On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) - The Aftermath
No time was lost in caring for the homeless and destitute. On the day after the flood a meeting of poor-law guardians and relieving officers was held for the purpose of making arrangements for the ‘decent burial’ of the dead and, in their words, ‘to afford relief to those who have escaped from a watery grave but have been rendered destitute of their clothing, furniture and all the necessities of life.’
Officials were appointed to visit the sufferers to ascertain their immediate needs and to distribute food and warm clothing. Others supervised the grisly task of searching for the bodies of those lost. Men thrown out of work were employed in clearing away a massive amount of debris and mud from the watercourse and from streets, houses, shops and factories. In this task they were closely supervised by the local police and a number of special constables who preserved order and attempted to prevent theft. Several sums of money, found in drawers, boxes and shops tills, were in fact handed in to the authorities during the clearing process. Nevertheless it was known that a great deal of money and property was misappropriated and the police soon issued a warning that anyone refusing to deliver up goods obtained from the ruins would be taken into custody and charged with theft.
Not surprisingly, the disaster left the people of Holmfirth in a highly nervous state and ready to believe rumours that other, similar, disasters were imminent. For example, on the Sunday after the flood the congregation of the parish church had just started a service in the Underbank National Schoolroom when a woman rushed in and frantically begged those present to send the children home as the Ribbleden stream was in flood and the Holme Styes reservoir was about to collapse. Terrified, the congregation speedily left the room and the Rev. R.E. Leach found himself closing the service alone. Afterwards it was found that the swollen state of the river was caused by the drawing of the Holme Styes’ sluices to allow the water to subside below the safety level.
Meanwhile at the Wesleyan Methodist chapel, where the diverted river was still lapping at the foundations of the building, the congregation willingly abandoned their act of worship when it was suggested by the minister that they should take immediate action to preserve the chapel. For many hours afterwards the male members of the congregation, led by the Rev. J. Garbutt, were busily engaged in throwing up a barrier of stone and earthwork which they hoped would protect their property in the event of another flood.