The Spectator (28/Feb/1852) - The Provinces
The farther evidence given at the Holmfirth inquiry added to the proofs of mismanagement and neglect by some of the Commissioners of the Reservoirs.
Mr. John Hirst, who had never qualified as a commissioner, stated that he always thought the Bilberry reservoir was unsafe ; he had told this to his brother who was a commissioner. Six years ago, a flood rose above the embankment, it passed over the “puddle,” and then sank into the earth of the bank. Joseph Sharpe deposed that he had assisted in making the reservoir.
In digging the foundation for the bank, a spring was struck in the rock ; a stream of water as thick as his leg came up ; no effectual means were taken to prevent danger from this, but the water flowed up through the puddling. David Porter, a contractor who had been employed to reconstruct part of the embankment and the culvert, said the water got into the “puddle” while the puddle-bank was being made, and a trench of “slush” instead of a trench of firm “puddle” was constructed, under the commissioners’ orders. For a time after completion, the bank sank three inches a day, from the weakness of the ‘middle. John Whitely saw the catastrophe. At first the water flowed over the top of the bank, gradually wearing it away ; then a stream burst through the lower part of the embankment — already honeycombed by percolating streams ; and finally the whole gave way. Joseph Whitely, a commissioner, had frequently told his fellow-commissioners that the embankment was in a dangerous state.
Joshua Littlewood, architect, was a commissioner, and he looked after some matters connected with the reservoir. In 1846 he got an order made that an opening should be formed in the waste-pit, eighteen feet above the shuttles, in order that at that height the water might flow out of the reservoir. He sent Thorpe, a mason, to inspect the place and prepare for the job. It was not done. “Why was it not done?” asked the Coroner. Mr. Littlewood- “Thorpe told one that when he went to the reservoir to do the work, some commissioners interfered, and said it should not be done.” Coroner — “What else did he say?” Witness (in great agitation and after a pause) — “They told Thorpe, that if he attempted to make it they would resist by force : they were parties Thorpe worked for, and he did not like to have anything more to do with it.” So he desisted.
James Morton, a mason who had been employed in the construction of the reservoir, stated as a proof of the great leakage, that he had known the water sink two yards in one night while the shuttle was closed. This witness declared that Mr. Leather knew that the spring existed under the puddle-bank; but Mr. Leather positively denied the assertion.
Mr. James Armitage, a surveyor explained how the shuttle had been rendered useless during the flood. On the 17th instant, by direction of Captain Moody, he superintended the lowering of the water in the reservoir until the swallow leading to the waste-pit was nearly dry. He then descended into the swallow, and examined the shuttle; against the framework of which he found a large stone weighing nearly 100 pounds, and measuring 17 inches by 20 inches broad. This stone stood upright against the framework of the shuttle, and, with some sticks and other rubbish that had accumulated, completely stopped up the passage where the water ought to have one through. Three or four other smaller stones were lying against the larger one, and, as it were, supporting it.
The inquest was adjourned for a week — to yesterday.