On the Trail of the Holmfirth Flood 1852 (1996) - The Reaction

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.


Naturally, the flood excited great curiosity throughout the country and long before the streets were passable hoards of people descended on Holmfirth to see the disaster and misery for themselves. In the week following the flood the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company reported bringing more than nine thousand visitors daily to Holmfirth station. In addition, thousands came in coaches, omnibuses, cabs, gigs, on horseback and on foot. While most locals must have regarded this influx with impatience, indignation or indifference a few enterprising men took to the streets with collecting boxes to solicit aid for the victims. The sums they received, which were willingly given, were the first contributions to a relief fund which would soon receive donations from all over the country.

On Saturday 7th February, a public meeting was held in Holmfirth at which a committee was appointed to solicit subscriptions throughout the locality and various sums, amounting to £1010 were then and there subscribed. This was followed by meetings in Huddersfield, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Dewsbury and many other places further afield including London. Two weeks after the disaster the Holmfirth and Huddersfield subscription lists were published detailing donations which ranged from one shilling from ‘a homeless person’ to £500 from Messrs. John Brooke and Sons. The final sum collected was £69,422. 8s. 4d. to which Holmfirth and Huddersfield contributed £14,861.

As the money rolled in committees and sub-committees were appointed to administer the fund. After much argument a claim by the Commissioners of the Holme reservoirs for £7,000 to repair Bilberry dam was met out of the fund. All claims were vetted by members of the general committee and only settled at their discretion. Although it was well known that a number of victims made no claim upon the fund it was eventually decided that too much had been collected and, astonishingly, £31,011. 1 ls. 1d. was returned to the subscribers. The members of the general committee, who were judged to have been severe in their assessment of the needs of many of the victims, attempted to explain their decisions in their final report, dated 27th January, 1854. They said:

‘In the arduous duties which have devolved upon them, your committee have endeavoured to do justice to the sufferers, and carry out the views of the subscribers with all possible fairness and discrimination. In apportioning the grants, your committee are aware that they have not altogether escaped the charge of illiberality. But they could not divest their minds of the fact that the subscriptions were raised in the first instance in consequence of statements made during the excitement of the moment, and which, after careful investigation, turned out to be much overestimated; and the losses in many instances to have fallen on those who were not properly objects of public subscription.’

Another committee, separate from the relief fund committee, was formed to determine a suitable method of commemorating the flood victims and also, in the members’ words, ‘...to perpetuate the remembrance of the unparalleled munificence of the public.’ After discussing and dismissing the respective merits of a dipensary, a savings bank and public baths the committee finally decided to erect almshouses in Holmfirth to be held forever on trust. However, subscriptions to the memorial fund fell short of the sum needed and the project could only go ahead after the general committee voted that the balance of the relief fund be transferred to the memorial fund.

Five almshouses, built in Gothic style, were erected in Station Road on land given by Cookson Stephenson Floyd Esq. The foundation stone was laid on 21st April, 1856 by Mr. Floyd on behalf of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Freemasons. As there was only just enough money to complete the building project the ladies of Holmfirth offered to hold a three day bazaar to try to raise an adequate sum for the endowment of the houses. This was held on 17th, 18th and 19th September, 1856 and the thousand pounds it produced was deemed sufficient for the purpose. A stone tablet, still to be seen on the almshouses, bears the following inscription:

These Almshouses built and endowed by public Subscription, and by the proceeds of a Bazaar promoted by the Ladies of the neighbourhood, as a memorial of the Holmfirth Flood, caused by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir on February 5th 1852, by which 81 lives were lost, and an immense amount of property destroyed; and as a further memorial to the National Munificence for the alleviation of that calamity, are dedicated to the Poor of the Townships of Holme, Austonley, Cartworth, Wooldale, Upper-Thong, Nether-thong and Honley forever. MDCCCLVI.

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