A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 14


A little below Owlerton the river Loxley winds very circuitously in a southerly direction, amid low meadow lands and falls into the Don. The river Don then proceeds to the south east into arid through the town of Sheffield. For nearly a mile below Owlerton there is nothing very noticeable, as far as the west side of the river is concerned. Walls knocked down, houses flooded, gardens and fields submerged, are matters of course wherever the river pursued its way.

We must now take the reader to the east side of the river Loxley, a little higher up than its junction with the Don, and mark, as we go towards Sheffield, the damage effected in this extensive and low lying part of the valley.

The inundation swept over Birley Meadows, and against the foot of the hill at Wardsend, carrying away several of the mills and forges on both sides of the river. The Wardsend slitting mill was greatly damaged, and some of the machinery destroyed. A vast mass of debris covered the fields in this district, and dead bodies were scattered about in every direction.


A little lower down, the silver rolling mill of Mr. Peace was flooded and a great part of it destroyed. A large quantity of silver was swept out of the building, and some of it has never been recovered. when the flood came, five persons, named Matthew Gould, Henry Wragg, John Slack, Feargus Saxton, and a boy named Joseph Lidster, were at work in the Mill. Slack happened to go out to the dam head, and saw the water coming in a foaming and seething torrent. He immediately told the other men, and then went to Mr. Peace's house, which is just below, to give the inmates warning. Just by the silver mill were two houses, occupied by Slack and a man named Dakin, and further off the river, but on much lower ground, was a row of low, miserable cottages, occupied by Joseph Herret and Feargus Saxton. Slack and the other men gave the inmates of all these houses warning as soon as possible; and some of them had very narrow escapes. Saxton was the engine tenter at the mill, and was working, all night. When the water came rushing into the mill, Saxton immediately ran to his house to rescue his wife and child, who were asleep upstairs. With a long pole he smashed in the bedroom window from the outside, and called to his wife to come out. She first threw the child out of the window, and Saxton lifted it on to the hill side in the old Park Wood. He then took his wife out, and carried her in her night dress to the same place. The house was very low, so that Saxton could reach almost to the bedroom window. The next two adjoining cottages were occupied by Joseph Herret, his wife, and two children. Herret, when alarmed, at once knew that his only chance of escape was by getting on to the hill side in the wood. The water completely surrounded the house in every other direction, but the sloping banks of the hill nearly touched the roof of the adjoining cottage occupied by Saxton. Herret tore off a bedpost, and knocked a hole into the chamber of the next house, and then through the next wall into Saxton's chamber, taking along with him his wife and children. He then knocked a hole in the ceiling, and got on to the slates of the roof. He pulled up his wife and children, and deposited them on the hill side in the wood, where they had to remain some considerable time in the darkness, with nothing on but their night clothes, and exposed to the pitiless blast of the storm which was blowing down the valley. The water mark on these houses shows that the flood reached half way up the chamber windows. Everything in these houses was destroyed and the rooms were filled with mud, a thick covering of which was deposited even in the bedrooms. Mr. Herret pointed out to us one exceedingly curious circumstance. The water had completely lifted up the chamber flooring, and a wooden soap box had been floated from the sink between the beams and the joists, where it was immovably fixed when, upon the subsidence of the water, the flooring sank down into nearly its old position. The proof that the flooring had been lifted up at least several inches was furnished by the fact that the soap box was caught and fixed underneath the beams as though in a trap.

The houses of Slack and Dakin were flooded to the height of five feet. Mr. Peace's house was flooded, and the furniture injured. In an open space opposite the cottages occupied by Herret and Saxton were deposited an entire haystack, and also two immense logs of timber calculated to weigh together four tons. One of them had been brought down from Damflask, a distance of four or five miles, and the other had come from Mr. Hawksley's, at Owlerton.


The works of Messrs. Marchington and Makin are a little lower down the river. The gable end of the building was driven in, and the water swept with great impetuosity through the workshops destroying the machinery, and damaging everything in the place. A massive weir, with heavy iron shuttles, was carried away, and half a dozen immense stones, which were strongly clamped together were borne down the stream a distance of more than twenty yards. On a raised footpath, which ran along the river side of the works, was a strong railing of iron, secured to pillars of the same metal weighing one hundred weight each. This was torn out of its position, and the wrought iron bars were twisted in a very curious manner. Several "stocks" at which file cutters worked were washed out of the building. It remains to be added that a man named William Simpson lost his life at these works, and a boy named Capper had a very narrow escape. They were both working all night at the forge, and soon after twelve they were surprised by the sudden approach of a mighty torrent which came rushing into the building. Simpson immediately ran out of the workshop, and mounted on the top of a large boiler, which had been erected near the goit. The boy Capper climbed on to a beam above the boiler, but not connected with it. The water got underneath and around the boiler, lifted it up, with the man Simpson upon it, and carried it away, with the brick pillars upon which it stood. Of course Simpson was drowned. The boy Capper was more fortunate. He held on to the beam for several hours, and was at length rescued, by John Gill, who lived upon the premises. The boiler, which is about thirty feet in length, was carried down nearly a mile, and deposited in Messrs. Butchers' yard. The water rose to the height of fifteen feet in the workshops.


Just below Messrs. Marchington and Makin's premises, and near the Farfield Inn, are two rows of houses, which were flooded and greatly damaged. They were occupied by Joseph Hawley, John Shemelds, Thomas Allen, a family called Baggaley, and others. Allen was so alarmed that he made a hole through the partition wall into the house of Baggaley, and took with him his wife and six children, and here they remained till the morning. The children's bed was crushed down, and all the furniture destroyed or damaged. The inmates of the other houses escaped into the garrets. Baggaley was awoke in the night by the noise of the approaching water, which, he says, sounded like an engine blowing off its steam. He went to the window, but as he saw nothing, he returned to bed, and had not been there more than two or three minutes when the flood rose up to his bedroom window.


Messrs. Fawley's extensive tannery, at Neepsend, sustained very serious damage. The part of the premises which adjoined the river was washed away, and the whole place was flooded to a considerable height. The press house was reduced to ruins, the trunk of a large tree having forced in the wall, and fallen upon a hydraulic press. Two thousand skins were washed away, and the stock and machinery were greatly damaged. The flood swept right through the yard, and broke down the walls and some of the lower parts of the buildings. A house upon the premises, but some distance from the river, was occupied by Mrs. Crookes, a little girl, and a lodger named Thomas Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who slept on the ground floor, was awoke by the roar of the water, and at once got out of bed. He found that the room was half full of water, and that if he did not escape speedily he would probably be drowned. Without delay he burst open the bedroom window, and got on to the shutter, and then into a cart which was standing close by in the yard. The cart floated about with Wilkinson in it. Of course he had nothing on but his night dress, and the little voyage which he made in the cart on the surface of the flood was by no means warm or agreeable. Mrs. Crookes and the little girl escaped in the upper room of the house, and carried on a conversation with Wilkinson while he was outside.


Opposite Hillfoot, and between the river and the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, about 900 acres of land are laid out as gardens, which were cultivated in small plots by industrious artisans residing in the adjacent parts of Sheffield. These gardens, which in the summer months presented a scene of great beauty to the traveller as he entered Sheffield from the direction of Manchester, were completely submerged, laid waste, devastated, and covered with mud, hay, stones, furniture, and debris of every description. The trees and shrubs were many of them torn up, the hedges carried away, or scattered over with hay, and the whole scene was one of extraordinary desolation and ruin. A great many dead bodies were found in this neighbourhood.

In these gardens were a number of small cottages, some of them used merely as tool houses, and others occupied by the artisans who rented the garden plots. In one of these houses, only one story high, lived a man named Jetty, his wife, and three children. They were all drowned, and in fact had no chance of escape. In another garden Thomas Elston, his wife, and a child, were drowned. A house occupied by a man named Jenkinson was partly destroyed, and it is supposed that he lost his life. In a cottage in the Farfield gardens, lived Samuel Longden, his housekeeper, three sons, and one daughter. Longden was awoke by the crashing of trees and the falling of buildings, and also by the rushing of water into his house. His housekeeper shrieked out in terror, and ran to save the younger children. She removed them on to a lath bottomed bedstead, where they were all obliged to remain, without clothing, till nine o'clock in the morning. All their clothes, beds, and furniture were swept away or rendered worthless by the flood. The green house and cucumber frames were destroyed.

A family named Midwood, known by the name of Moss, five in number, were washed out of their house into the river, and were all drowned, except one son, named Joel, who saved himself by floating on a piece of furniture, until he was rescued in a very exhausted condition. The house was completely destroyed.

The house of a man named Fernley was broken into by the flood, and the walls were knocked down, but the inmates escaped by remaining in the chamber. William Wright, his wife, and three children, lived in a little cottage, only one story high, opposite Fernley's, and it was wonderful that any of them escaped. Part of the house was washed away, and the rooms were flooded up to the ceiling. The inmates succeeded in getting on to the roof of the house, where they remained, cold and naked, from a quarter to one till five o'clock in the morning.

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