Wilson Mettrick (1851-1872)

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.

Wilson Mettrick was one of the 1852 Flood Orphans.


He was born around early October 1851, the son of William Mettrick and his wife Hannah (née Boothroyd), and was named after his uncle.

Hannah died around three weeks after giving birth to Wilson, and was buried on 30 October 1851 at Hinchliffe Mill Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. Wilson was then wet nursed by Sarah Holmes — "a respectable woman, without any family of her own" — who lived in Upperthong with her husband Hugh.

On Wednesday 4 February, William had gone to his father's house on Water Street, Hinchliffe Mill, to fetch some warp. On account of the poor weather, he fatefully decided to stay overnight.

In the early hours of 5 February, the Bilberry Reservoir embankment failed, unleashing a torrent of water down the Holme Valley. Due to its location, the houses on Water Street took the full force of the flood. Wilson's half-brother James survived and provided the following statements to newspaper reporters:[1]

I am 21 years of age, and lived with my father and mother. There were twelve of us in the house on Wednesday night when the flood broke in upon us. My father, James Metterick, was a sizing boiler, and that night he had been out collecting money, and it was late when he came home. Some time about midnight he awoke us and told us that the flood was coming. I jumped up, and after looking out of the window, pulled a pair of trousers on, and came down stairs. I met my mother at the bottom of the steps, and we thought to get a child which was sleeping in the kitchen, but we could not, and we called of my father to come upstairs. The water was rushing in at this time, and before my father could come to us he was smothered. We had intended to escape by the door, but a “roll” of water came down and forced us back, and my mother and I ran up into the chamber, and looked out of the window. At this time the water was the height of the wall in the street, and immediately afterwards the house fell, carrying eight of us who were in the room, and one in another chamber asleep, into the river. My brother Wilson Metterick had made his escape before the flood came down. I do not remember being struck with anything, and when I recovered myself I was in Harpin’s dam, amongst a lot of wood. I caught hold of something, when I was struck by a piece of wreck, and lost my hold. I continued seizing hold of the wreck, and at last I succeeded in getting hold of a large piece of timber. I got my legs across it, when it rolled over, and I was again thrown into the water. On recovering myself I got my legs across it a second time, but it again rolled over, and left me to struggle with the water. I succeeded in recovering my hold of it a third time, when I placed one leg over it, and clasped it with my hands to my breast, and thus kept myself secure for a time, after which I seized a piece of wood, and paddled myself, with the aid of the wind, to the opposite side, or left bank of the river. When near to the side I leaped off, and fell up to my neck in water. Again, I had to struggle with the stream, but at last I escaped, and ran up the field, stumbling every now and then, until I got here [Mrs. Berry’s, who occupies a house near to the mill], I believe nobody’s door was opened but our’s and Charlesworth’s, though I have heard it said the Marsden’s were up at the time.

[...] there were ten of us in our house — my father, step-mother, and eight children. Somebody came and roused us just after one o’clock. I put on my trousers : my step-mother and I stood on the stairs. We looked out of the windows, and saw a large quantity of water and slicks coming down. From their appearance we knew the reservoir had burst. I and my step-mother came down stairs, then stood on the stairs, and my father handed us the children who were asleep in the house for us to lift into the chamber. The water burst in at the window and through the door, filled the lower room and half filled the chamber. I ran with the rest into the garret, except my father and one child, who we expected were drowned in the house. About half a minute after we had got into the garret the whole house gave way and we were all swept down the stream, and I saw no more of any of them. No part of the house touched me that I know of. When I got into Harpen’s (Bottom’s) dam I caught hold of a piece of wood and sprang up. I got a good sob of breath, and then went under the water and lost my hold of the plank ; on coming up again, I got hold of another and again rolled over ; at last I got hold of a large piece of timber and kept my hold. I got hold of a small piece of wood and paddled it towards the side. A gush of wind then came and blew me towards the land on the Austonley side. I leaped off the timber and fell up to my neck in water, but I managed to scramble out of the water, and after falling several times I got into Hannah Berry’s, and stripped my trowsers and shirt (all I had on) and went to bed. I was nearly exhausted.

Wilson's father was buried on Sunday 8 February at Hinchliffe Mill Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.

The United Committee of Huddersfield and Holmfirth — "appointed for the collection and management of the funds for the relief of the sufferers by the bursting of the Bilberry Reservoir" — had appointed a subcommittee to investigate the circumstances of those orphaned by the flood. As Wilson had now lost both of his parents, the committee designated him as one of the eleven orphans and he was awarded 5 shillings per week until he reached the age of 16.

It was reported that Wilson's maternal aunt, Elizabeth Greensmith[2] of Hinchliffe Mill, was unwilling to allow the infant to be placed in an orphanage.

The 1861 Census listed Wilson as a "visitor" residing with Hugh and Sarah Holmes, so it would seem that they were able to continuing raising him with the help of the financial support awarded from the orphan fund.

At the time of the flood, a local branch of the Ancient Order of Shepherds friendly society raised £88 and invested the sum on behalf of Wilson and Ruth Crosland, as the Mettrick and Crosland families had been members. In November 1871, the Shepherds met at the Millers Arms to award the funds — which had increased to £149 12s. — in equal portions to the orphans who had both come of age. William Fisher, the trustee of the fund, said that he hoped Wilson "by care and prudential habits [...] might raise himself to a high position in the world" and "that he would remember those who had nurtured him when a boy". The newspaper report ended with a summary of Wilson's life:[3]

[...] it may here be stated that he was taken from his mother's breast when three weeks old, that being at the time of her death. Mrs. Holmes was in a dangerous position at the same time, and both were attended by the same doctor. That gentleman seeing how matters stood advised the father to have the child placed in the care of Mrs. Holmes to be nourished at the breast as a means of saving her life. What more natural than that a maternal feeling should spring up in her breast? Both her and her husband has watched the lad with tender care from the cradle upwards, and they have had the satisfaction of receiving from him the affectionate duties of a son. He is now a fine young fellow, trained with a good education, strong moral and religion principals, and is completing his apprenticeship as a tailor. His prospects for the future are very cheering indeed, having a handsome sum of money to begin with, let along what other fortune may follow.

Wilson Mettrick died in November 1872, aged 21, and was buried on 24 November at St. John, Upperthong.

Notes and References

  1. "Metterick's Statement" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Feb/1852) and "The Catastrophe at Holmfirth: One Hundred Lives Lost" in Morning Chronicle (07/Feb/1852).
  2. Baptised 5 February 1826, Elizabeth Boothroyd married shopkeeper Hobson Greensmith (son of Thomas) on 2 February 1846 at Almondbury.
  3. "Interesting Presentation at Holmfirth" in Ashton Weekly Reporter (11/Nov/1871).