The Times (17/Feb/1852) - The Holmfirth Flood

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The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


Yesterday afternoon a small-but very influentially at-tended meeting of a preliminary character was held at the London Tavern, to consider the propriety of promoting a subscription for the relief of the sufferers by the late awful calamity at Holmfirth. The Lord Mayor presided, and many of the leading banking and mercantile firms were represented on the occasion. The warm interest taken in this disaster will be better understood when we mention that the requisitionists were — G. W. Alexander, Brett Brothers, Cunliffe, Brooks, and Co., Ellis, Everington, and Co., Jones Loyd and Co., Cornelius Hanbury. C. and J. D. Jacomb, George Moffatt, Morrison, Dillon, and Co., Overend, Gurney, and Co., J. F. Pawson and Co., J. T. Simes and Co., Smith, Payne, and Smith, Thomas Southey and Son, Williams, Deacon, and Co.

The Lord Mayor, in introducing the subject to the meeting, said that, having been requested to take the chair, he could not hesitate to do so under circumstances so deplorable. There had been in the recent occurrence at Holmfirth, not only an immense loss of property, but also of human life, and he was quite certain that the citizens of London sympathized deeply with the sufferers. Her Majesty and the Prince Consort, with their accustomed liberality, had already contributed to the relief fund a sum of £150, and he was gratified to observe that the calamitous event had also excited the attention of the House of Commons, and had come under the consideration of the Government. Two gentlemen forming a deputation from the relief committee at Huddersfield were present, and would make certain statements to the meeting.

Mr. Willans, vice-president of the committee alluded to, described the lamentable effects of the inundation, and said that whole families, and some of them very large ones, had been swept away, in some instances only one member being saved. The deputation could supply many harrowing details, if it was at all necessary to do so. A friend of his, for instance, had gone into a cottage on the Thursday morning and found a man there writhing in agony on his bed, with his wife and children all lying dead in the same room. In estimating the amount of damage inflicted, if they erred at all it was on the side of moderation. Many people at first fancied that their property had escaped without any damage, but had since found themselves to be heavy losers. Four mills had been totally destroyed, and 17 so much injured as to be incapable of work for some time. They had not been able to ascertain the number of hands thrown out of employ, but believed they were within the truth when they stated it to be from 7,000 to 10,000. Where families had been drowned their furniture also had been swept away, and he had been told that on the day of the flood the course of the river was so covered with wreck that it could not be seen. Some had lost their handlooms, and seven shops had been destroyed ; one linendraper having suffered to the extent of £1,500. The number of workmen’s cottages destroyed was 27, and 127 had been more or lees injured. A class of sufferers deserving particular commiseration were the shareholders in small mills — it being a common practice in that district for five, six, or seven persons, originally workmen, and who had saved a little money by great industry, to club together and take a mill between them. There were large manufacturers in the district, but these on a great scale and wealthy were lower down the stream. The local committees did not propose to dictate how the funds benevolently subscribed elsewhere ought to be applied, but cases of pressing destitution ought to be met. Where it was possible, they were exacting labour in return for the assistance they were affording. They considered that those were well entitled to aid who, being poor, had lost all their furniture. It would be their duty also to help some small shopkeepers who could do nothing for themselves, and where a few pounds would set a man on his feet again. In dealing with the cases of large shopkeepers they would be guided by circumstances ; and they did not contemplate the building of mills nor the repairing of them, unless where it was absolutely necessary. Referring to the amount of money already collected, Mr. Willans said that nearly £200 had already been raised in and around Holmfirth ; that in Huddersfield £900 had been got ; that at Halifax, those present at the first meeting had subscribed £1,100 ; and at Bradford £1,000. The total sums at both places would no doubt be much larger. At a preliminary meeting on the subject held in Leeds seven gentlemen had put down their names for £100 each ; and the Mayor, having previously visited the scene of the disaster, had called a public meeting with regard to it. The fact that gentlemen in the immediate neighbourhood were exerting themselves so actively would, he thought, be deemed conclusive evidence that the case was one well deserving the sympathy of other towns at a distance. The working men of Huddersfield, who made their money by pence and shillings, had contributed sums averaging from £20 to £30 from each mill, and in one case £117. 18s. 4d. had been subscribed by them, which they wished to be set apart for small mill masters who had suffered. Not a moment would be lost in affording all the relief that was practicable, and the administration of the fund would he carefully economized.

Mr. J. Brooke, also a member of the deputation, bore testimony to the deserving character of the small shareholders in mills, and advocated their claims on public sympathy.

Mr. M. T. Smith, having dwelt feelingly on the dreadful character of the disaster, moved the following resolution

“That this meeting deeply commiserates the destitute state of the sufferers by the late awful calamity at Holmfirth, by which a vast amount of property has been destroyed and several thousands of persons deprived of the ordinary means of subsistence.”

The Governor of the Bank of England seconded the motion. Disasters of the kind occurred so seldom that they were not prepared to say in what way their efforts to afford relief could best be directed ; but he considered it best that the distribution of the funds should be left to those who were on the spot. The sympathy manifested in the locality was a guarantee that any sum collected in London would be properly administered. Their subscriptions, if they failed in relieving effectually the sufferings caused, would at least prove their commiseration.

The motion having been carried unanimously,

Alderman Sidney moved,

“That, with a view to alleviate the distress consequent on the late catastrophe, a subscription be now entered on in aid of the funds already raised for that purpose in the immediate locality, and that a committee be appointed to collect contributions.”

Mr. Lewis Loyd seconded the motion, which was at once carried, and a numerous and very influential committee named to carry it into effect.

Mr. Barber, Mr. Brett, and other gentlemen addressed the meeting, and a number of very handsome subscriptions, amounting in the aggregate to more than £1,000, having been announced,

The proceedings terminated with the usual vote of thanks to the Lord Mayor for having presided.

Had the meeting been well known, though merely preliminary in character, its pecuniary results would have been much larger. The committee have entered with great earnestness on their benevolent labours, and assemble to-day, at 11 o’clock, in the Mansion-house.