A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 5


It has already been mentioned that several of the inhabitants of Bradfield went to the reservoir on Friday evening to see the crack; but on the assurance of the contractors and work-people that there was no danger they returned home, and most of them retired to rest as usual, though perhaps not without some misgiving. One of those who saw the crack was Mr. William Ibbotson, and he appears to have been the only one who apprehended immediate danger. At about nine o'clock he said to a neighbour, "I can't learn that this cracking in a new embankment is a common thing. Danger or no danger I don't go to bed; I shall keep my clothes on, ready for off." A little before twelve o'clock, when the wind was roaring tremendously, William Ibbotson heard some labourers shouting. At first he thought it was only a drunken freak; but he listened again, and went out to see what was the matter. He then heard men shouting "It's coming ! it's coming ! look out !" There was no one in that house but himself. He immediately called up the neighbours, and helped to get them out before the flood came.


The first victim of the flood was an infant, only one day old, the child of Mr. Joseph Dawson, of Lower Bradfield, the village tailor. Mr. Dawson's house is the end one of a row at the bottom of the valley, about twenty yards from the bed of the river. Mr. Dawson was one of those who had been up to the reservoir to see the crack; but he had returned home, and gone to bed, in the belief that there was no immediate danger. The following is Mr. Dawson's own account of the loss of his child, and of the narrow escape of the rest of his family:-- We had all been in bed about half an hour, when my wife awoke me, and said, "What is that noise ? What is that shouting ?" My wife had been confined only the day before, and she was awake. I thought it was some men on the spree making a disturbance for fun, and I said so to my wife. I then jumped out of bed, and ran to the window. I heard some men shouting "It's coming ! it's coming, !" I ran into the back chamber and told my brother to take my eldest child, about four years old, to Mr. Joseph Ibbotson's on the hill, for, said I, "The dam's burst." It was the talk of the village the night before that the dam was going to burst. Of course my wife was in bed with the child, and incapable of any exertion, having, been so recently confined. I thought I could not carry my wife and child safely, so I ran for assistance. As I was going I met a man, and asked him to help me, stating the condition in which my wife was at the time. The man said, 'You must run for your life, and save yourself--I cannot assist you. I have enough to do to save my own life." I then went back to my house, and ran upstairs, and told my wife that the water was coming, and that she must take the child in her arms and I would try to carry them both away. I had not time to dress, but I had managed to slip on my trousers. My wife took the child up, and I wrapped them both in blankets, and carried them down stairs, and out of the house. Of course my wife had nothing on but her night dress, and the weather was dreadfully boisterous and cold. I had carried my wife and child about twenty yards from the door when the flood met us, and knocked us both down, when we were between Mr. Gill's and Mr. R. Ibbotson's. We were both covered by the water, and I was obliged to let my wife go. I did not see the water before it knocked us down. I managed to get up, and again seized hold of my wife and child. My wife said "Turn back again to the house." I did so, and just as I got to the door the flood caught us again, and washed the blankets and my child away, and left my wife naked in my arms. I got my wife inside the house, and pushed her a little way up the stairs. I was obliged to leave the child to its fate, or I could not have saved my wife, for the flood was in the house. Directly after I had pushed my wife upstairs, and as soon as I had got up a few stairs myself, the flood, which had gone round to the back of the house, rushed in simultaneously both at the back and front, bursting open the back door, and the water met from both ways in the house. If we had been down stairs at that time escape would have been impossible. Even upstairs I did not feel safe. I opened the back chamber window, and tried to place a mattress across to connect the window with an embankment there is at the back of the house, whence we could get on to the hill side out of danger. The mattress was too short to reach across and it fell down. I then shouted out for help. My brother, who had been to Mr. Ibbotson's, came to the window in a short time, along with Thomas Robinson. They brought a ladder, and laid it across from the window to the hillside. My wife was still undressed, but I put her out of the window, and she was carried across and taken to Mr. Joseph Ibbotson's, where she was clothed, put to bed, and carefully attended to. The body of the child was found in the coal cellar a few days after. My house was six feet deep in water and was much damaged.


Mr. Nicholls was the village schoolmaster at Bradfield, and occupied the school house, which was situated with only a small garden between it and the river. Mr. Nicholls had been to see the crack in the embankment, but on the assurance of Mr. Fountain that there was no danger he went home again. Mr. Nicholls was anxious to go to bed, but his wife was not wishing to do so, as she thought there might be danger. After they had been sitting in the house for some time Mrs. Nicholls said, "Let us go out and see if the river is increasing." They went on to the School Bridge, close by. That was about five minutes before the flood came. They did not see much chance, but thought there was more water than usual. At that time, of course, the water was flowing through the two eighteen inch pipes which had been opened. They returned into the house, and Mr. Nicholls said, "Now, Jane, let us go to bed." Mrs. Nicholls threw some coal on to the fire, and said, "I shall not go to bed till this fire is burnt down." They then walked to the window which looked out upon the river, and Mrs. Nicholls said, "I see the water's rising, it's getting up to the trees by our garden hedge." Just at this moment Mr. William Ibbotson came and "thundered" at the door, and called out, "Escape for your lives ! the flood's coming !" They rushed across the road, and up some steps into a field, Mrs. Nicholls going first. When Mr. Nicholls got to the bottom of the steps he recollected that he had left his overcoat in the house, and he ran back to fetch it. Mrs. Nicholls screamed out with fright when she saw her husband running back into the house, for as soon as she had ascended the steps into the field, she saw the flood coming in an immense volume many yards high. Mr. Nicholls secured his overcoat, and rushed back up the steps leading into the field on the hillside. As he got on the steps he felt the spray of the flood blown on to his face, Had he been one moment later he would have been swept away. The house and school, as already stated, were carried away with their very foundations, and everything in them, including all the books and educational apparatus of a school which accommodated about eighty children.


Amongst those who had narrow escapes at Bradfield was Mr. Richard Ibbotson. He removed five of his children to a place of safety some hours before the flood came. His house was flooded, and he had to carry his wife and child in blankets to the house of his brother. On the night before the flood his wife had a very peculiar dream. She dreamt that she was in a flood, and that she had a very narrow bridge to cross, but with great difficulty she managed to get across. It was in consequence of this dream that the five children were removed before the flood came. Mr. Ibbotson says that his clock stopped at two minutes past twelve, and that, as the clock was right to a minute, that was the time of the flood.


The scene at Bradfield, when the flood came, is described as having been most extraordinary. Not only did those whose houses were within reach of the water rush out of their houses, but the whole population of Lower Bradfield turned out, in their night clothes only, shrieking and screaming, and running up the hills and fields, not knowing the extent of the inundation, or where safety could be depended upon. Probably such a scene was never before witnessed as the whole of the people of a village, men, women, and children, running about at midnight, almost in a state of nudity, and uttering such discordant noises as their fright and anxiety dictated. Many of them sought refuge at the house of Mr. Joseph Ibbotson, the village miller already mentioned. Here were assembled more than five families, some partly dressed, some in their night clothes only, and some in almost every stage of dishabille that can be imagined. Here were Mr. and Mrs. Dawson, a brother, and their eldest child; Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls; Mr. and Mrs. Gill and their child; Thomas Robinson, a labourer; Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ibbotson and their three children; besides the family resident in the house; making altogether about thirty people. It is right to say that clothing was provided for such as required it, and everything was done to render them as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.


The house of Mr. George Hobson, at Bradfield, was a good deal flooded and damaged. In the house were Mr. Hobson, his wife, six children, and an old infirm man, named Benjamin Hobson. They had all gone to bed, and at midnight Mrs. Hobson heard a loud roar, Up on which she said to her husband, "Oh dear, there's a dreadfully loud storm." Mr. Hobson jumped out of bed, looked out of the Window at the water, and called all the family up. The water was five feet high in the house. The stables were knocked down, and one horse, one cow, and two pigs, were drowned. Five tons of turnips were also swept away. The family were unable to get anything to eat till something was brought by the neighbours, as they could not go into the lower rooms of the house in consequence of the presence of the water. Mr. Hobson had seen Mr. Ibbotson on the evening of the flood, and had been told that Mr. Fountain said that the dam was quite safe, so the family went to bed without anticipating danger. Mr. Hobson was at the dam at a quarter past eleven, and had only just got into bed when the flood came. The old man, Benjamin Hobson, had a narrow escape. He always slept on the ground floor, as he was too infirm to get upstairs. The water came up to his bed, and some of it went right into his mouth. He stood up with the water nearly up to his head, and at length managed to escape on to the stairs.

George Wilson lived near the river, with his wife and two children. He did not go to bed, but went to the Plough Inn. He was expecting the flood, and saw it coming, whereupon he ran to his house and took his wife and children out in safety. The house was partially destroyed.

Mr. Hartley lived near the river, with his wife and two children. When the flood came Mrs. Hartley said to her husband, "Come along, come along, let us be saved." He refused to leave the house, and said, "If it takes all I have it might as well take me too." Mrs. Hartley then went in her night dress only across the fields to the Plough Inn. The flood did not come quite up to Hartley's house.

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