A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 20


The Sheffield Workhouse, situated in Kelham Street, is at some little distance from the river; but it was flooded to the height of four feet, and the destruction of property was considerable. The water entered the house not only by the doors, but also by the sewers, some of which were burst open, and the floors of the rooms were lifted up. The inmates were all in bed, except a young man in charge of the boiler house. He is an imbecile, and is known by the name of "George." The water came rushing in with such fury that "George" got on the top of the boiler house in order to ensure his own personal safety. That accomplished, he does not seem to have had the sense to take measures for the protection of others. There he sat on the boiler house, whistling-- 

"Whistling, to keep his courage up."

Miss Day, the matron, was awoke by the roar of the waters, and, hearing some one whistling as though he were mad, she threw up the window, looked out, and saw "George" perched on the boiler house, and whistling away with the greatest sang froid imaginable. Miss Day, in great alarm at the rush of water which was both visible and audible, asked "George" what was the matter. "George" looked up with a non compos mentis smile on his features, and with happy unconcern replied, "I don't know." Just at this moment loud and piercing screams arose from many voices, and the whole inmates of the house were soon in a state of excitement and consternation. Their first impression was that a large cistern at the top of the house had burst, and was flooding the premises. On the ground floor were the hospital and lunatic wards, containing a large number of woman and children suffering from various diseases. The water had already risen to such a height as to flood the beds, and cause them to float about the rooms. Mr. Wescoe, the governor of the house, at once took such precautionary measures as were necessary. If he had let the inmates have their own way the scene would have been one of indescribable confusion, and probably many lives would have been sacrificed. All the women who were upstairs, Mr. Wescoe kept in their apartments, and would not let them go out on any consideration. The same measures were adopted with respect to the men, except that about a score of able bodied paupers were told off for special duty, and despatched across the yards to the rooms occupied by the children having measles and small pox, and also to the women's venereal wards. The task of these men was one of great peril, as they had to wade through the water, which was not only exceedingly cold, but also a considerable depth. When the men reached the sick wards they found such of the women and children as were able to get up, standing or kneeling on their beds in a state of the greatest alarm. The men carried the women and children, who had nothing on but their night dresses, through the water to the upper rooms of the female hospital. There were many narrow escapes; but happily no life was lost. The damage to the property was considerable. Stores of provisions, wearing apparel, bed linen, and other articles on the ground flour, were injured or destroyed. Several heavy bins in the store room were turned upside down. In the governor's office, the floor was torn up, the books were floated from the desks and tables, and some of the furniture was swept out into the yard. The large doors of the house were burst open, and many articles were carried completely away from the premises. In the dead house several bodies were in coffins, which were placed on high benches. They were reached by the water, but were not moved from their position. A thick deposit of mud was left over the entire area of the premises.

The bodies of those who had been drowned began to be brought into the workhouse by three in the morning, and this continued during the whole of that day and every succeeding day during the ensuing week. The whole number of bodies so brought amounted to 124, and may be thus classified: --Males, 69; females, 55: --men, 37; women, 31; children, 56. 102 of these bodies were identified, and 23 remained unidentified. Sixty eight bodies were removed and buried by their friends, and 56 were interred at the expense of the union.


All the streets around the Workhouse were deeply flooded, and the inhabitants placed in great peril. The Bowling Green Street school had its wall knocked down, and the door burst open. In Cotton Mill Walk were several low houses near a branch of the river, some of these consisting of two rooms only, and both on the ground floor. In one of these cottages lived Arthur Johnson, his wife, two children, and a young woman named Emma Pagdin, a lodger. Mrs. Johnson was alarmed by the roar of the water, and aroused her husband. On jumping out of bed he found a torrent of water pouring into the room. Placing a child under each arm, he rushed to the door, which he tried to open. His efforts were in vain, for the pressure of the water kept it shut. At this conjuncture two policemen fortunately reached the house, and hearing the screams of the inmates, they broke out the window. The children were lifted through, and then Mrs. Johnson, his wife, and the lodger. They were barely able to breast the torrent of water; but by a desperate effort they reached the King William Inn, where they were safe.


One of the most extraordinary escapes in the course of the flood was the one we are about to relate, and which occurred in this locality. A man named Wells, who got his living by selling water cresses, lived in a cottage near the river, along with his wife and six children. On the day before the flood Wells was from home gathering water cresses, and a few hours before the disaster occurred his wife went to meet him to bring home the results of his labours ready for Saturday's market. When Mrs, Wells went out she left sleeping in a room on the ground floor a boy thirteen years of age, and his little sister three years old. In an upstairs room were an elder sister and three other children. At about one o'clock in the morning Mrs. Wells returned, and was amazed to find the whole district submerged in water. She tried to reach her house to ascertain the fate of her children; but of course for a long time was quite unable. Thus she remained, in an almost frantic state, expecting nothing less than to find that all her children had perished. At length she got within speaking distance of her house, and called out to see if there was any one alive inside. The children who had been sleeping upstairs looked out of the window, and were recognised by their overjoyed mother. But still the fate of the children downstairs remained to be ascertained. All that the children upstairs could tell the mother was that they heard their brother and sister scream, and had tried to go downstairs to their rescue, but had been forced back by the water which had come more than half way up the stairs. The horrified mother now gave way to the worst forebodings. The low room was flooded, her children were in it, and they must have been drowned. At length an entrance was effected into the house, and a search was made for the corpses of the children. They could nowhere be found, until on looking up into a wide cupboard the two naked bodies were discovered. They appeared to be dead; but they were only asleep, and awoke as soon as the astonished mother began to lift them down. It appears that when the flood came, and began to float the bed about, the boy screamed out to his elder sister upstairs. As no help came, and as he could not get upstairs for the water, he bethought himself that there was a high cupboard which would hold himself and his little sister. He then got on a chair, lifted his sister on to the top shelf of the cupboard, and then climbed in himself In this narrow receptacle both the children fell asleep, and were only awoke when their mother began to lift them down.


In Cotton Mill Row, near Alma Street, lived a poor old widow woman named Wallace, along with her two children. She only occupied one small room, and that was on the ground floor below the level of Alma Street. When the flood rushed into the house, she got out of bed, burst open the door, and went outside into the water. But she could get no further, and all she could do was to scream out for assistance. In the same house other families lived in the upstairs rooms, and one of them opened the window to see if they could rescue the poor old woman. A young man threw out a sheet and told her to seize hold of it. She did so, and the young man pulled the sheet till she was just within his reach, but at that moment a rush of water carried her away. She gave one piercing scream, and was heard no more. Her dead body was afterwards found in a yard adjoining. Her two children, whom she had left in bed, were bravely rescued by a man named Whiteley.


A singular fatality occurred in Bower Spring. A young man named Varney, the son of a general store dealer, living in Kelham street, was on horseback, riding past the Highway Offices, when his horse came into collision with a large piece of timber which was floating on the water. The horse stumbled, and threw the young man over its head. He fell into the water, and was killed. When his body was found both hands were clenched, and were raised before his face, in the attitude of defence. He had died struggling desperately with the waves.


From the New Corporation Bridge to the Lady's Bridge in the Wicker, is a distance of about a third of a mile, and here on both sides of the river the destruction of property was very great. The Corporation Bridge itself is a new and strongly built structure, and it withstood the force of the torrent without sustaining any serious damage. But the cast iron foot bridge, which was formerly the only direct means of communication between the chief parts of the town and the district called Bridgehouses, was demolished and carried away entirely. This bridge was erected in 1795, and had therefore lasted nearly seventy years. A few large stones mark the spot where stood one of the stone piers which supported the bridge, and at one end a few of the iron balusters remain, but not another vestige can be seen. It appears from the statements of parties who live close by, that the Iron Bridge did not give way at the first rush of the water; but at the second burst a few moments afterwards, when a vast quantity of timber and debris came down with the force of a battering ram, and carried the entire structure away. No doubt the Corporation Bridge acted at first as a breakwater, until the accumulated mass forced its way, and bore down upon the Iron Bridge with augmented power.

A row of cottages in The Crofts, called Union Buildings, were in great danger. The corner house was occupied by a furniture broker named Carr. The house shook perceptibly, and its inmates expected its fall every moment. Mrs. Carr tried to escape by the front door; but her husband prevented her from going out, as he saw that if she did so she would certainly be swept away. When the bridge had gone, Mr. Carr kept watch to see that no one attempted to pass over in ignorance that it had disappeared. Several persons were saved by the timely warning. The Bridge Inn, on the other side of the river, was flooded and seriously damaged. The Crofts and Millsands were submerged to the depth of from six to eight feet; Bridge-street was similarly flooded; Messrs. Naylor, Vickers, & Co.'s extensive works, which have a river frontage extending from the Iron Bridge to Millsands, were inundated to a great depth, and were seriously damaged. Several thousands of steel melting pots were destroyed, and a heavy tool chest was carried from the top of the works, and deposited near the bottom gates. The other items of damage are too many to be enumerated.

The Millsands works of Messrs. W. E. Laycock and Sons, hair seating manufacturers, were seriously injured. The flood rose to the windows, burst them open, and rushed into the works. The carding and other machines, and the engines , were submerged and damaged. Bales of horse hair were floated about and carried away to a great distance. Everything was covered with mud, and the entire works were thrown into a state of almost inextricable confusion.

   Web Page 19 Web Page 20 Web Page 21   
   Sheffield Flood - 1864   (Main page)    Web Page / Book Contents List
26  -  June  -  99   
Mick Armitage (e-mail)