A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 19


We have now reached a thickly populated district of Sheffield, where the effects of the flood were very serious. When the water came rushing down in the middle of the night, the affrightened inhabitants were speedily awoke, and consternation and terror spread in every direction. To most persons it seemed like a dream; they could hardly realise the fact of an avalanche coming down upon a large town which had always been thought secure from the ravages of a flood, and through which no rivers flowed except two or three of very small size, and which contained no volume of water to do any serious damage. Some thought it was raining fast; others that a waterspout had burst in the sky; others that the world was coming to an end; and some conjectured the true cause, that one of the large reservoirs, eight miles distant, had given way. But who could have supposed that a reservoir bursting far away on the borders of Derbyshire would have had any appreciable effect upon the inhabitants of Sheffield. Such a calamity had never been foreboded or imagined. The first impulse was to start out of bed, strike a light, and rush out into the street to see what was the cause of this strange and weird-like midnight uproar. But the doors are closed, and cannot be opened in consequence of the pressure of water. The rooms are flooded, and the water is still rising. The bedroom is the only safe retreat, and on reaching it the windows are thrown open, and screams of horror follow one another in rapid succession down the rows of houses, and unite from each side of the street. Yonder is a row of gas lamps reflecting their yellow light from the rugged and foaming waves of a huge torrent of water; but now, one by one, the street lamps are extinguished by the rising flood, like stars when a black thunder cloud hurtles across the sky. The flood sweeps past, and on its surface can be distinctly discerned by the faint candle light naked human bodies carried along by the torrent amid heaps of timber, broken furniture, and a wreck of rubbish. Such a scene was surely never before in this world hidden from the view of mortals by the darkness of night, or exposed to the gaze of angels, looking down from heaven in pity, except when "the fountains of the great deep were broken up," and "the water prevailed exceedingly," and "all the high hills were covered."

In a yard in Dun Street, Green Lane, an old man named Dennis M'Laughlin was drowned in his bed. He lived alone in a room on the ground floor, which was flooded up to the ceiling. In an adjoining room lived the old man's donkey, and there it died by the same calamity which overwhelmed its master. Another family living in the same yard had a narrow escape. They too slept on the ground floor; but they were warned just in time. They rushed out in their night clothes, almost up to their necks in water; but soon reached the house of a neighbour, where they were safe.

All the houses in Ball Street were flooded to an extent that was perfectly ruinous. The inhabitants, however, happily escaped, by remaining in their bedrooms, which were only partially filled with water. Mr. Wood, landlord of the Boatman Inn, at the bottom of the street, had two horses, eight pigs, some stables, and other property, carried away. The other residents here all suffered the loss or destruction of nearly the whole of their furniture, and the houses had to be abandoned. Weeks after the flood the street was filled with debris, amongst which might be seen dead fowls, broken crockery, boots, articles of wearing apparel, all in one promiscuous conglomeration of mud.

In Long Croft, between Green Lane and the river, several persons lost their lives. In a yard here lived Christopher Calton, his wife, and a sister's child, aged five years. They slept on the ground floor, and were aroused by the water lifting up the beds in which they had been reposing. They got up, and rushed to the door; but it would not open even with their most desperate exertions. The water held the door tight, and was every moment rising higher and higher. They screamed out for help, but no help came, and they were drowned in the room, which was completely filled with water up to the ceiling.

A man named Willett, and his daughter Priscilla, aged 14, lived in Long Croft. They were aroused by the watchman before the flood had risen to any great height, and Mr. Willett ran out of the house, of course without stopping to dress. His daughter did not like to be left in the house alone, and wished to follow her father. He saw that there was danger in her going out into the flooded street, and he begged and entreated her to remain in the house. She said she durst not stay by herself, and that if her father went she would follow him. There was no time for parleying, as the water was rushing along, and the father waded as fast as he could out of the reach of danger, and was rescued. His daughter followed him, but they became separated in the darkness, and the young girl was swept away and drowned.

Patrick Ryder, his wife, and a son about ten years of age, and a daughter aged eight, lived on the opposite side of the row. Ryder himself was not at home on the night of the flood. When the watchman alarmed Mrs. Ryder, she ran down stairs, followed by her two children. She managed to open the door, but had no sooner done so than a torrent of water rushed into the house. Mrs. Ryder seized hold of her daughter, and, breasting the waves, though quite undressed, carried the girl to the top of the street. The boy followed, clinging to his mother's night dress. Mrs. Ryder was almost exhausted, and, in order to rest for a moment, clung to a lamp post which had not yet been washed down. Just at this moment, a sudden rush of water carried the boy off his feet. "Oh, mother !" he screamed out. "Oh, Bob !" shrieked his little sister in reply. The next moment the torrent bore him away on its surface, and his cries soon died away amid the roar of the flood. Mrs. Ryder, though up to her neck in the water, still struggled for her own life and for that of her daughter. The water swept them in the direction of the King William Inn, the inmates of which house pulled Mrs. Ryder in, and she and her daughter were saved, her son being lost as already intimated.

Many of the neighbours had very narrow escapes, and it is probable that several more would have been drowned but for the timely warning given by the watchmen. In most cases, safety was to be found only by remaining in the house and going into the upstairs rooms. Several persons besides the Ryders tried to escape into the street, but were unable to open the doors, and others were detained by the force of the torrent, which rose with appalling rapidity. In one house five persons rushed down stairs to make their way out of the house, but the sixth member of the family would not permit the door to be opened. They all went upstairs again, and were saved.

Henry Wall and his family, who lived in Green Lane, had a very narrow escape. The water so flooded the house that the inmates were unable to escape. Some neighbours, however, got upon the roof of the house, and let a rope down into the chamber. Wall himself, his wife, and his three children, were then successively drawn on to the roof, where they remained two hours before they were rescued.


At the time of the flood three young men were proceeding along Ball Street to go to their work, it being usual when work is kept up all night for the change of hands to take place about twelve o'clock. The flood met the three men, and carried them back as far as the Hallamshire Hotel, kept by Charles Staniforth. The men cried out for help, and were heard by an old man named Wagstaff, who lodged at the Hallamshire Hotel. Wagstaff opened the window, and attempted to drag the men through. He was not strong enough to do so by himself, and he called out for assistance. Mr. Staniforth came, and tied a cord to the bedpost. The rope was then thrown out to the three men, who were dragged in through the window and rescued.


A little lower down than the part which we have just been describing is a long narrow strip of land called Kelham Island, its insular formation arising from the river here dividing into two branches. This island is occupied for the most part by large manufactories; but there were also upon it several dwelling houses.

On the upper part of the island, exposed to the full fury of the flood, were the works of Messrs. Wheatman and Smith, saw manufacturers. Here the grinding wheel was destroyed, being battered down by large pieces of timber brought down by the flood. Several large grindstones were swept away, and were not recovered. There was an enormous accumulation of debris near the ruins of the grinding wheel. Here was a large boiler, there a live pig struggling and wounded; there were trees, beds, mattresses, bags of flour, and other articles almost innumerable. Oil worth about £300 was swept away, and the cistern which held it was embedded in the mud. The whole place was flooded, the machinery damaged, and a large quantity of goods were destroyed.

The works of Messrs. Crowley and Son, iron founders, were seriously damaged and the machinery injured. They had two horses in the stable on the premises. One of them forced its head through the window, and was drowned, its head being held fast as in a vice. The other horse stood with its forefeet upon its companion's body, and so managed to keep its head above water.

The works of Messrs. Charles were flooded, but the damage was not so extensive as in other works. The flood rose to the height of four feet, bringing along with it several dead bodies, and vast quantities of debris. Mr. Dun's grinding wheel at the end of Kelham Island was inundated and damaged. The Union Wheel was also covered with mud and debris. In fact the whole Island was thrown into a state of chaos which can hardly be realised by the imagination.


Some of the workmen of Messrs. Charles, at the Kelham Rolling Mills, had a very narrow escape. The first alarm was given by a man who had been asleep at the low end of the works. He was awoke by the rushing in of the water, and at once hastened to alarm the other men. They were all congregated together, getting their dinners at midnight instead of mid day. The first impulse of the men was to run out of the works. Had they done so they would inevitably have been drowned, as the water completely surrounded the premises. Fortunately, however, the gates of the yard were closed, so that egress was impossible. The men, therefore, in their exigency clambered upon the cross beams of the roof. In doing so they by some means set the place on fire, so that there were a flood and a fire upon the same premises at the same time. The flames, however, were soon extinguished by the water, and the damage from fire was very small. A most extraordinary circumstance is related in connection with the man who gave the alarm at these works, and who thus saved the lives of his fellow workmen. He lost his wife, and two children, and his father, who were all drowned in the flood at Malin Bridge. But there is a yet more extraordinary incident to be noticed. His own bedstead, on which his wife had that very night been sleeping, and also other articles of his furniture, were washed down and deposited in the very works at which he was employed -- a distance of two miles and a half.

The workmen of Messrs. Crowley had been working day and night for some months; but on the night of the flood it so happened that they all left work by ten o'clock. Had they been overtaken by the flood when at work they would in all probability have been drowned.


At the end of Kelham Island stood three small cottages occupied by John Eaton, engine tenter at Messrs. Wheatman and Smith's, a family named Hill, and another named Clarke. The inmates of all three cottages were awoke by the awful noise of the approaching flood, and sought refuge in their bedrooms, where they all looked out of their windows as the torrent poured down. Eaton had a valuable pig in a stye down below, and he determined to make an attempt to rescue the animal. For this purpose he went downstairs, and into the pig-stye, which was in front of the house. Eaton endeavoured to pull the pig into his house, but the stupid brute would not move. Hill and Clarke were looking out of their windows, and begged Eaton to save himself, and leave the pig to its fate. Their entreaties were of no avail, for Eaton still tried what kicks and coaxings would do to get the pig to stir from its resting place. The stubborn animal knew nothing about floods, and did not care for a wetting; so it would not move; but in a few minutes the flood swept down an adjacent wall, and engulfed pig, and stye, and owner in one common ruin. The pig was drowned, the stye was destroyed, and Eaton himself was dashed with great violence against a mortar mill belonging to Mr. Smith, builder. There Eaton remained, crying out for help; but Hill and Clarke, who heard his shrieks of agony, could not go to his aid. In a short time his cries were heard no more; he was swept away and was drowned; and now he is known and spoken of as the man who lost his own life in trying to save his pig. His wife, unhappily, met with a similar melancholy fate. She went down stairs to the assistance of her husband, and while thus engaged she was submerged, and carried down the goit, where her body was found when the waters had subsided. The houses of Hill and Clarke were greatly damaged; the doors were burst open, and all the furniture and clothes down stairs were carried away. Hill had three children suffering from small pox, and had to borrow clothing with which to cover them while they were being removed to another house.

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