A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 13


The most serious events will occasionally be relieved or varied with a touch of the ludicrous. So it was in the case of Joseph Chapman, of Hillsbro'. This old gentleman--a tailor by profession, and a bachelor by choice-- lived entirely by himself in a miserable little hovel near Brick Row. When the flood came, his hut was partially destroyed, and all his furniture was swept away, together with all his clothing. In this plight he continued until Benjamin Siddons, George Siddons, Thomas Moore, Alfred Coates, and Morgan Earnshaw went to his house to see what had become of the old gentleman. They were astonished to find him crouched up in a large box, with nothing upon him except a fragment of a shirt round his waist. Siddons got up to the window, and offered to convey Mr. Chapman on his back to a more commodious shelter than the bare sides of the box afforded to its shivering tenant. "This is a nice predicament !" exclaimed the old gentleman, at the same time gathering about him to the best advantage the scanty fragment of clothing in which he was only very partially enveloped. It appears that Mr. Chapman, having no other means of escape, got into the large box, and floated about until the waters had somewhat subsided. Or he had perhaps placed himself in that position in order to shelter himself, as best he could, from the rude blast which was blowing so keenly down the valley. After a short time he was conveyed to the house of Mr. Peter Pearce, of Hillsbro', where he was provided with clothing and other requisites.


Near the Hillsbro' Bridge, in a toll house, a small building, lived the toll collector, named Thomas Winter, aged 70. The house was swept away, and Winter, who was its sole occupant, was drowned. His body was found near Peace's rolling mill, some distance further down the river, and was identified by a son, who resided at Chesterfield. When post time at morning arrived, a letter came for him from his daughter, but the poor fellow was no more.


Mr. John C. Appleby, who kept a shop near to Mr. Woodcock's, was drowned, along with his mother and sister. The house was a good stone building, but it was partially destroyed. The Old Blue Ball Inn, kept by William Cooper, was a good deal damaged. The stable and other outbuildings were destroyed. Cooper and his family escaped by getting up stairs. In a house close by lived George Cooper and his wife. The house was nearly knocked down, the gable end and other parts being washed away. A tree was washed into the oven in the kitchen. Cooper and his wife escaped by getting to the top of the house, and after the flood had subsided, they waited in the chamber till some persons came and took them to another house.


Owlerton is a long straggling village, extending from Hillsbro' for a considerable distance in the direction of Sheffield. Upper Owlerton suffered most severely. Here was the rolling mill of Mr. Hawksley, part of which was demolished, and the machinery injured or destroyed. Mr. Hawksley's house is on the other side of the road. The walls and railings in front of the house were knocked down, and the garden was covered with mud and debris; the only thing which appeared uninjured being a miniature statue of praying Samuel. Mr. Hawksley's kitchen and ornamental gardens were greatly damaged, and a large wooden summer house, with stained glass window, was carried bodily across the road, and deposited in the middle of a dam, where it long remained an object of interest and curiosity to visitors. Against the side of the house was an immense accumulation of ruins, amongst which several dead animals were observable. The surgery and other buildings of Mr. Roberts were also injured, and the inmates had a narrow escape. Several cottages and other buildings were destroyed, and an exceedingly large number of houses in the village were flooded. Walls were knocked down, gardens were covered with the mud, and the whole of the neighbourhood was strewed with the debris of trees, houses, and furniture. It may here be mentioned that the layer of mud deposited on the land by the flood, was from three to eight inches thick; and about a month afterwards, on being turned over, corn, beans, and other seeds which had been swept out of corn mills and farmyards, were seen sprouting up in the newly made soil in which they were embedded.


In a small cottage, in a very low situation at Owlerton, lived a family named Dean. Two sons of Mr. Dean, aged 12 and 13 respectively, slept in a bed on the ground floor. In the middle of the night they were awoke by feeling the bed rising up and floating about the room. One of them, the eldest, named Joseph Dean, unfortunately fell out of the bed and was drowned. The other cried out for help, and after some time the neighbours came to his assistance. They found the bed floating up to the ceiling with only a few inches between the lad's head and the top of the room. As soon as the flood had subsided a little the neighbours opened a shutter and took the lad out of the window. Mr. Dean, his wife, and a daughter were in the attic above. They heard the screams of the lads, but could not come to their assistance as the water was on the stairs. This cottage, being whitewashed, showed for a long time the mark left by the flood when at its greatest height.


Close to Dean's house was a cottage occupied by a person named Shaw. The flood burst open the door, and washed into the house the body of a man. A lodger named Ashton saw it first, and called out to Mr. Shaw that a pig had been swept into the house. On closer inspection it was found to be the body of a man, entirely naked, the shirt being torn off, and hanging only by the button on the wrist-band. The body was that of Joseph Gothard or Goddard, who was drowned at Malin Bridge.

Thomas Hague, who lives next door to Shaw, relates the following incident. He says:--I was awoke by the flood, and went to look out of my window. I saw a woman in her night dress carried down by the flood. She cried out, "Save me, save me !" I then saw a young man in his shirt going down. They were holding on to some pieces of timber. I saw them float down to some poplar trees. They were then knocked over, and I heard nothing more.

In another small cottage lived a family named Proctor. Mrs. Proctor's married daughter, her husband, and a child, were sleeping in a low bedroom on the ground floor. Mrs. Proctor herself did not go to bed, but sat up reading. Soon after half past twelve she heard a tremendous roar like the sound of many waters, and she immediately went to the door, to see what was the cause of the commotion. Just as she was about to open the door the water began to come in. She ran into the room where her daughter and the others were sleeping, and had only just time to get them upstairs when the door and windows gave way, and the water filled the lower rooms up to the ceiling. Had the inmates been three minutes later they would assuredly have been drowned.

Marshall's Paper Mill, which is situated at Owlerton, was greatly damaged. It stood in the middle of the stream, and received the full force of the current. The warehouse and drying room were completely carried away, and a large hydraulic press, weighing several tons, was torn up from its foundation, and washed away some distance. In a cottage close by the paper mill John Turton and his wife were both drowned. The house was lifted bodily from its foundation, and carried down the steam.


Two watchmen, who were on their rounds at Owlerton, escaped very narrowly. When they saw the flood coming, they ran away as quickly as possible, but they might as well have attempted to run a race with a locomotive at full speed. One of them escaped into Mr. Hawksley's yard, and when the water overtook him, he managed to climb on to a wall which was near a lamp post. He got hold of the lamp post, and clung to it with all his might. He was at one time up to his neck in the water. At length Mr. Hawksley heard his cries for help, and went to his assistance. He was taken into the house in a very exhausted condition; but restoratives were applied, and he soon recovered. The other watchman ran round up by Hillsbro' park, and got on some higher ground. It may here be mentioned that part of the park wall of Hillsbro' Hall was destroyed, and that the flood left a clearly defined mark for about three hundred yards on the wall which remained. An enormous quantity of timber and furniture was washed up to the border of Hillsbro' park; and beneath the debris here many bodies were afterwards discovered.


Passing over such things as walls knocked down and houses flooded, we come, a little below Owlerton, to the new and well built barracks. One part of the barracks is situated near the river, and sustained considerable damage. A massive stone wall, nearly a yard in thickness, and of considerable height, was washed away for a distance of some score yards. The married soldiers' quarters were invaded, and damage was done to the clothes and furniture of the inmates to the extent of about £50, besides the injury to the buildings. The sentry on duty had a very narrow escape. The flood came upon him very suddenly, but he retreated to higher ground, where he was out of danger.

Unfortunately, two children of Paymaster sergeant Foulds were drowned at the barracks. Sergeant Foulds' quarters were on the ground floor, at no great distance from the boundary wall which was washed away. There were himself, his wife, and three children, aged five, and four years, and an infant. Sergeant Foulds and his wife went to bed about eleven o'clock. Mrs. Foulds was awoke in about a hour by a great noise in the room. She exclaimed to her husband, "The wind is breaking the windows of the room." He jumped out of bed, and was astonished to find himself up to his hips in water. He could see the water rushing in at the window, and he went to the window to look out to discover what was the matter. He saw that the boundary wall of the barracks was gone, and before him a foaming and roaring torrent was sweeping along, carrying upon its waves bodies of men and women, and debris of every description. He particularly noticed a large object like an entire house, or it might be a haystack. Sergeant Foulds, being a stranger to the locality, had not the remotest idea what was the cause of the inundation, and he exclaimed to his wife, "Good God ! the world's breaking up !" He thought that the world was in the throes of final dissolution. The water rose to the height of twelve feet outside the window. Sergeant Foulds then went to the door, and on doing so noticed that his wife had been knocked down by the water, and that the cot was swimming about the room. He could not open the door, on account of the pressure of the water against it. After making several ineffectual attempts to get the door open, he said, "I'm not going to be drowned like a rat in a hole at all events," and so saying he dealt a heavy blow at the door with a large fire shovel. The lock flew off, the door came open, and the water rushed in with such force that it knocked the sergeant down. Of course all this time he had nothing on but his night shirt, and he describes it as having been dreadfully cold and the wind piercing. He got up out of the water as quickly as possible, and went to the rescue of his wife. She carried the infant, and he carried them both, and took them on the staircase out of the reach of the water. He then went back to rescue his two eldest children, but the door was closed, so that he could not get in, and the room was full of water. When the water had subsided, the colonel of the regiment, the 8th, and all escort, came and let out the water. The children were of course dead, and no doubt they were drowned directly after Sergeant Foulds rescued his wife. Two other soldiers' families had very narrow escapes. They were sleeping on the ground floor in quarters adjoining those of Sergeant Foulds, but they were got out and carried to a place of safety.

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