Sarah Hellawell (1844-1852)

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.

Sarah Hellawell was one of the victims of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852.


She was born on 8 March 1844, the daughter of clothier Joseph Hellawell and his wife Mary (née Woodhead), and was baptised on 21 April 1844.

The 1851 Census recorded the Hellawell family living at Scar Fold, Holmfirth, with Joseph and Mary working as woollen cloth weavers.


In the early hours of 5 February 1852, the embankment of Bilberry Reservoir failed and a torrent of water flooded the Holme Valley, destroying buildings and killing upwards up 80 people.

According to several reports, the entire family slept downstairs in their house at Scar Fold. Joseph was woken by the flood and called for his family to follow him as he rushed upstairs (or was carried up the stairs by the rising waters), but unfortunately they were drowned in their beds. Alone, Joseph clambered onto his loom and cried out for help — his calls were heard by those in the house above and they ripped up their floorboards to allow him climb out of the water.

After the waters subsided, a neighbour named William Moorhouse went into the Hellawells' house and saw the bodies of Mary and her children "lying dead in bed."[1] The bodies were removed to the George Inn at Upper Bridge.

At the inquest, Joseph Hellawell's absence was explained by Thomas Taylor of Holmfirth, with whom Joseph was staying whilst he recovered:

The water hurried the father up stairs to an upper room by which he was saved, but the others were drowned in bed. The father was very much injured by being knocked about by the water, and had not been able to leave his bed since.
   — Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852)

Thomas Taylor, of Holmfirth, gave an account of a conversation which he had with the father of the unfortunate family, who stated that he was washed out of bed by the force of the water, and ultimately escaped by resting on a "breast beam." His wife and all the children perished, and every thing they processed was destroyed. In answer to a question by a jury-man, the witness stated that the bereaved husband had been confined to bed ever since the deplorable occurrence, partly from injuries received, and partly from anguish of mind. He was utterly unable to leave the house
   — "Adjourned Inquest: Friday" in Halifax Guardian (14/Feb/1852)

Mary and her five children were buried on Sunday 8 February at St. John's, Upperthong.

Notes and References

  1. Leeds Intelligencer (14/Feb/1852).