The Flood Came and Took Them All Away: A Sermon on the Holmfirth Flood (1852) by Rev. Joshua Fawcett
The wonder excited in the mind of the reader that a reservoir so comparatively small should do so much damage, vanishes with a very cursory inspection of the locality. The entire Holme valley is a striking instance of British enterprise. On scites, apparently the least adapted for their object, mills, manufactories, shops, and dwelling-houses have been erected! the owner of each actuated only by considerations of his own means and requirement; and yet all these isolated efforts combining to congregate and employ in the narrow valley of the Holme a large and industrious and hitherto a thriving population. With a striking disregard for the dangers of great floods, but a singular fear of little overflows, the Holme lands upon the wider expanses of the valley are rairly the scites of either mills or dwelling-houses. But, where the valley contracts to a gorge, and the stream deepens as it narrows, there the little space by the side of the stream is blocked-up with a mill, and a row of cottages with their “wall-race” in the very bed of the stream perched on the precipitous bank on the other side which did not allow room for another mill. It was at these gorges, thus obstructed by buildings, that the loss of life and property occurred. And hence it is, that although the embankment of the reservoir burst to its very base with one tremendous roar, pouring out its millions of gallons of water so fast as to empty the whole in little more than a quarter of an hour, the flood down at Holmfirth is described by some as coming in three successive surges. The chasm in the embankment being on the side furthest from Bilberry mill, and the valley widening on that side, that mill did not sustain the full force of the flood. Its tremendous force is, however, shown about a quarter of a mile down, by two large rocks, the least weighing four or five tons, which have been carried there and left “high and dry” on the flat land at the back of Mr. Fourness’s house. The house itself which would be nearly in the middle of the flood has received little injury; but the mill below is damaged on one side. The valley then narrows rapidly, the brow on each side becoming perfectly percipitous; and this was the spot selected for the erection of Digley mill, on the right bank of the stream, and the further entire blocking-up of the valley by a large weaving shed on the left side of the valley. Here the water was pent-up for a short time until it had attained depth enough to force down the obstruction; and the description of this process as that of the entire premises melting in the boiling liquid, exhibits the process of such a destruction. The mill on the right hand was four stories high and forty yards long, set broad-way to the coming flood; and the buildings on the left consisted of a weaving-shed, dye-house, and the residence of the owner, Mrs Hirst. Of these all are swept away except the chimney; but we could see no marks upon this standing relic to show the height to which the waters had risen before the premises melted beneath them. From Digley the valley continues to be a narrow glen until it approaches Holme bridge. Half way down is the Bank End mill, on the left bank of the stream; but as there is no obstruction on the other side, and the stream has here a rapid fall, only one end of the mill has been swept away.
At Holme Bridge, the greater part of the bridge (which belongs to the Huddersfield and Woodhead turnpike road) is swept away; and the church flooded. But, as the valley here widens, the flood was again weakened by its being spread. Approaching Hinchcliffe Mill the river is crossed by a bridge, a mill-dam on the right bank encroaches on the stream, until the space left for the exit of water is only some 15 yards; the edge of the stream on the left bank being formed by the “wall-race” of the six cottages, which formed the lower part of Water Street. Into this narrow space, the boilers, machinery, and timber, which had been brought by the furious flood all the way from Digley Mills, were driven. The houses in Water Street were three stories high; and the wreck was driven against the second story, blocking up the stream, which pressed with the force of hundreds of tons behind. The affrighted inhabitants fled from the lowest to the second, and from the second to the top story. According to some accounts six of the inhabitants escaped at that time. The whole of the six cottages were then pressed outwards by the collected wreck, and fell, so to speak, upon their backs in the street behind. And all the living souls, but one, then in the houses were swept away, only to be picked up mutilated corpses. That one, James Metterick, escaped under circumstances to which we have previously alluded. He has been the object of great curiosity ever since. He states that there were ten of them in the house when the flood came, viz., his father, step-mother, and eight children. On being awaked he put on some of his clothes and ran to the window, where he met with his stepmother; and they both at once saw that the reservoir had burst. The other children were at this time below, but his father handed them up, and they were placed in the chamber. Just then the deluge came, and the water burst through into the chamber. He and Mrs. Metter-ick again seized the children, and carried all but one into the attic, a story higher: the flood caught his father and one child on the stairs and drowned them. The next moment the whole house was carried away, and he saw no more of the family: he found himself in the raging torrent, swept before it for a quarter of a mile like a feather. He got hold -of a floating plank, lost it, and seized another: was carried aside into the Bottom Mill Reservoir, where the water soon became quieter, and he paddled himself to the side by means of another floating piece of wood which he seized.
From Hinchcliffe Mill, the valley again widens; and in this reach, two boilers are deposited, one of which had been brought all the way (one mile) from Digley Mill.
Victoria Mill on the left bank of the stream, and the mill-dam to Dyson’s Mill again contract the stream, and caused the destruction of three cottages built (in the disregard of danger to which we have already adverted) close to the water edge, and of the house occupied by Mr. John Sandford, junr., and his family, which was built close under the mill-dam.
After another expanse the stream is once more obstructed by the Lower Mill on one side, and-the houses at Scarr Fold on the other; and from this point to the lower end of Holmfirth, the river was literally “throttled” with buildings. On the mill end above Scarr Fold, there are marks which seem to indicate a height of more than 20 feet above the stream which was running this week. Scarr Fold itself, consists of the lower stories, which face towards the stream, of houses the upper stories of which abut upon the high road. A number of steps lead down to the fold; and as if to court the greater danger, at the bottom of the passage, one of a row of houses standing sideway to the stream, projects further than the neighbouring fronts. The flood has swept this house clear away; but the occupants (Mr. John Charlesworth, his wife and two children) being alarmed, made their escape up these steps. At the second house from the stream, occupied by Richard Woodcock, two lives (children) were lost. Woodcock with two of his children escaped, leaving his wife and other two children to follow, but the children were caught and carried away. In the row of houses below this place, all the inhabitants escaped except in one house, occupied by Joseph Helliwell, weaver, and his family. They it appeared slept in the bottom room. Helliwell himself had only just time to run upstairs; his wife and five children were drowned in their beds; and Helliwell himself was only saved by being dragged through the floor of the house above.
Next comes the Upper Bridge, which stood the shock remarkable. On the left bank another house, occupied by Mr. Enos Bailey, his wife, and two children, projected towards the stream, and was carried away by the flood. His wife and children were all drowned; but he laid hold of a beam which was being carried down the stream, and which, by a sudden sweep, brought him again to the left bank of the river, and he was able to scramble out and escape into the turn-pike road by the gate near the house of Mr. S. Wimpenny, grocer. Mr. Wimpenny sustained damage to the amount of £200; and we ought also to mention that near Upper Bridge damage was done to the stock of Mr. Haigh, grocer, to the amount of £600; to the house of Mr. James Charlesworth, banker, to the amount of £300; and to Mr. G. Bower, the King’s Head Inn, to the amount of £70.
But it was on the premises below, and on the opposite side of the point to which we have now brought our narrative, that the most serious mischief visible in Holmfirth was done. The Upper Bridge was dismantled, and very soon overflowed. The whole of the houses ranging on the right-hand side of the river forms a long street called Hollow-gate, and suffered severely from the inundation. The Elephant and Castle, occupied by Mrs. Kippax, and situated on the right-hand side of the bridge, was damaged to the extent of £200; and a butcher’s shop adjoining, kept by Mr. H. Bowers, to the extent of £50. A row of shops, three stories high, a little lower down, were more or less injured, and much property destroyed. Messrs. B. and E. Woodhead, Grocers, estimate their loss at £60; Mr. Abraham Haley, grocer, at £50; Mr. H. Swire, Clogger, at £40; Mr. M’Clellan bookseller, at £400; Mr. Briggs, Greengrocer, at £20; Mr. J. Morehouse, tailor, at £10; and Messrs. Joel Haigh & Son, drapers, at £600. The bed of the river at this point was completely choked up with the accumulated ruin of mills and houses, and the current was therefore somewhat diverted from its usual course. The residents in the houses already named in this immediate locality, happily escaped with their lives; but the most tragic scenes occurred to the inhabitants of some houses on the opposite side of the street, the foundations of which are now washed by the river. On the left-hand side of what the day previous was a narrow street, stood a toll-bar house kept by S. Greenwood, who, with his wife and child, were swept away. He was seen by some neighbours, who had been awakened by the roaring of the torrent, to come out of doors with a lighted candle in his hand — no doubt to ascertain what was the matter. He returned into the house, closed the door, and in a moment or two not a vestige of the toll-bar house could be seen. A little lower down, on the same side of the street, an extensive warehouse, occupied by Messrs. Crawshaw, curriers, was swept away by the flood, as also a cottage in which a person of the name of Ashhole resided, who, with his wife and child perished. Another cottage adjoining these premises met a similar fate. It was occupied by a labouring man, named John Kaye, with whom lived his son-in-law and daughter with their child. The three latter were drowned, while a remarkable deliverance awaited the old man. He was driven by the force of the current into Victoria Square, on the opposite side, and a little lower down the street. He was espied floating on the water by the landlord of the Rose and Crown Inn, who at once stretched out a pole to the drowning man, and rescued him from almost certain death. An extensive warehouse, barn, stable, &c., on the same side of the street, belonging to Mr. J. Morris, manufacturer, was also destroyed.
On the other side of the street where these premises and cottages once stood, some hair-breadth escapes were effected. The premises occupied by Mr. T. Ellis, plumber and glazier, are elevated from the road, and ascended by a flight of steps. Nevertheless, such was the sudden and great rise of the flood that the inmates who were sleeping in the upper story were placed in great jeopardy. Mr. Ellis made his escape by forcing open a small portion of the ceiling of the workshop with a crowbar, and by this means got into one of the houses on the hill side. Richard Tolson (a workman with Ellis, and who lived on the premises), his wife, four children, and James Roberts, a lodger, seeing the water already up to the lower ledge of their bed-room, and having witnessed the destruction of the three houses opposite, went up the narrow and contracted bedroom chimney, and providentially got into another house higher up the hill side. The inmates of the adjoining house, occupied by Mr. R. Parsons, escaped out of the back door; the house was gutted and damage to the amount of £10 sustained. Mr. B. Burton, plumber, and who also occupied adjoining premises as a toy warehouse, was damaged to the extent of £690. The next building was a small stable occupied by Mr. H. Firth, whose horse had been put-up in it the night previous. The front of the stable being washed away the horse was carried down the river, but when opposite the White Hart Inn managed somehow to get out. The affrighted animal galloped right away to the top of the hill. Nearly opposite this stable there stood a grocer’s shop, occupied by Mr. H. Firth, and a small house, occupied by Mr. Abel Hoyle, both of which were washed away bodily. Fortunately the tenants did not reside upon the premises.
At Rotchet (a continuation of Hollow Gate) much damage was done. Mr. Joseph Haigh, butcher, sustained damage to the extent of £20, and Mr. Jonathan Butterworth, butcher, £40. Mr. James Lee, tailor, who lived next door perished; and the only wonder is that the house did not come down. Lee and his grandson Job were downstairs at the time making black clothes for a funeral. The flood burst open the door and the old man unable to help himself was drowned. Job managed to swim about the house, and fortunately his cries were heard by a man named Benjamin Brearley and his wife, who lodged in the house, and were asleep upstairs; they immediately ran to his assistance but found themselves unable to open the chamber door; with their feet, however, they managed to force one of the panels, and through a small aperture of only 5 inches square, pulled Job by the head and shoulders. Mr. Robert Castle, grocer, had a narrow escape. The old man said “the water came right up into my chamber, and I could dabble my fingers in it as I lay in bed.” Fortunately it subsided, but not before doing damage to the extent of £20. The Kibble runs in front of this house, and shortly after falls into the Holme. The battlements of the bridge were washed away. Not much damage was done to the Hose and Crown Inn; but Mr. Walker, tailor, of Hinchcliffe, sustained a loss of £10, and the next premises occupied by Mr. Blakey, tailor and draper, were completely gutted. The damage was estimated at £600, and the remainder of the goods have since been sold off. Mr. Watson, chemist, sustained a loss of £300, and Mr. John Johnson, tinner, of £300, while the loss of Mr. Wood, grocer, is estimated at from £1000 to £1500. Mr James Haigh, of the Shoulder of Mutton, estimates his loss at £200; and Mr. Joseph Balmforth, painter, at £100. Adjoining the bridge on the opposite side of the street, was the dwelling-house of Mr. Charles Marples, ironfounder, but whose wife kept a milliner’s shop. The family fortunately escaped, but only the front wall and a portion of one of the gables of the house is left standing. A portion of the next house occupied by Mr. William Day Martin, clock and watch maker, has been swept away, and the building is completely gutted. He estimates his loss at £200. A similar fate befell Mr. James Whiteley’s house, shoemaker, whose loss is said to be £1,000. The family had a narrow escape out of the windows. Mr. James Garside, ironmonger, of Church Street, suffered a loss of a £100 to £200; Mr. Samuel Woodhead, shoemaker, of £20; Mr. William Cartwright, of the Jolly Hatters, of £20; Mr. Francis Vero, hatter and draper, £100; and Mr. James Boothroyd, draper (whose shop is far up in the church yard), £250.
We have now brought our peregrinations to the old church, which has not sustained any very serious damage, but a most remarkable proof is afforded in the church-yard of the amazing force of the flood. One of the massive pillars of the gateway has been lifted from its bed, twisted half way round, and yet, singularly enough, left to maintain its perpendicular. A small triangular house at the end of Mr. Vero’s shop was washed away. The resident escaped. Below the church Mr. Joseph Morris, painter, sustained damage to the amount of £10 ; Mr. Francis Gutteridge, confectioner, £40; Mr. John Dyson, tinner, £60; Mr, William Gledhill, grocer, £150; and Mr. William Dyson, White Hart Inn, £250. Mr. Dyson had a narrow escape, but the moment he was saved himself he set about rescuing the lives of his neighbours who were placed in jeopardy. Immediately opposite the White Hart stands a dwelling occupied by Mr. Shackleton, a retired publican. The water had already made sad havoc with it, and washed away the furniture, when Mr. Dyson made a desperate effort to rescue the inmates, and succeeded in carrying them out of the house on his back; Mr. Shackleton’s daughter and grand-daughter being in their nightdresses. The next house is inhabited by Mr. Joseph Whiteley, boot and shoe maker, who suffered a loss of £30; Mr. Joshua Mosley, grocer, of £100; and Mr. Benjamin Bailey, tailor, of £80. The house adjoining the White Hart is occupied by Mr. George Haigh, butcher, who had meat and furniture spoiled to the amount of £70. We now come to Mr. Howe’s, the George and Dragon Inn, where some stabling was thrown down and the house damaged to the extent of £200. Mr. John Bower, of the Friendship Inn, also sustained a loss of £50, his house, like the rest, being flooded.
Turning to the left round the corner of the George and Dragon Inn we approach the extensive premises known as the Holmfirth Mill, belonging to Messrs. Nathan Thewlis and Co., and which was occupied as a scribbling, spinning, and fulling mill. The mighty rushing torrent swept clean through the two lower stories, smashing the machinery, and inflicting an amount of damage which can not yet be estimated. Approaching the river and on the right hand side is a house occupied by Mr. John Roberts, who had a narrow escape. The house was gutted. A most appalling spectacle is presented on the brink of the river, and no pen can do justice to the scene of devastation which is there presented. On the opposite side stands the Wesleyan Chapel, with part of the grave yard washed away. Turning to the left we scramble over the ruins of some extensive blue dye works, formerly occupied by Messrs. John Roberts & Son. The destruction of these premises was most complete. Messrs. Bowers’ wool warehouse adjoining, suffered damage to the extent of £1000. A little above the mill and between that building and a stable stood two small cottages; one occupied by Sidney Hartley (engineer to Messrs. Thewlis) and his family; and the other by Richard Shackleton, weaver, and his family. Both these families, with the exception of three were swept away, and the cottages also. In order to shew that an alarm had spread even to Holmfirth that the Holme reservoir was not safe, we find that Mrs. Hartley (according to the narrative of one of her children — a girl — who was saved) having heard on Wednesday night that it was likely to burst resolved not to go to bed. She, however, put her family of eight children to bed and sat up to await the issue, hoping to get sufficient warning to enable all to escape, if the report should prove correct. She sat up until one o’clock on Thursday morning, and then went to bed. The alarm reached almost immediately she had retired to rest. The girl states that the water burst upon them before they could get out of the chamber, and when her mother found they could not escape, she held up her infant child above the water outside the window, hoping to save it, but finding the front of the house giving way she turned and bade her family farewell, and was swept away with the babe in the foaming torrent. So also perished the father and four other children; but the little creature who gives this narrative, with two sisters and the apprentice boy, who had also been sleeping in the house, being suddenly floated up to a part of the roof which yet remained, caught hold of the rafters and clung to them. When the flood began to abate, the apprentice, John Dearnley, got out upon the roof and assisted the three girls to do the same. Here they remained at least twenty minutes. He afterwards carried them one by one into the portion of Holmfirth Mills which had escaped destruction, where, in their night clothes, standing up to their knees in mud, they were exposed to the inclemency of the night air and to the falling rain. Ultimately, however, they discovered a way into a room nearly full of wool, and burying themselves amongst it obtained the warmth they so much needed, and remained there till morning. The three orphans are now residing with their relations.
Victoria Bridge (like the other bridges) is dismantled. On the right-hand side, over the bridge, is a new row of shops, built in the modern style, every one of which was flooded to a greater or less extent according to their proximity to the river. The loss sustained by the various occupants is as follows:— Mr. Joshua Woodcock, draper, £700; Mr. Robert Gutteridge, confectioner, £250; Mr. John Hargreaves, shoemaker, £700; Mr Thos. Dyson, druggist, £100; Mr. Edwd. Williamson, draper, £700; Mr. John Bow-cock, tea-dealer, £100; Mr. William Lawson, tinner, £50; and Mr. Richard Harrison, grocer, £30. Mr. Bowcock had only opened his shop the previous Saturday, and bills were posted on the shutters of Mr. Williamson’s, to the effect that the shop would be open the Saturday following. The goods which were swept away had only just been deposited upon the premises. What rendered the destruction of property in this street so very great, arose doubtless from the circumstance of cellar-kitchens being beneath the shops; the immense weight of water seems to have broken down the floors the moment the shutters and windows gave way, and by this means washed everything out of the shops through the openings obtained in the back kitchens. Fortunately no loss of life was sustained in this street; but most of the inmates escaped as by their very skin. Mr. Woodcock’s family (being the occupants of the lowermost shop) had a most marvellous deliverance effected for them. They were awoke by the roaring of the waters, and seeing the flood rush past with such impetuosity, were naturally alarmed for their own safety. Mrs. Woodcock at last exclaimed, “I know a way of escape; follow me.” She immediately threw open the room window on the second story, and nothing daunted, stepped upon the narrow wooden cornice of the shop fronts, and which is only some 14 or 16 inches in width; upon this narrow ledge she ran in her night-dress to the top of the row, which consists of eight shops. Finding no member of her family following, she went back, exclaiming, “If I am to perish, I’ll perish with my children, and we will all go together.” As she was thus returning she fell through one of the room windows, but was rescued from her perilous situation, and both her husband and her children were also delivered from the horrible death which at one time seemed inevitable. On the opposite side of the street, damage to the amount of £2,000 was done to the extensive warehouses, dyehouse, and premises belonging to Joshua Moorhouse, Esq., J.P. In the rear of the shops in Victoria Street, and on the left-hand side as we progress along the course of the river, stands the mansion of Joseph Charlesworth, Esq., J.P. whose family and himself had a narrow escape, the house being at one time surrounded by water. The damage is estimated at from £300 to £500. An adjoining bam, occupied by Joseph Battye, was inundated, and he lost a horse worth £18. The dwellinghouse and stable of Mr. Johnson, tinner, was flooded, and he lost a valuable horse, a pig, and a cow. A row of eight cottages in Norridge Bottom, facing towards the river, and belonging to Mr. Andrew Sanderson, narrowly escaped destruction. A widow named Bashworth was drawn out of the window of her house with ropes, and thus was saved. The rest of the inmates of these cottages also got away in safety. The Christian Brethren’s meeting-room was considerably injured, and several of the benches swept away.
The Wesleyan Chapel comes next in the route we are taking. The injury done to the chapel has been noticed in a previous page, but we may here add, that, although the chapel stands firm, the earth has been washed away to the depth of several feet very near one comer. The chapel was flooded to within a foot of the tops of the pews. The preachers’ houses are elevated a few yards higher up, but the cellars were filled, and terror-stricken by the awful calamity, the Rev. B. Firth and the Rev. T. Garbutt, with their wives and children, ran out of their houses in their night dresses, and sought shelter on the hill side. A large tree, tom up by its roots, was left by the retiring waters in the back yard of one of the houses. Several strange sights are presented in the grave-yard, and perhaps the most singular is that occasioned by the whirling flood having scooped out the slumbering occupant of one of the graves, leaving a yawning gulph. Among the rest of the bodies washed away is that of the late Rev. Aaron Floyd. Several of the houses lower down the stream were injured, but not to any very considerable extent. The gas-works suffered damage by some of the mains being washed up. Messrs, Marples’ iron foundry was also damaged to the extent of £50, and a large goit, which had been made at a considerable expense by Mr Joseph Broadbent, and only recently completed, was swept away. The county bridge leading to the railway station was greatly damaged, and the battlements destroyed. A small mill called “Old Tom’s Mill,” situate on the other side this bridge, and which has latterly been occupied by Mr. John Wood, was washed away. Between this old mill and the church-yard little damage was done.
Below this county bridge, and immediately abutting on the right-hand side of the river, stood a cottage occupied by Mr. George Exley; the front wall of which was washed away, together with some out-buildings. The family had a narrow escape, having to be pulled out head foremost through a small window. Lower down still we come to Bridge Mill, occupied by Messrs. Broadbent. The teazing room was swept away, the reservoir bank partly washed down, and the machinery of the mill greatly injured. The battlements of a small bridge belonging to Mr C. S. Floyd were carried away; and about a quarter of a mile lower down the valley the woollen mill and premises occupied by Mr. George Robinson, were greatly injured. The drying stove was taken away bodily, and a steam pan forced from its bed. In the fold adjoining, two cottages occupied by Hiram Eamshaw and Andrew Sanderson, were seriously damaged, and the furniture spoiled. These houses are built very near the river, and a large tree near them having withstood the fury of the element, in all probability saved the inmates from a watery grave. At Thongs Bridge a mill occupied by Messrs. Woodhead and Wimpenny, was greatly damaged; as was also the mill occupied by Messrs. J. & S. Mellor, of Mytholm Bridge, where the machinery was injured, and a cask of oil swept away. At Lower Mytholm Bridge, the mill occupied by Messrs. Bashworth and Booth, suffered in a somewhat similar manner to the rest, and several ends of cloth were washed away. The injury sustained by the millowners and inhabitants lower down the valley having now been fully detailed we are enabled to close this somewhat minute account of the sudden ruin, and the effects of that dire calamity, to which the great manufacturing districts which environ Holmfirth have been subjected.