closely to the story of the Flood and nowhere have we attempted to relate the history of the villages, hamlets, houses, factories, churches and roads you will pass if you undertake the trail. Only in one place, Hoowood, have we diverged from the Flood to briefly tell the story of two of the hamlet’s earlier inhabitants – mainly because the story is worth telling and we are fairly sure that in any future book we will not pass that way again. To any of our readers who are wondering what has happened to part three of ‘Discovering Old Huddersfield’ we can only say that if the fates are kind it will appear but not as soon as we originally hoped.