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

Web Page 15

There were many instances of heroism in connection with this flood which have rarely been surpassed either on the field of battle or amid the perils of the ocean. In one of the garden houses lived a man named Henry Porton, his family, and a lodger. Porton was awoke by the noise of the flood, and thought it was thieves trying to erect an entrance into the house. He got up, and set off to go down stairs, but soon found himself up to the neck in water, upon which he returned upstairs as quickly as possible. He then opened the window, and shouted out to ascertain if there was any one in danger in the adjacent cottages. As soon as the water had subsided a little, Porton went out to rescue the neighbours, if possible. In the next house, at some little distance, lived James Wilson. The house was washed down, and Wilson was swept off for some distance; but he managed to lay hold of the chimney of a cottage in the gardens, and there he remained until help came. Porton rescued Wilson's little girl, and took her to his own house. A man named Howard lived in another of the garden houses, with his wife and daughter. They got on to the top of the house, and were also rescued by Porton. A family named Fletcher were saved in a similar manner. A man named Bennett was also taken to Porton's house from the roof of a cottage on which he had sought safety. Mrs. Bennett was swept off, and as she was going down she was seen to cling to a cherry tree; but the tree gave way, and she was drowned. Her body was afterwards found in another part of the gardens. After the flood had a little subsided, Porton had several families in his house, including three babies alive, and their wants were supplied as well as they could be under the circumstances.


In another garden house lived a file grinder named Hukin, his wife, and a niece named Alice Jackson, and a child or two. They were all drowned. The body of Mrs. Hukin was found the next day, at the Rutland Road Bridge, Neepsend. In connection with this case a curious point of law was illustrated. Mrs. Hukin had invested in her name some money which really belonged to her and her two sisters jointly, and some weeks after her death, one of her sisters, named Elizabeth Cartwright, sought to take out letters of administration of the estate and effects of Mrs. Hukin. Mrs. Hukin left no parent or child surviving her after the inundation. The only question was which died first, Mrs. Hukin or her husband; and the judge of the Court of Probate decided that in the absence of evidence that the husband had survived the wife, the next of kin of the wife was entitled to a general grant.


Neepsend is an extensive and low lying district on the north side of the river Don, and may be considered a part of the town of Sheffield. The damage here was appalling, and the loss of life considerable. Numbers of houses were wholly or partially destroyed, and the whole locality was more or less flooded.

The large tan yard of Mr. Cooper, at Neepsend, was seriously damaged. A shed which formed one end of the building, and which was about thirty yards long and twenty four feet high, was entirely demolished. In the shed were hides of great value, and a large quantity of bark and leather, all of which were swept away or destroyed.

The works of the Gas Company at Neepsend sustained very serious damage. Retorts, boilers, and engines were torn from their foundations and buried in ruins. More than 1,000 tons of coke, and 10,000 feet of timber were carried away by the flood. Five men were at work when the water came rushing into the premises, upon which they ran as quickly as possible on to the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, which is just above.

The Neepsend Tavern was partially submerged, and all the houses in Neepsend Lane were flooded to a great height. The boundary walls of the river were carried away, and many of the houses were gutted. Neepsend Bridge, built strongly of stone, sustained the shock of the flood without giving way, but it was much shaken, and a part of the parapets of the bridge were thrown down. The stones were of immense size, and the force by which they were overturned must have been prodigious. A vast quantity of debris, timber, and furniture, was piled up against the bridge, which has formed a barrier to its further progress.


On the bank of the river at Neepsend were several small whitewashed cottages, in one of which lived John Gannon, a labourer, his wife, and six children. Gannon and his family were awoke by the water rising into their bedroom, and seeing the peril in which they were placed they screamed out for help, their shrieks being distinctly heard by the neighbours louder even than the roar of the tempest. The water still rose higher and higher, and, as a last expedient, Gannon got on to the roof of the house, and then lifted up his wife and children. Here they remained for a few minutes, naked, terror-stricken, and piercing the air with their cries for help. The flood continued to increase, till it rose to the top of the house, lifted it up, and carried it away, with all its former inmates, into the seething roaring flood, where they all immediately perished, almost before their last wail of terror had time to ascend from the bosom of the water in which they were instantly engulfed.


In the cellar portion of an adjacent house lived a labourer named Coggan, his wife, and three children. Coggan and his wife had gone to Wakefield to attend the funeral of a relative, and they had left their three children in the house by themselves, a neighbour named Mrs. Smith having promised to attend to them. They were sleeping by themselves in a low cellar, as already mentioned, when the flood came in upon them, reaching far above the ceiling of their room, and of course they were drowned without the possibility of rescue. The eldest child was about eleven years of age. They were all three found in bed next morning, as though they had never awoke from their slumbers, but had passed quietly away to a sleep more lasting and more profound.


In one of the houses at Neepsend, which was partially destroyed, lived a butcher, named John Mayor, his wife, a daughter, and one or two other persons. Mayor's wife was an invalid, and they therefore slept in a bed on the ground floor. She had been from home some weeks for the benefit of her health, and only returned a few days before the flood. Mayor, his wife, and daughter, were all drowned, not being able to escape from the low room, which was completely filled with water.

In the same building, but in the upper portion of it, lived a family named Clayton. Mr. Clayton was awoke by the roar of the water, and the screaming of the neighbours. With great difficulty he and his daughter and the other inmates of that part of the house, escaped to the garret, where they were safe.

These houses belonged to Mr. Mills, cutler, Parkwood Springs. The lower rooms of the entire row of houses were gutted, and some of the walls were carried away entirely. Mr. Mills's cutlery manufactory was in the neighbourhood, and was so greatly damaged that work had to be suspended for many weeks.

In another of these houses lived Thomas Albert, a skinner, who works at Mr. Mills's tannery. When Albert was awoke by the uproar, he found the water rising in the rooms on the ground floor, and he immediately called up all the members of his family. His little boy, three years of age, clung round his neck, and his wife caught hold of the back of his shirt to follow him out. The water then burst open the doors, and rushed in, upon which he said to his wife, "I believe we are all going to be drowned in this hole." Just as he said that another large wave burst upon them, and knocked Mrs. Albert down. She had hold of her husband's shirt collar, but as she fell down she tore it completely off his back, leaving him without a rag of clothing. The little boy still clung to his father's neck, and was carried on to some steps out of the reach of the water, where he was safe. Albert then went back to try to rescue his wife, and his other two children; but he was knocked down by falling bricks and floating pieces of timber. Mrs. Albert and the two elder children were drowned, and the house was nearly destroyed.

In the next house lived a man named Thomas Fairest. When the flood came he was at work at Messrs. Butchers', a short distance off, and when on his way home to rescue his family he was overtaken by the flood, and drowned near the Neepsend Bridge.

In the next house to Albert's, on the other side, lived Mrs. Peters. Her husband had gone into Lincolnshire, and she was left alone with her four children. On hearing the rush of water she got up, and told her children to follow her out of the house. They all got out, and the house was in a few minutes filled with water. Three of the children were drowned; but Mrs. Peters, with one child, managed to escape into the house of a neighbour.

In Hicks's yard, at the back of the Rutland Arms, lived William Needham, a skinner, who works at Mr. Fawley's tannery. There were himself, his wife, and two children, and also a man named John Glover and his wife. They awoke and got up just as the water was beginning to rise, and they all rushed out of the house to go down the passage into the street. The water rose so rapidly that they found it impossible to get into the street. They therefore turned back, and made for the house of a neighbour named Austin. Mr. and Mrs. Glover got into Austin's lower room, nearly up to their necks in water, and screamed aloud for help. Austin could not get to them on account of the water; but saw them swept away and perish miserably without being able to afford them any assistance. Mrs. Needham managed to get into Austin's house, but the water was so deep that she was lifted off her feet. All this time she had a young child in her arms, which added to the difficulties of her desperate struggle for preservation. She tried to get up stairs into the bedroom, but the door was shut, and the pressure of the water was so great that the Austins could not push the door open. Mrs. Needham exerted herself to the utmost to hold the child out of the water, notwithstanding which it was drowned in her arms, and she was obliged to let it go, in order to save herself from being swept away by clinging to the nearest object she could lay hold of. This happened to be a table, and it floated up nearly to the ceiling with Mrs. Needham clinging to it. Her other child was also swept away and drowned. At length Mr. Austin burst open the panels of the chamber door and pulled Mrs. Needham in, naked, cold, and exhausted. Mr. Needham had an equally perilous escape. He was in the yard outside Austin's house, swimming on the water, and borne up by the flood. He was several times submerged, and knocked down by the floating debris; but he at length managed to reach the chamber window, and was pulled in, like the dove into the ark, but in a far more wretched and pitiable condition. He had lost both his children, and was himself more dead than alive after his terrible struggle for life.

Another neighbour, named Thomas Brown, also sought refuge in the house of Mr. Austin, and was saved in rather a curious position. He got into a cupboard, and up on a shelf, with his head above the water. There he remained until the water had subsided sufficiently to permit him to withdraw from his extraordinary place of shelter into more commodious quarters.

Another row of adjacent cottages was nearly destroyed, the front being knocked down, it having the interiors exposed completely. Here lived a widow named Bright, her two sons, her daughter in law, whose husband was not at home, as he worked some miles off, three grandchildren, and a boy named Edward Cross, who was fifteen years of age, and worked at Mr. Mills's tannery. One of the boys got up the chimney out of the reach of the flood, and so escaped. The daughter in law rushed out of the house into the water, carrying her youngest child in her arms, and took refuge in the house of a neighbour. The old woman, one of her sons, two granddaughters, and Edward Cross, clung together in a corner of the bedroom, screaming out for help, and too much terrified to make any attempt to escape. The water rose higher and higher, until half the house was swept away, and along with it the entire group of its remaining inmates, except the son who got up the chimney. He heard the cries of his mother piercing the midnight air; but he dared not come down to her assistance. After the flood had subsided he got down the chimney only to find that the house was nearly destroyed, and that five of its former inmates were drowned.

In another of these houses a man named Ridge climbed on the house top through the window, with his wife and six children, and there they remained several hours until the engine tenter at Messrs. Peace's works opposite brought a ladder and got them down in safety. Some stables here were washed down and five horses were drowned.

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