Hillsborough Owlerton Local History

 With a bit of Sheffield History thrown in... 

The Sheffield Flood 1864
All the information on this page has been contributed by Karen Lightowler (Sheffield Flood Ancestry). Karen is always glad to have contact with descendants of victims. (See contact page) She has also published  books about the victims which can be purchased from  www.lulu.com...search on that site under author's name.

The bursting of the embankment Dale Dyke Reservoir on the night of 11th/12th March 1864, later to be immortalised as The Sheffield Flood, claimed the lives of over 240 people in the worst disaster to befall Victorian England. Dozens more died in the weeks and months following of effects suffered that night. It now seems incredible that a tragedy of this magnitude has been largely forgotten outside the confines of Sheffield. I was born just a stone’s throw from Sheffield but had never heard of the flood and neither had any of my family. During the course of my research, I have been in touch with people from all over the world but even many of those familiar with Sheffield were not familiar with the flood. It now seems a travesty that so many people died in what is still the worst ever man-made disaster in English history yet are so easily forgotten. I cannot help but think that, if this had happened in London, there would not only be an abundance of memorials, but there would probably also be an annual remembrance service.
Thanks to the Bradfield Historical Society a small memorial, which was unveiled on 11th March 1991 on the 127th anniversary of the flood, has been placed alongside one of the remaining ‘CLOB’ stones, marking the ‘Centre Line of Old Bank’. These stones, two on each side of the river, mark the position of the original dam, downstream of the present structure. It was not until the latter part of 2008 that a memorial was erected to commemorate the people who died in the flood and all are named including some of those who later died in the aftermath as a direct result of effects suffered during the flood. 

The true death toll with never actually be known, as many were never identified while the bodies of others were never even found. Whole families were wiped out leaving no surviving members to advise of the actual loss or identify a body. Although largely forgotten, except for the effort of a small number, books can be found on the subject, including the one written at the time of the flood by Samuel Harrison, then the editor proprietor of The Sheffield Times.The facts about the actual breaching of the dam cannot be disputed and it is now generally accepted that it was due to poor workmanship. Most accounts of the flood commence with the first sighting of the crack in the wall by Samuel Horsfield, then on to the actual breach, the first loss of life in Low Bradfield, then all the way along the path of the devastation. Along the way are told countless tales of death, in some cases whole families, with particular detail paid to the odd little snippet here and there.

Most accounts deal with the victims in the order in which they died, so the day old daughter of the village tailor at Low Bradfield is the first to be mentioned, while the Trickett family from Malin Bridge is always mentioned along with their neighbours the Spooner family.

Initially, I began with the list of victims published at the time of the flood by Chief Constable John Jackson and later reproduced in Harrison’s book. This list includes 240 people but I have found numerous errors no this list and hope to be able to put the record straight once and for all. I also believe the true death toll to be in the region of 310, although some of these died in the aftermath the flood, rather than drowning on that terrible night.

 

The Dam Burst

On 1st January 1859 work began on the building of the dam of the Dale Dyke Reservoir. The dam itself was over 1,200 feet long, almost 100 feet high with the embankment tapering from 12 feet at the apex to 500 feet at the base. It held over 700 million gallons of water and, in places, reached 100 feet deep. A little over five years later, before the work was completed, disaster struck. On 11thMarch 1864 high winds and heavy rain took its toll on the dam and the water, swelled by recent heavy rainfall, was just a few feet from the top of the dam.

At 5.30pm John Gunson, who was the resident engineer, carried out an inspection of the dam but found no sign of any problems so headed for home. By now, though, the water was little more than a foot below the overflow weir. Soon after William Horsefield, a worker in a nearby quarry, began making his way home across the embankment when he spotted a horizontal crack about ten feet from the top. Word immediately spread to the locals and Gunson was summonsed but it was 10pm before he arrived and darkness had long since fallen.

Meanwhile, pressure against the embankment desperately needed to be reduced but it took five men almost an hour to raise the sluice gates but even this had little effect. In an attempt to release more water Gunson tried to blast a hole in the wall but the gunpowder was so damp it failed to explode.

The true death toll with never actually be known, as many were never identified while the bodies of others were never even found. Whole families were wiped out leaving no surviving members to advise of the actual loss or identify a body. Although largely forgotten, except for the effort of a small number, books can be found on the subject, including the one written at the time of the flood by Samuel Harrison, then the editor proprietor of The Sheffield Times.The facts about the actual breaching of the dam cannot be disputed and it is now generally accepted that it was due to poor workmanship. Most accounts of the flood commence with the first sighting of the crack in the wall by Samuel Horsfield, then on to the actual breach, the first loss of life in Low Bradfield, then all the way along the path of the devastation. Along the way are told countless tales of death, in some cases whole families, with particular detail paid to the odd little snippet here and there.


The Victims

Most accounts deal with the victims in the order in which they died, so the day old daughter of the village tailor at Low Bradfield is the first to be mentioned, while the Trickett family from Malin Bridge is always mentioned along with their neighbours the Spooner family.

Initially, I began with the list of victims published at the time of the flood by Chief Constable John Jackson and later reproduced in Harrison’s book. This list includes 240 people but I have found numerous errors no this list and hope to be able to put the record straight once and for all. I also believe the true death toll to be in the region of 310, although some of these died in the aftermath the flood, rather than drowning on that terrible night.

 No general warning was sent down the dale as Gunson still believed the problem was minor. Suddenly water flowed over the top of the dam and into the crack forcing Gunson to scramble to safety. There was a tremendous crash and, ironically, soon after the gunpowder belatedly blew. The alarm was raised but it was too late. At 11.30pm the dam broke demolishing a large section of the embankment. The water gushed down the valley with waves reaching 50 feet high in parts and within three minutes had reached Low Bradfield. Most of the inhabitants of the upper dale had sufficient warning of the impending danger and had fled into the hillside.

………………………

The first fatality was a new born baby swept from its mother’s arms but, by the time the water reached Little Matlock four miles from the reservoir, whole families were being drowned. Still the flood surged on and at Malin Bridge, two miles out of Sheffield where the Rivers Rivelin and Loxley join, about 100 people died in the space of just twenty minutes. At Owlerton the water was further swelled as the River Loxley joined the Don and on the water flowed into Sheffield. Many clung to rooftops in a desperate bid to escape the flood waters only to be swept away when the building collapsed. The flood waters left a devastating trail of over 8 miles, yet within half an hour the flood was over. The dam was rebuilt in 1875 four hundred yards upstream of the original structure yet it was a further 12 years before the reservoir was actually used. 


The Inquest

The inquest into the deaths recorded that Thomas Elston [who was one of the four selected to represent all the victims] came to his death by drowning in the inundation caused by the bursting of the Bradfield reservoir. In the opinion of the jury, the engineering skill and attention to construction had not been of sufficient magnitude as the importance demanded. They also recommended that legislation be passed demanding inspection for future work.
A team of highly talented engineers were retained by the Water Company to inspect the remains of the dam but they found no faults in the workmanship despite the fact that the Government inspectors pointed to a number of faults in the dam’s construction. This team of engineers claimed that an unforeseen and unavoidable landslide had occurred causing the breach and that the outlet pipes were intact. Yet, many believed the dam failed after the outlet pipe collapsed under the weight of the dam allowing water to wash away the clay, thus leading to the breach. Although much has been written about the aftermath of the flood, I doubt we will ever really know the truth – was the dam burst down to an Act of Nature or due to human error ?

The Relief Committee
A Relief Committee was formed and, by the end of March, they had accumulated £26,000 and this was being put to immediate use. About £600 was initially spent to replace work tools lost in the flood for those men who depended on their tools to earn a living. It was noted at the time that no attempts were made at extortion and that the claims were deemed to be of reasonable values for the tools lost. The recipients signed an agreement surrendering any corresponding claim made against the Waterworks Company after receiving money from the Relief Committee. No less than 7,300 claims had been lodged but many were settled without the need for arbitration. On Tuesday 4th October 1864 a meeting was held at Sheffield Town Hall by the three Inundation Commissioners engaged to arbitrate the remaining claims and over the next 6 months the cases were heard but, by this time, it was difficult to differentiate between the genuine claim and the fraudulent. Many claims were grossly inflated and eventually dismissed. Finally the Relief Committee had to admit to having too much cash and unbelievably returned £24,000 to donors. The committee held their final meeting more than two years after the failure of the dam. On Monday 2nd January 1888 the Sheffield Corporation officially took possession of the Sheffield Waterworks Company and this later transferred to the Yorkshire Water Authority on 1st April 1974.

A final thought
John Gunson, the dam’s chief engineer, died at his home at 7 Clarkson Street, on Sunday 10th October 1886 aged 87. I find it a little sad to note that his final resting place is marked by a much grander stone than of those poor souls who died during the flood. He was buried at General Cemetery, as was Samuel Harrison, whose grave also boasts a large ornate stone.
Please see the photo gallery for pictures Karen provided which illustrate the above article.

THE GREAT SHEFFIELD FLOOD...my list of victims

The official list of victims produced after the flood by Chief Constable John Jackson and later reproduced in the book ‘A Complete History of the Great Flood at Sheffield on March 11th and 12th March’ by Samuel Harrison, consisted of 240 people. This is my revised list of the lives lost in the flood including a further 3 people who are believed to have drowned plus 67 others who died in the aftermath, as a direct result of the flood.
To date I believe that no less than 310 people died as a direct result of the breaching of the Dale Dyke Dam on 11th / 12th March 1864.
APPLEBY Mary 63, John Cowton 31, Mary 13
ARCULUS Christopher Bradbury 4
ARMITAGE Eliza 67
ARMITAGE William 36, Ann 42, Charles 11, Henry 9, Samuel 7, William 4, Maria 2
ARMITAGE Greaves 28, Maria 30, Mary 3, Elizabeth 4 months 
ATKINSON Maurice 15, William 13 
ATKINSON James 40, Sarah 41
ATKINSON William 42
ATKINSON George 44, Rebecca 44
BAGSHAW James 45, Mary 58
BARKER Joseph 27
BARROTT George 24, Emma 21, William 1 year 11 months
BATES Thomas 42, Harriet 40, George 19, Walter 15, Tom 10 years 11 months
BETHELL William 36
BISBY George 43/44, Sarah 43, Teresa 13, Eliza 10/11, Thomas 8,Ann Elizabeth 3/4, Hugh 2
BONSER William 62
BOOTH Walter 15/16
BOWER John 17½  
BRADBURY William 28
BRIGHT Mary 57, Alfred 13, Mary 6 years 11 months, Eliza 4 or 9
BROUGHTON Charles 23
BULLARD Thomas 38, Sarah Ann 37
BURKINSHAW Henry 43
CALTON Christopher 46, Mary 30,[Christopher 4, recorded in error]
CHAPMAN Daniel 29, Ellen 23, Frederick 6, Samuel Jackson 2
CHAPMAN William 15
CLAY George 16
COGGIN Alfred 13, Eliza 8, William 6
COOKE Ann 85
CRAPPER Joseph 40, Elizabeth 44
CROOKES William 24
CROSS Edward, 14
CROWNSHAW Hannah Elizabeth 17
CRUMP Mary 74, Samuel 38
DAMMS Walter 21
DAWSON Unnamed infant 1-2 days old
DEAN Joseph 16 years 9 months
DENTON Joseph 14
DYSON Joe 41, Mary 26, Sophia 12, Arthur 10, Priscilla 6, Lucy Ann 2 years 11 months, James 1
EATON John 49, Keziah 52
ELSTON Thomas 34, Elizabeth 33, Thomas 2 weeks
ETCHELLS Ann 68
FAIRHURST Thomas 47 
FOLD Isobel Jane 3 year 9 months, John Aldred 4 years 10 months
FRITH James 34
GANNON John 36, Sarah 30, Henry 11, John 9, Peter 5½, William 4, Sarah Ann 2, Margaret 4 months
GILL Thomas 48
GILYATT Susannah 53
GLOVER John 25, Sarah Ann 25
GODDARD Joseph 67, Sarah 62
GREEN Elizabeth 53
GREGORY Joseph William Bradbury 20
HAGUE Alathea 14
HALBERT Catherine 30, John 5, Mary Jane 10 months
HALL Henry 38
HASLEHURST   Richard 68
HILL Hannah Marie 19
HUDSON John 39, Eliza 24, Mary 8, George 5
HUKIN Alfred 45, Mary 40 
IBBOTSON John Thomas 9
IBBOTSON Stephen 20
JACKSON Annice 12 years 2  months
JEPSON George 69, Harriet 66, Isabella 21, Mary Ann 13 months
JOHNSON Mary Charlotte 8 years 11 months
KAY Thomas 74
KING John 25/26
LONGLEY William 30, Mary Ellen 29, Jane Ann 3 years 10 months, Mary? 1-2
MAPPIN Eliza 50
MARSHALL Herbert Gravenor 2
MAYOR John 54, Elizabeth 58, Sarah 22
McLAUGHLIN Dennis 64/74
MERRYMAN Thomas 23
MIDWOOD John 43, Phebe 36, Dawson 16, George 8, Fanny 4
MILLS George 62, Ann/Hannah 58
MOUNT Ann 40
NEEDHAM John 4, Martha 2
OAKLEY John 59
PARKES Emma 27, Alfred 7, Emma 3 months
PEACOCK John Thornton 63
PEARSON Ann 60?
PETERS Jane 10, Julia 4, Christopher 1 year 9 months
PETTY Thomas 38, Margaret 37, Mary 11, Catherine 6, Thomas 5
PICKERING William 34, Charlotte Ann 23, Elizabeth 23
PLATTS Charles 23
PRICE Charles about 50 or 58, Elizabeth about 48 or 50, Edward Darnaly about 24, 
Sarah about 22 or 24,John Charles 1 year 2 months, unnamed infant 2 days
RADFORD George 34, Elizabeth 33, John 7
RILEY Edward 38
RYDER Robert 10 years 11 months
SELLARS William 64, Caroline 41
SENIOR Samuel 76
SERVANTS (unnamed) Man 17, Girl 18
SIMPSON William 36
SNAPE George 41, Mary 41
SNAPE Richard 20
SPOONER Thomas 38, Selina 36, William 16, Frederick 14, Mary Ann 4, Thomas 10, 
Betsy 7, Hugh 3, Albert 1
SPOONER Hannah 64, Jonathan 40, Benjamin 75, Sarah Ann 7
TAYLOR Charlotte 42
TINGLE George 31
TRICKETT James 39/40, Elizabeth 35/36, Jemima 12, James 10, George 4/6
TURNER Isaac 48, Selina 40, Isaac 8, Sarah Ann 10, 
TURNER Jonathan 17
TURTON John 55, Susannah 72
VARNEY Sidney James 18 years 11 months
VAUGHAN John 64, Elizabeth 53
WALLISS Emma 47
WATERS William 22
WATSON Sarah Ann 32, Caroline Oakley 9 years 11 months, George Henry 4
WEBSTER Peter 31, Sarah 30, Robert 4, Joseph Edward 10 months
WILLETTS Priscilla 13
WINTER Thomas 71
WOLSTENHOLME William 74
WRIGHT George 34, Rebecca 29
YEARDLEY Mary 28, Rose Ann4 years 10 months, John 1
Sub total 240 people

Further people believed to have drowned but not included in the official list of victims:
BENNETT Emma[42] [death mentioned in several accounts at the time of the flood]
or Mary Yeaman [26]
CRAPPER Joseph 14 [three members of the family died but only 2 recorded on the list of victims]
NORTH William 56 [body identified at the time of the flood according to a local newspaper]
SANDERSON John 67 [body identified at the time of the flood according to a local newspaper]
Less the following death that I believe was registered in error
CALTON Christopher 4 [confused with Christopher Bradbury Arculas, nephew of Christopher Calton]
Sub total 3 people 

I BELIEVE THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE DIED IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE FLOOD BUT THEIR DEATHS HAVE NEVER BEFORE BEEN ATTRIBUTED TO THE FLOOD
Surname Forename[s] and Age
ASHFORTH Millicent Jane 20
ASKHAM Joseph 28 or 29
BARSON William 43
BARTHORPE William 30, Mary Hannah 5 weeks
BOYES William 56
BRADBURY unnamed infant
BRAILSFORD Elizabeth 37
BRIGHT Providence 14 days
BUCKLEY Jeremiah 43
BULLOSS   Elizabeth 15
BUTTERY Sarah Ann 23
CHAPMAN Rosena 39
CLARK Frances 23, Ann 12 days
COOKE Thomas 69 [Not proven]
COOPER Mark 26
CROOKES Joseph 38
CROSS James [Not proven - possibly confused with Edward]
DAVIS John Thomas 2
DICKINSON John 48
ELLIS Mary and possibly James[Not proven]
FLETCHER John 2
GREAVES Mr? unnamed [Not proven]
GREGORY William 58
HAGUE Jane 30, Eliza 2 years 5 months, Farewell 4, Ellen 6
HAMMOND Deborah 48
HEWITT Charlotte 75
HORSFIELD Jonathan, 60
HUDDLESTONE Mary Ann, 59
JACKSON   Sarah 37
JENKINSON William 47
JOHNSON Julia 22
KENWORTHY George 64
KIRTON Mary 35
LAYCOCK George 22
LEE Jonathan 65
MARRIOTT John 61
MARSHALL Harry Somerville 8 months 2 weeks
McCORMACK Ellen 30
McDONALD William 66
MOULSON Thomas 45
MUSCROFT Eliza 54
NEWTON Richard 39
OLIVER Robert 64, Sarah 52
PARKIN Walter 13
PASHLEY Harry 9
PEARS Peter Ormerod 21
PROCTOR Mary 48, George 31, Edwin 8 months, Alfred 27 [possible]
RILEY Henry 33
SHAW Sarah 60
SHERWIN Henry 40
SMALLEY Thomas 32
SMITH John 11 months
THORPE Edwin 54
TRICKETT Mary 49, Elizabeth 17
WALL Henry 29
WALTHERS Albert 2
WILLIS James 16
Sub Total 67 people
Final Total 310 people