A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 17


The ravages of the flood which we have just been describing were committed on the north side of the river Don. We must now turn back to Hillfoot, and come down on the south side of the river till we reach the site of the Ball Street bridge already mentioned. The wooden bridge at Hillfoot was carried away completely, and the houses in the neighbourhood were flooded.


A little lower down an island is formed by the river dividing into two branches, and this low lying piece of land is called Bacon Island. The destruction here was very great, as the water swept completely over the island. In one of the houses there lived Mr. Howe, metal smith. The inmates were aroused by the flood sweeping over the house; but it was strong enough to withstand the shock, and all the family escaped by getting up into the top bedrooms. The water filled the house up to the chamber floors. A large greenhouse was carried away, as was also the back kitchen. Doors were burst open, windows broken in, and all the furniture damaged or destroyed. On the south side of the island a stable, occupied by Mr. Greaves, treacle boiler, was knocked down by the flood, and such was the force of the shock that the stable wall dashed through the wall into the next house. A pony, belonging to Mr. Greaves, was drowned in its stall. The adjoining house was occupied by George Shaw, a miller's labourer, and his family. The water filled the lower rooms, and floated the beds in the chambers. A portion of the foundation gave way, the house tottered, and its inmates every moment expected to be engulfed in the torrent which raged around. Their fears were happily not realised; for the house stood, and all was saved.


At the head of Bacon Island was the residence of Mr. James Sharman, known as the "Shuttle House," so called because he had charge of the shuttle by which the water was supplied to some mills and manufactories a little lower down. In the house was Mr Sharman, his wife, a daughter, two daughters in law, and four grand children, one of them being a baby. When the flood burst upon the island they were all asleep; but they were aroused by Police constable John Thorpe, who was on duty in the neighbourhood, and saw the danger to which the Sharmans were exposed. Thorpe heard the roar of the flood approaching, and with praiseworthy promptitude and courage, he went to the rescue of others, even at the imminent peril of his own life. When the Sharmans were called up the lower rooms of the house were filled with water, and the bedrooms were being filled rapidly. The only means of escape was through the bedroom window; but even this means of egress was closed by an iron bar which had been placed across the window frame for greater security. By this time several people had come to the aid of the watchman, including George Walker, of Philadelphia, and his brother. Sharman, seeing that it was a question of life and death to himself and family, seized hold of the iron bar, and with the strength of desperation wrenched it from its holdfast. The window was now opened, but it was still a difficult matter to get out, as the water surrounded the house. The watchman and the two Walkers, however, stood on an elevation, and were not so much submerged as to be in personal danger. The watchman told the mother of the baby to throw it out to him, and she did so, though not without some hesitation lest her little one should fall into the flood which was swelling and raging beneath. Her fears on that head were soon relieved; for the watchman caught the baby in his arms as neatly as though he had been an experienced nurse and not a protector of the nocturnal peace. The babe was deposited in a place of safety, and the next thing was to get out the remaining inmates of the house. It has been stated that a ladder was obtained, and that in this manner they escaped; but, it appears, there was no ladder in the question. One by one, the members of the family got out of the window, and were lifted down by the watchman and other persons who were helping. Of course the Sharmans had nothing on but their night clothes, and the awkwardness of their predicament may be imagined. Although there were nine people in the house all this occupied very little more time that it takes to narrate the incident. The last person had hardly been lifted out of the window when the house fell down with a loud crash. It was swept away so completely that not a vestige of it remains except the foundation. The Sharmans have since expressed the most lively gratitude to Thorpe, the watchman, for his intrepid bravery, which has also received notice in the form of one or two presentations from parties who thought that such conduct ought to be recognised and rewarded. After their narrow escape the Sharmans were taken to the house of a neighbour, where they were provided with clothing and other requisites. Of course they lost all their furniture, and everything they possessed.

The following is Policeman Thorpe's own account of the affair. He says:-- I was coming down from Hillfoot about 12.30 p.m. I heard a great noise on the river as if a great rush of water was coming down through the gardens opposite to the old barrack wall. I saw that Bacon Island was in danger, and I ran with all speed to awaken the people, and warn them of the danger. I looked over the wall on the bridge leading to Bacon Island, and saw that the water was coming over the shuttle gates. I knew that the water had no business coming over there, so I rapped the family up and told them to get up as there was a flood coming and their house would be washed away. I then ran down Bacon Island, to awaken the other people, but I could only get half way before the water was up to my waist, and pieces of timber and rubbish floating about my legs: so I ran back as fast as I could through the water, and tried to break open Mr. Sharman's door, but I could not; and I told them to get through the chamber window, and I would catch them. The first they threw out to me was a young child. I ran up George Street, and knocked up a neighbour, and gave her the child. I then ran back, and received a second child; I did the same with it. I then ran back nine successive times and got them all out safe; the father being the last to leave the house. As soon as I received the father, I said to him "Run, now, for your life !" We had no sooner got on the main road than the house fell, and took the bridge with it, leaving nothing to be seen but one vast sheet of water. I then went and knocked the people up at the bottom of George Street.

The following is the statement of an eye witness:-- I am a resident in the neighbourhood, and I was awoke out of my sleep by the cries of the unfortunate family of the Sharmans; I immediately got up and looked through my chamber window, and saw the watchman, up to his waist in water, carrying a young child in his arms up George Street. I got dressed immediately to go to his assistance, but before I could get to him he had saved the whole family, nine in number, and there was not a vestige of the occupier's house remaining. After saving these, he roused up some occupants at the bottom of George Street, all the time up to his waist in water. He succeeded in rescuing them before the water got too deep in their houses. There were either four or five families at the bottom of George Street flooded in their houses, but owing to his timely aid he got them out, and locked their doors. When he had done all that possibly could be done, he remained true to his duty, in his wet clothes, shaking with the cold. The man seemed quite exhausted with fatigue; and being wringing wet through, there he stood till the sergeant came to him, two hours afterwards. I heard the watchman ask the sergeant if he could go home and change his wet clothes. The reply was-- "I don't know; I've got no order about that." I thought that very hard indeed; but the man never murmured, but did his duty in his wet clothes from 12.30 until five a.m., when he went home. I write this on behalf of the bold watchman, who risked his own life nine successive times to save his fellow creatures. I understand he was a soldier before joining the police. He has served in the Crimea and India in the 33rd Regiment, and he bears a very good character in the neighbourhood of Hillfoot and Philadelphia for being a good watchman.

It may here be stated that some time afterwards, the Inundation Relief committee voted £100 to reward John Thorpe, and other policemen who had made extraordinary exertions during the flood.


On the South side of Bacon Island were two houses, which stood crosswise to a row of buildings previously referred to, in which lived George Shaw, and others. One of these houses was occupied by Geo. Wright, a furnace man, employed at Messrs. Butchers', and the other by a family named Mappin. Wright was awoke in the middle of the night by the rush of the waters. He at once got up, and knocked at the partition wall to alarm his neighbours. Mrs. Mappin replied by knocking again, and in a moment afterwards she heard a loud shriek. Then all again was still, except the noise of the wind and the roar of the flood. When the water had subsided, it was discovered that the gable wall of Wright's house had been carried away. At first it was not known exactly what loss of life there had been in this house. Mr. Wright had been to a funeral the day before the flood, and the neighbours were not aware whether he had returned or not. There is, however, no doubt that Wright was in the house at the time of the flood, and that he perished in its waters. There were also in the house Mrs. Wright, her young child, and an older child, a visitor, the daughter of Mr. Johnson, pork butcher, Sheffield Moor, with whom Mrs. Wright had formerly lived as servant. Mrs. Wright was drowned, and so was the visitor, the child of Mr. Johnson. Mrs. Wright's child had a most extraordinary escape. After the subsidence of the waters, a young man climbed on a pole through the bedroom window, and there he found the little child asleep in its bed, unconscious of the danger it had escaped, and the terrible bereavement it had sustained. Even the candle which its parents had lighted in their terror when the flood came, was burning near the child, disclosing on its features the soft and peaceful slumbers of infancy. The young man took the child up, and said to it, "Where are your dada and mamma?" "They have gone out of the window," replied the little innocent. The child was taken out of the ruins of its father's house and conveyed to a place of safety. Afterwards the Johnsons applied for the child, thinking that it was their child that had escaped. Their distress on finding that their child was the lost one may be imagined. We understand, however, that Wright's child which escaped has been handed over to Mr. Johnson, and that he has undertaken the care of it in place of his own.

Johnson's child was not found till more than two months afterwards, when it was got out of the river Don at Kilnhurst. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition, and the features were unrecognisable. One of the fingers of the left hand had been taken off a few years ago, which led to the identification.


An eye witness of the thrilling scenes at Bacon Island described them as follows:--

I was seated at my fireside, a little after twelve o'clock, when my attention was arrested by a strange noise, together with the shouting of many people. Alarmed, I hastened to my front door;-- upon opening it, I was completely bewildered by the frightful sound that fell upon my ears; it has never yet been truly described, nor can it ever be. The nearest approach to a correct definition of it, that I have heard, was that of a poor man whose house withstood the storm that swept away his furniture, &c. "Sir," said he to me, "I heard it coming just like hissing thunder." I was so stupefied by this horrid sound, that I did not see the wild waters immediately before me, nor did I dream of the nature of the calamity by which I was threatened, until I actually stepped into the water at my garden gate. I at once mounted the railings, and was terrified by the sight of the rushing flood. Sharman's house was immediately opposite, only across the road. My eye had but just caught the waters foaming at its base, when the end fell into the flood, affording a glimpse of the rooms, furniture, &c.; it was but a glimpse, for in a moment the remainder of the house fell towards the road, and "sank as lead in the waters," not leaving the slightest vestige visible. As I was not aware that Sharman and his family had escaped a few minutes before, I supposed they were all lost; a thrill of horror came over me, that caused me to turn my head from the deep that had, as I supposed, swallowed them up. I then perceived that the waters had risen, and surrounded me in my garden-- I at once leaped into them and retreated into my house, which is considerably elevated above the road. The stream rose rapidly, until it reached four feet above the level which it had attained when it swept away Sharman's house. As it had now reached my door step, I requested that my children should be taken out of their beds and carried to a neighbouring house on higher grounds. Before this could be done, I fancied the waters ceased to rise; presently I had the happiness to see that they were subsiding, so that my family and myself were safe; still I was oppressed with the thought of others. When the flood invaded it rose rapidly, but when it retired it seemed to sink slowly, very slowly. At length the road was clear of water (not of mud). We then perceived that the bridge leading to the island was swept away. Anxiety to know the fate of the cottagers on the island constrained some to creep over the top of the shuttle. I essayed to follow, and succeeded. Upon reaching the other side we found we were landed in chaos, and had to grope our way (the darkness was terrible) through thick mud, under and over trees, timber, stones, and wreck of every kind. Upon reaching the cottages we were rejoiced to find all their inhabitants safe, excepting poor Wright, his wife, and the little girl who was visiting with them. The end of Wright's house jutted out into the stream which brought down a beam that broke a large hole through it; into this the stream poured until it threw down the front of the house, carrying away the door, the stairs all the furniture, and we think Wright, his wife, and the child too; but as the flood never reached the chamber in this house, we were driven to the conclusion that the three persons who perished must have been down stairs. Besides, one of the neighbours across the yard thinks that Wright must have been carried by the stream to his door if not actually into his own house, for he declared it was not from the other side of the yard, but from his own room down stairs, that he heard him cry, "Mr. Shutt, Mr. Shutt, save me, oh ! do save me ! "Mr. Shutt promptly called out "Where are you ?" Alas ! there was no response.

As speedily as possible we supplied the poor sufferers with candles, but this was no easy matter, the lower rooms being filled with furniture, wreck, mud, &c., to such a height that the inhabitants could neither get down stairs to us, nor we up to them, but with the greatest difficulty. At length we succeeded in every case, and had the happiness of seeing bright lights in those abodes which, an hour before, we feared had been overtaken with the darkness of death.

After we had supplied these poor sufferers with lights a young man climbed by a pole up into Wright's chamber. He there found the drowned man's little child asleep in her bed. Upon taking her up, and asking her where her dada and mamma were, she replied, "They have gone out of the window." This led us to suppose that Mr. and Mrs. Wright must have been looking out of the chamber window when the front of the house gave way and carried them with it; but upon inquiry I learn that there was no chamber window at the front of the house. They must therefore have been swept out of the room below. Had they been upstairs they would have been as safe as their child was.

Having done what we could for these unfortunate cottagers we left them and "waited for the break of day," which, when it came, revealed to us scenes of wretchedness and ruin of which they will have but faint conceptions who have only visited the island since Saturday morning.

   Web Page 16 Web Page 17 Web Page 18   
   Sheffield Flood - 1864   (Main page)    Web Page / Book Contents List
26  -  June  -  99   
Mick Armitage (e-mail)