The Holme Valley Almanack and Year Book (1947) - Cloudburst and Flood

The following detailed summary of the Holmfirth Flood of 1944 is transcribed from the The Holme Valley Almanack and Year Book (1947), which was kindly made available by Lee Battye.



(Based on a Report compiled by Mr. S. G. Dilnot, Clerk to Holmfirth U.D.C., to whom due acknowledgement is hereby given).

Narrative of Event.

The cloudburst occurred just after six o’clock in the evening of Whit-Monday, May 29th, 1944. So far as can be ascertained the centre of the storm was in the vicinity of the Bilberry Reservoir, which lies approximately one mile due west of Holmbridge, this place being one and a half miles south-west of the centre of Holmfirth.

It was preceded by torrential rain and a severe thunderstorm and the water in the River Holme rose exceedingly quickly. It is estimated that some five inches of rain fell near Bilberry on May 29th but rain gauges at Yateholme show only 1.66” and on the extreme eastern boundary of the district little rain fell.

Between Bilberry and Holmfirth there are the following ten bridges across the river:— Bilberry Mill bridge, Holmbridge, Ford Gate, Whiteley and Green’s Mill, Victoria, over Lower Mills, Upperbridge, Castle’s Garage, Baddeley’s Garage and Victoria Street.

The bed of the river under these bridges became more or less choked with debris, consisting of trees, vegetation, rocks, stones, river banks, and soil. The position was considerably aggravated by the river becoming diverted from its usual channel just north of Bottoms Mill, where it swept across the fields to Riverside Mill. Here there were stored in sheds large quantities of bales of rabbit skins, and other material. Each of these bales when dry weighed from five to ten cwts. The sheds containing them were demolished, and all the bridges north of Bottoms Mill were choked with these bales, which also floated into various premises and caused a great deal of damage therein.

In practically every case the parapets of the bridges collapsed but in some instances, before collapsing, water was collected on land adjoining the river and consequently, when the parapets collapsed, a very large column of water was released, which had the effect of causing “waves” of water, with disastrous consequences to buildings north of the respective bridges.

It is estimated that the maximum flow of water was at approximately 6-30 p.m. at Bilberry, but the maximum flow of water at Holmfirth was not until about 7 p.m. The maximum height of water in Victoria Square was approximately seven feet six inches against Martin’s Bank.

It is a matter of interest that the clocks were stopped at 6-20 p.m. at Bottoms Mill and at 6-25 p.m. at Battye’s iron works.

The maximum depth of water in the cutting south of Lower Mills was given at 30 ft.

Persons attending the Holme Valley Cinema (the entrance to which is by a concrete platform on steel piles over the river) were evacuated by the side and rear entrances at about 6-30 p.m.

Unfortunately the cloudburst was associated with loss of life, there being two cases, resulting in three lives being lost by drowning.

In the Yard of the Gartside’s Estate two persons were marooned in Baddeley’s Garage, one of these persons Mrs. Dorothea Schofield, being unfortunately drowned. Both Lewis Hirst and Mrs. Schofield took refuge on a wall in the yard adjoining the garage. One of the bales from Dark’s Mill struck this wall and demolished it and both these persons were swept into the water. Lewis Hirst was fortunately able to retain a hold on the bale and was eventually rescued just after 7 p.m. by members of the National Fire Service by means, of ladders and a rope.

Further loss of life was caused where the river flows along the retaining wall to Woodhead Road opposite Victoria. Geoffrey Riley, aged 14, endeavoured to save an aged lady of 76 who was in difficulties in the water on the by-road leading to Riverside Mills. In this action he was most ably assisted by his father, Donald Riley, who was unfortunately drowned. Geoffrey Riley reached Miss Wimpenny and was holding her when a rush of water swept them across the by-road to the river. At this point the fence wall between the by-road and the river had been partially washed away. As Geoffrey Riley and Miss Wimpenny were swept into the river, his father grasped him with one hand and the fence wall with the other, but an on-rush of water occurred the wall collapsed, and all three were swept into the stream. Both Donald Riley and Miss Wimpenny were drowned, but Geoffrey Riley was rescued from the river approximately a quarter of a mile lower down.

Both Donald Riley, the father, and Geoffrey Riley, the son, acted an extremely brave and courageous manner, and the latter was awarded the Albert Medal for Gallantry on September 20th, 1944. The valuable services rendered by the members of the Fire Brigade in rescuing Lewis Hirst were also worthy of highest commendation.

The Water commenced to subside at about 7-30 p.m. but the river was too swollen to permit of any effective action that night.

Damage Caused.

Industrial Premises.

The number of industrial premises affected was 22, of which 13 are mills connected with the Textile Industry. The area of damage extended from Clarence Mills, Holmbridge (W. H. & J. Barber, Ltd.) to Reins Mill, Honley (A. C. Wickman, Ltd.). Flooding was severe and floors were covered with sludge, in some cases to a depth of 5 ft. Sheds collapsed, buildings and machinery were damaged, and the whole scene (as typified by that at H. & S. Butterworth’s, Lower Mills, Holmfirth) was one of great desolation. A number of cars were swept away from Baddeley’s and Castle’s Garages in the centre of Holmfirth.


Approximately 60 shops were affected, ranging from total destruction to complete or partial immersion and sludging; in many cases large quantities of stock were totally or partially destroyed, but in some cases the damage was confined to cellars only.

In Victoria Street on the southern side were the premises of the Yorkshire Penny Bank, Ltd. (with offices over); Messrs. Wallaces, Grocers (dwelling house over); Mrs. Torr, Milliner; and the Huddersfield Building Society. All these premises were built over the river and all of them collapsed into it. The first building to go was that of Messrs. Wallaces, which collapsed into the river in two seconds, the whole building disappearing. The Yorkshire Penny Bank went next, but this subsided into the river much more slowly. The third building to go was that of the Huddersfield Building Society which, after shifting six inches from the premises of Messrs. Gledhill & Brook, also subsided into the river and was totally immersed in less than two seconds.


In all, 109 houses were affected. The areas in which these houses were situated were:— Hinchliffe Mill — Waterside, Ford Gate, Water Street; Holmfirth — Battye’s Yard (Victoria), Scar Fold, Hollowgate, Town Gate, Foundry Yard, Norridge Bottom; Brockholes — Rock Terrace.

River Bed and Banks.

The whole of the river bed from Bilberry to Honley was very seriously affected. Approximately half of the river walls were washed away. In many cases the river was diverted from its original course, either on one bank or the other; and an additional feature was the silting up of the original river bed (as much as 4ft.) either on one side or the other, with consequent erosion on the opposite side. The agricultural land north of Bottoms Mill was covered with rocks (weighing as much as a ton) and debris over an area of 2½ acres. The position was complicated by reason of the fact that the main sewer for the district is laid in the river from Holmbridge to Neiley, Brockholes. One of the major difficulties to he faced was that of restoring the river to its original channel, and confining it to such channel.

The bed of the River Holme, from Gartside’s Estate to Victoria, has since been cleared of debris. Altogether 3,743 tons of material were removed.


The whole of the bridges from Bilberry to Honley, with the exception of those at Bridge Lane and Smithy Place, had their parapets swept away. (Two other exceptions, were the concrete bridges across the river in Hollowgate to Messrs. Castle’s and Baddeley’s Garages).

The effect caused by the collapse of some of these parapet walls has been mentioned earlier in this report. Although the arches of the bridges appeared to be untouched, it was feared that the arch of the bridge in Victoria Street was affected, and a detailed examination of each of the bridges had to be made to ensure that they were quite safe.

Extensive repairs have now been made to the Victoria Street bridge and (at the time of writing) work on the reinstatement of the footpath is still in hand. A new road is proposed from the graveyard in Station Road to the Huddersfield Road. When this is made, the Victoria Street bridge will be reconstructed.

Temporary Alleviation of Position.

Evacuation of Civilians.

The position on the Monday night was one in which temporary alleviation was the only possible course of action. The first work done was the evacuation of the inhabitants of the houses at Waterside, Ford Gate, Scar Fold, Upperbridge, Woodhead Road near Hollow-gate, Hollowgate, Victoria Square, Town Gate, and Rock Terrace, Brockholes. This was carried out by the Police and Wardens. In all, 122 persons were evacuated from 54 houses and as soon as the evacuation was completed, a census was taken by the Wardens by checking with the family card system.

Rest Centre.

The Rest Centre at Lane Congregational Chapel was opened by 7-30 p.m. on the evening of the disaster and the majority of these people, with the exception of those from Brockholes, Ford Gate and Water Street, were taken to this Rest Centre; but before nightfall all persons evacuated had obtained accommodation with relatives or friends.

Wardens’ Census.

On the Tuesday morning a detailed census of the persons evacuated was taken by the Wardens with enquiries as to their position so far as concerned food, ration cards, cooking facilities, loss or damage to furniture, particulars of assistance required, and what alternative accommodation was available.

Canteens and Feeding.

The Canteens belonging to the Women’s Voluntary Services and the Lord Mayor’s Air Raid Distress Canteen were operating in the district on Tuesday and from that date light meals and hot drinks were provided to evacuated persons, and to volunteers assisting them in cleaning their households, whether full-time, voluntary, or civil defence personnel.

Cleansing of Premises.

Commencing on the Tuesday, the Civil Defence and other services were engaged on the cleansing of premises by pumping, digging, scouring and mopping. In all, over 100 premises were dealt with. The position of these people was rendered more acute by the fairly constant rain which continued from the date of the cloudburst, the weather being such that it mitigated against any out-of-door drying of furniture and household equipment.

The work in connection with the cleansing of private premises was organised by the Wardens and Rescue Parties and it is worthy of note that these people worked all day on Whit Tuesday and the following Sunday, and in the evening of every other day, in addition to Saturday afternoon. The N.F.S. undertook to pump out all the cellars of the private houses and business premises affected.

Regional Mobile Column.

The Regional Mobile Column was in the district every day after the occurrence and rendered yeoman service in the clearing of the river bed of obstacles and debris, damming of the river bank, and the restoration of the river to its original course, north of Bottoms Mill; and in the removal of bales of material from Lower Mill and other mills, where they were considered to be a menace to public health or safety.

County Bridges.

The County Council cleared debris and obstructions in the river immediately adjacent to the county bridges. In this work they were most ably assisted by a contingent of American Troops equipped with Caterpillar cranes.

Loud Speaker Vans.

One very useful feature employed was the loud speaker vans supplied by the Police and Mr. H. G. Heaton, of Honley, and these were definitely of very great assistance to the general public. Their first use was to call all Civil Defence workers to report to their stations for work, and their response was instantaneous and practically complete.

There is no question but that the use of these vans played a great part in giving the public reliable and authentic information on matters relating to food, public health, and the state of Bilberry Reservoir. About 25 messages were broadcast and it was found that it was more effective if the messages were condensed as much as possible, and that no more than three messages were broadcast at one time, the usual number being two.

Road Blocks.

On the Monday evening with the concurrence of the Police, the Holmfirth Urban District Council’s Surveyor and the County Surveyor, a list of the road blocks was circulated to the Civil Defence Authorities, and the County Divisional Surveyor also contacted the Military Authorities and the Cheshire County Council. These road blocks were taken off again as roads and bridges became available for traffic. Greenfield and Shepley road (A.635) was blocked at Victoria Square; Huddersfield and Woodhead Road (A.6024) at Upperbridge, Victoria Inn and Holmbridge bridge; Dunford Road (B.6106) at Victoria Square; Miry Lane at Thongsbridge bridge; and Dobb Lane at Ford Gate bridge.

It is a matter of interest that the collapse of Woodhead Road opposite Victoria Inn caused a road block which prevented traffic from passing along that section for exactly one year.

Transport Services.

Owing to the collapse into the river of a portion of the Woodhead Road at Victoria, the bus service to Holmbridge and Holme had to be cancelled, but, as and from Wednesday morning, the ordinary service to Holmbridge was continued to the top of Parkhead, and from thence a shuttle service of single deck buses was operated between Parkhead and Holmbridge. As and from Saturday, June 3rd, a through service of single deck buses was run both to Holmbridge and Holme. The bus service from Barnsley terminated at the Victoria Hotel instead of Victoria Square.


Arrangements were made for a supply of second-hand clothing to he distributed in urgent cases to persons who had lost their clothing, and arrangements were also made for the replacement of lost clothing coupons. A second-hand clothes depot was opened by the Red Cross in the Electricity Showrooms.


An offer from St. Mary’s Hospital, Netherthong, to cleanse and dry carpets was gratefully accepted.

The replacement of carpets and soft furnishings which had been utterly spoiled by water or mud was a difficult matter to deal with. In normal times the replacement of these would not have presented much difficulty apart from finance, but under prevailing conditions there was an utter dearth of replacements and people had not the necessary coupons or permits. As a result of representation by the local Council, however, the Board of Trade took appropriate action to issue dockets in necessitous cases.

Public Utility Services.


The supply of electricity was affected by two factors, the first being damage by lightning, which affected the supply in the whole area.

The Dunford Bridge section of the Undertaking was the first to go out of commission, and between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. the supply in every section failed owing to damage by lightning. The principal damage, however, was caused by the flooding of the Thongsbridge Sub-station; and three of the poles carrying the supply to the Sub-station at Cartworth were swept away by the water. Loan of switch gear from Halifax and Huddersfield, together with replacements, enabled the former to be placed in commission again at 9-30 p.m. on Thursday; and supply in the direction of Cartworth was partially restored on Wednesday, and completed on Friday.

As a result of the prompt action taken, by 8-30 p.m. on Friday, June 2nd, the whole of the district (with the exception of the southern side of Victoria Street, where the meters and services had been submerged) was restored to normal, only temporary inconvenience to certain areas having been caused in the meantime.

Coal Gas.

The supply of coal gas was affected in the Woodhead Road area owing to the collapse of a portion of the Woodhead Road which severed the main. A temporary supply overground (around the cavity) was made, and by mid-day on Tuesday, the 6th June, supply was normal.


The 15” and 9” mains of the Batley Corporation were severed at Victoria, Woodhead Road. An alternative supply was given overground, round the cavity, and this work was completed on Tuesday, June 6th.

The Holmfirth Council water main was also severed at Victoria, but supplies were quickly available to premises on either side of the severance by feeding from each end.


The sewerage system of the district consists of stone-ware pipes, connected to a cast iron sewer laid in the river.

Normally, this sewer is more or less visible, being originally laid on the bed of the river. As a result of the storm, however, at least three manholes were wrenched off, and sections of the sewer at Ford Gate, north of Bottoms Mill, were broken.

The sewer laid from Netherthong and Deanhouse was also broken, and crude sewage was discharged into the river.

Replacement of the broken sewer was put in hand immediately and a detailed survey of the entire system was carried out later.

Bilberry Reservoir.


The Bilberry Reservoir, when constructed, had a capacity of 68 million gallons but it became silted up to some degree, and the capacity in 1937 was estimated to be 50 million gallons.

The centre of the Cloudburst would appear to have been just to the East of the embankment of this reservoir. On Monday morning, the depth of water in the reservoir was 12-ft. 4-ins. below the natural overflow, and there was therefore a storage capacity of upwards of 20 million gallons available in the reservoir. A very large flow over the by-wash occurred by 5-30 p.m. and the maximum flow is stated to have been at approximately 6-30 p.m. Statements by two Wardens were to the effect that water flowed over the embankment at one time in a continuous stream but no evidence could be obtained as to the volume of water which passed over the top of the embankment at any one time. A large quantity of water poured over each end of the embankment, the largest quantity coming at the northern end and being conveyed to the northern corner at the top of the embankment by an approach road to the north of the reservoir, which road also contained the storm water from Hoowood Lane and Ellis Pond.

The water tore a large hole on the northern slope of the embankment, but the cavity did not commence until some 20 ft. down the embankment from the top. A similar state of affairs was in evidence on the southern side of the embankment, although here the quantity of soil excavated from the embankment was not so large.

On Tuesday, in order to reduce the level of the water in the reservoir, the N.F.S. were pumping, and during Tuesday night reduced the level of the water by seven inches, but this advantage was wiped out in little over an hour on Wednesday morning by rainfall.

Extensive repairs to the embankment of this reservoir have since been carried out by Huddersfield Corporation, who also recently commenced work on the construction of Digley Reservoir.

Valve Tower.

On Wednesday, an attempt was made to release the pipe leading from the valve tower into the reservoir but without success; and work was then put in progress to reduce the height of the valve tower by some ten to twelve feet in order to permanently reduce the level of water in the reservoir by ten to twelve feet.

Telephone Alarm.

On Wednesday evening, with the aid of the Royal Corps of Signals, a telephone line was run from Bilberry reservoir to Bottoms Mill, and the Police obtained consent to sound the Bottoms siren in the event of the reservoir becoming dangerous. This information was communicated to the whole district by means of the loud speaker van. In addition to these precautions, a Messenger Service was also arranged as a second line of warning should the telephone prove defective, and this service was maintained until the valve tower had been reduced to the requisite level.

The Police had a loud speaker van attached to the Hinchliffe Mill Wardens’ Post, so that, in addition to the siren, there would be a loud speaker van available. From the condition of the ground in the vicinity of the reservoir, there is no question but that the greatest volume of rain fell in that area. Strong evidence of this was noticeable both in Marsden Clough and Hey Clough (particularly Hey Clough); and also in Lumb Bank Wood. The banks of the river between Bilberry Reservoir and the old chimney of the original Bilberry Mill were absolutely swept away, and the adjoining land was covered with rocks and debris of all descriptions.


In their status of local authority, the Holmfirth Urban District Council wish to record their appreciation of the whole-hearted manner in which all branches of the Civil Defence and other organisations co-operated; to express their thanks to all members of the public (of both sexes) who assisted in the cleansing of houses, shops and other premises; and to pay tribute to the general spirit of the public.

Thanks are also due to the Regional Mobile Column for the splendid work they performed in assisting to clear the river and other work; to the County Council for the manner in which they cleared the river adjacent to the County bridges; and to a number of bodies from outside the district for their valuable assistance.

It would be invidious to single out any one class, group or section of workers — all of them in their respective spheres did yeoman work in a quiet and effective way.

On one occasion only, Wednesday May 31st, was there any sign of the public morale cracking. This was caused by alarmist rumours that the embankment of Bilberry Reservoir had collapsed, but the situation was quickly restored by official statements from the loud speaker vans.

One thing the Cloudburst certainly showed is that the heart of the people of Holmfirth and district is as stout as ever!