Richard Shackleton (1820-1852)

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.

Richard Shackleton was a victim of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


Richard was born 13 July 1820, the son of innkeeper James Shackleton (Waggon and Horses Inn) and his wife Ann (née Dyson), and was baptised on 13 August 1820 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.

He married Tamar Green, the daughter of overlooker John Green and his wife Hannah (née Lee), on 19 July 1841 at All Hallows, Kirkburton. Prior to the marriage, Tamar had given birth to an illegitimate daughter to Richard who was then raised by Tamar's parents. In total, the couple had four children:

By 1851, the family were living at Mill Hill in Holmfirth, where their immediate neighbours were engineer Sidney Hartley (aged 40) and dyer John Roberts (51). Living nearby was Richard's father James (then a retired innkeeper aged 62), together with Richard's sister Mary (35) and her daughter Ann (5).


With the exception of their first daughter, the entire family was killed in the early hours of 5 February 1852 when the Bilberry Reservoir burst its embankment.

The Huddersfield Chronicle reported on the destruction at Holmfirth Mill (Mill Hill):[4]

Immediately adjoining four cottages are swept down, and twelve lives lost. In the first house, occupied by Mr. Firth Thewlis, the family are all saved, as also the family in the second house, tenanted by Mr. John Tate ; but in the third house, occupied by Mr. Sidney Hartley, his wife, and family of nine persons, the whole of the inmates are lost, excepting four sons, who escaped on a portion of the roof left standing. The fourth house, occupied by Mr. Richard Shackleton, has suffered serious damage, and Mr. Shackleton, his wife, and three children are all drowned.

Living nearby, Richard's father and sister had a narrow escape after William Dyson, the landlord of the White Hart Inn, helped them to safety:[5]

Opposite the While Hart stood a house in which Mr. James Shackleton and daughter resided. Mr. Dyson ran across the street, urging Mr. Shackleton to fly for his life, and seizing Miss Shackleton, carried her into his own house. There was no time afforded these parties to save anything, they were compelled to escape in their night-clothes ; part of the house was carried away.

An eyewitness to the events was Peace Sykes:[6]

I watched the flood do its destructive work, and the first thing I saw fall was the Old Genn, as was termed the large pillar which had been erected to commemorate some important public event. Next Mr. Shackleton’s house. Immediately afterwards I saw the house in which Mr. Richard Shackleton and his family resided completely swept away, with all its inmates, and Sidney Hartley’s house I also saw go down and sink into the waters. A large empty oil cask passed along the street, and I saw it afterwards in the church burial ground, having been driven against the iron gates, which it had burst open.

The bodies of Tamar, Hannah and James were soon recovered and they were buried on Monday 9 February at St. John's Church, Upperthong — the funeral was delayed by a day in the hope that the bodies of Richard and Grace Hirst might be found in time. The Loyal "Yorkshireman" Lodge No. 204 of the Independent Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) who met at the White Hart Inn in Holmfirth provided £5 towards the burial costs.

The following description was released for Richard:

Richard Shackleton, 31, Holmfirth ; five feet nine inches, brown curly hair, dark eyes, and a brown mark on the arm between the wrist and elbow.

Grace Hirst's body was found on Friday 20 February and interred the following day at Upperthong.

Richard's body was recovered from the River Aire on Saturday 28 February at Ferrybridge near Pontefract, some 35 miles downriver of Holmfirth, after a boatman accidently snagged it with a boat hook. Suspecting the body might be of a flood victim, word was sent to Holmfirth and innkeeper William Dyson accompanied Richard's father, James, to Ferrybridge to identify the body. The Leeds Intelligenger reported:[7]

It may be added that poor Shackleton having been nearly a month in the water when found, his features were so distended and livid as to render his identity a matter of great difficulty, even by his own father; nor was the recognition fully made out, until it was remembered that he bore a palpable "mother's mark" on one arm, which, being found patent, at once removed all doubts as to the remains being those of Richard Shackleton.

Following a brief inquest, Richard's body was returned to Holmfirth on Tuesday 2 March.[8] He was buried on Wednesday 3 March at Upperthong. The Huddersfield Examiner reported that "a large procession of Odd-Fellows' and ringers attended the funeral, to pay their last tribute of respect to one who had for many years been a member of their respective societies." That evening, a "solemn muffled peal was performed, on the old church bells, by his brother ringers, affording a very appropriate finale to the melancholy duties of the day".[9]

The family's gravestone is inscribed with the following:[10]

In Memory Of

all of whom were Drowned in the Flood
caused by the
on Thursday Morning,
the Fifth Day of February, 1852.

Aged 31 years;
He was found at Ferry Bridge
on Saturday, February 28th.

Aged 33 Years;
found Feb 5th at Thongsbridge.

Aged 8 Years;
found Feb 5th near Thongsbridge.

Aged 4 Years;
found Feb 20th, near Thongsbridge.

Aged 1 Year;
found Feb 5th near Thongsbridge.

ALSO Ann Shackleton Niece of the
above, who died May 25th 1863,
aged 18 Years.


Richard and Tamar's first daughter, Ann, was left an orphan and continued to live with her maternal grandparents until she married in 1862.

Notes and References

  1. Born 17 July 1843 and baptised 30 March 1845 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.
  2. Born 20 June 1847 and baptised 11 July 1847 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.
  3. Born 7 January 1851 and baptised 16 February 1851 at Holy Trinity, Holmfirth.
  4. "Awful Catastrophe and Fearful Loss of Life at Holmfirth" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Feb/1852).
  5. "Awful Calamity at Holmfirth" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (07/Feb/1852).
  6. "The Holmfirth Flood" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (14/Feb/1902).
  7. "The Holmfirth Catastrophe" in Leeds Intelligencer (06/Mar/1852).
  8. "The Flood: Three More Bodies Found" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (06/Mar/1852).
  9. "The Holmfirth Catastrophe" in Leeds Intelligencer (06/Mar/1852).
  10. Inscription copied from a photograph taken by Elizabeth Lockwood.