Sarah Woodcock (1839-1852)

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 Woodcock was a victim of the Holmfirth Flood of 1852, along with her old brother Alfred.

Biography

She was born on 5 August 1839 at Stalybridge, Cheshire, the daughter of clothier Richard Woodcock of Holmfirth and his wife Mary Haigh (née Goldthorp), and was baptised on 11 June 1843 at All Hallows, Kirkburton, along with her younger brother Benjamin.

In 1841, the family was living at Scar Fold where Richard (named "Dick" in the census return) worked as a wool dyer. Richard's occupation was again recorded as "wool dyer" in the 1851 Census, whilst 11-year-old Sarah was an "errand girl".

Death

Richard Woodcock's account of the night of the flood was reported as follows:[1]

When I was aroused by the cry of those who gave the alarm, there were nine of us in the house, — myself, my wife, and seven children. On hearing the alarm, I ran up a few steps leading to the road, to see what was the matter ; but, on hearing the roar of the water, I ran back again to see for my family. I met my wife at the door, with two of the children : I took one under each arm, and carried them up into the road, and told my wife to follow me. When I took these children, I was up to my knees in water. My wife, instead of following me, ran up-stairs to see after the children. These were five in number, and they all slept in the garret ; three in one bed, two in another. The bed containing the three was washed away, the other stood. Two out of the three sleeping in the bed washed away, or that fell with the part of the floor into the flood, awoke and got up, — a girl five years old, and a boy of seventeen. This boy went down-stairs, but returned to put on his trousers. The girl was coming down the ladder by which they went from the chamber into the garret, to her mother, who by this time was standing in the chamber, up to the neck in water. The ladder, with the child upon it, was washed away ; but the mother caught her as she fell, and held her up above the flood. In the garret was one child still asleep, the boy who had returned to dress, and two other children. While the boy was putting on his trousers, by the side of the bed, that part of the floor gave way, and the bed with his sister dropped into the flood, carrying him along with it. The other part of the floor stood, and the children were safe. My wife had got into a corner of the chamber, where she was sheltered from the sweep of the flood by the chimney ; and here she stood holding up the child until the water subsided. The two children (one fifteen and the other eight years of age) clung together in the corner of the room that stood, and with the mother, and child she held above the flood, were rescued in the following way. A person broke a passage through the gable-end of the house next the road, which was twenty feet above the basement-story of the house, into the garret, and the two children who clung together were taken out of the opening made in the wall. One of the children said, “My mother is below in the chamber.” I got through this hole, and saw my wife with the child in the chamber. A person near handed me a short ladder, and I put it down to my wife ; but it would not reach the part of the floor where she stood. I held it as firmly as I could. The child first attempted to climb up this swinging ladder, but in climbing fell. Her mother again caught her, and the next time she got safe up : then the mother followed, and both were safe, and were taken through the hole like the others.

The Huddersfield & Holmfirth Examiner gave the following report:[2]

At Scarfold, where there were about a dozen houses the water rushed into the lower rooms and chambers, and a person of the name of Hellawell had five of his children borne away with the flood. Two children also belonging to a person named Richard Woodcock were carried away, but the rest of the family were rescued from their perilous position by the exertions of the neighbours, who succeeded in getting them through the top of the house. The wife of Woodcock, and two of the children, had a very narrow escape. From the account furnished us it appears that Woodcock was apprehensive of danger before the flood came, and went up the Scar Fold to the new road leading from Upperbridge to Hinchliffe Mill, whilst there he heard the alarm given ; he immediately rushed back to fetch his family, he seized two of his children and urged his wife to fly for her life, she said if she could not save her other children she would perish with them. The water was now almost up to the waist of Woodcock, as he ran up the steps, and a son of his following close at his feels was carried away. His house door gave way, and he supposed his wife and children had gone down with the flood. He was however anxious to see if anything could be done to reach them, if they should he still alive. A hole was immediately made through the door above the house, and Mrs. Woodcock was discovered standing upon a ladder, holding up two of her children above the surface of the water, which had reached her shoulders ; the bottom of the ladder rested on a small portion of the door which remained of the wreck, and by this slight circumstance three lives were saved, as they were immediately drawn up and placed in security.

According to some sources, shortly after the rescue, part of the house collapsed.

Sarah's body was found soon afterwards at around 2:30am "amongst some timber at the Holmfirth Mill Dam" by William Dyson, landlord of the White Hart.[3]

Alfred's body was found by John Rowbottom on the morning after the flood "betwixt the floors of the first and second storeys of the [Holmfirth] mill" and was taken to the White Hart Inn.

At the inquest, Richard formally identified his two children.

Alfred was buried as "Alfred Thorpe" on 8 February at Holmfirth Wesleyan Chapel. Sarah was buried there the following day.

Notes and References