A Complete History of The Great Flood at Sheffield
by Samuel Harrison
Web Page 6


Martin Hawke, farmer, lived in a house by the river side, a little below Bradfield. Mr. Hawke's grandson had been told by Samuel Hammerton that the dam was likely to burst, and the grandson went on purpose to give his grand-parents warning. But they had a lodger who worked at the dam, and he said he had been there, and there was no danger. The lodger said the dam would not burst, and if it did it would give them warning. Mr. and Mrs. Hawke and four lodgers had gone to bed, but a little before twelve o'clock they were called up by George Smith. They dressed, and went out on to the hill side. They had not been gone more than five minutes when the flood came, and swept the house and the outbuildings entirely away. Had not the inmates been warned in time they would assuredly have been all drowned. Their cow was carried down the river to Hillsbro', a distance of five miles.


As the inhabitants of Bradfield saw the dam during the progress of construction, and were well acquainted with the character of the strata in the locality, their opinions as to the cause of the disaster are deserving of great attention. From inquiries made upon the spot, we found that the general impression was that the foundation on which the outside of the embankment was built, was not good, and that it gave way, causing the earthwork to slip, thus weakening, the support of the water to such an extent that the puddle wall was pushed down by the pressure of the water. Some were also of opinion that the workmanship of the embankment was not good, and that the materials of which it was composed were too porous and destitute of solidity. The impression prevails in the district that the engineers were aware that the foundation was defective, but that they resolved to run the risk, as so much money had been expended.

Upon this part of the subject we quote the following letter written by Mr. Joseph Ibbotson, of Bradfield. He says:--

"In the first place I will try to explain as well as I can the extent of this slip, and its situation with reference to the site of the embankment. Very shortly after passing the farm homestead on the right, immediately below the reservoir, the high road enters on this slip and crosses it diagonally a distance of some hundred yards, until it reaches opposite the north end of the embankment. Standing on the road below the huts facing up the valley to the right, there is abundant evidence of disturbances by slips for perhaps a third of a mile, and below right down to the river bed, the effects are clearly visible, where the moving material has formed a natural but very treacherous embankment, nearly across the valley.

"This portion of ground is included in that purchased by the Company, and I believe the engineers proposed in the first instance to sink their puddle trench and form the embankment across this part of the valley, but on testing it by sinking a shaft, it was found very much to resemble a mass of shifting quicksand, and in consequence they moved higher up, and commenced cutting the puddle trench in solid rock, a short distance above the higher margin of the land slip.

"In cutting and blasting through this rock to form the trench, they had an immense quantity of water to contend with, which issued from. fissures in the rock; keeping two steam engines and three pumps at work day and night during the progress of the work.

"When they commenced cutting this trench, a considerable spring of water was rising through the bed of the reservoir some distance higher than the site of the embankment. During its progress this spring ceased to flow. I think it probable that this pumping incessantly for so long a period might drain off the water from the measures from a long distance up the valley and the adjoining hill sides.

"My brother Richard along with myself were in the bottom of the trench the day they commenced puddling. The greater portion of the trench was composed of solid impervious rock. But in one part, near to where the pumps were at work, a strong spring of water rose through the bed of the reservoir and continued to flow.

"May we not presume from this fact, that there was a communication between the water in the dam and the bottom of the puddle trench, where the spring arose. Supposing this to be the case, may I ask the engineers to calculate the amount of hydraulic pressure brought to bear against the puddle in this part from the eighty feet of water and sixty feet depth of puddle trench as well as from the unknown distance and height up the valley from where the water was drawn by pumping.

"Another important fact, well known here, but which I have not so far seen any inquiry into is, that a large spring of water issued from the foot of the embankment where the breach has occurred, and was conveyed away by a drain. Is it possible that this spring found its way from under the puddle through the narrow portion of rock severed by the cutting of the trench from the mass above, and into part of the loose earth and clay of which the slope consisted, and on which the outer part of the embankment rested ?

"In my opinion, it was a great engineering error to place any part of this immense embankment on such a basis, as I can easily imagine the weight of the material itself would be sufficient to cause the ground to yield under the pressure, independently of the water in the dam and the springs.

"I may allude to the plan adopted at the commencement of forming the embankment, viz., the "tipping" down from a great height, at each end of the bank, the material to form it, and forming a joining in the middle, which, from being less consolidated than the ends, would, we may suppose, be the weakest where the greatest pressure of wind and water would bear upon it.

"I visited the bank at daybreak the morning after the flood, which was then much different to what it now is. That part of the north bank which has settled down was then nearly level with the firm part, and the chasm had more the appearance of a clean cut out, and the opening was much deeper than now, which I think rather favours the supposition that the foundation has yielded here.

"On Saturday last I visited the place, and I found large fissures in the ground adjoining the road; and at the farm house, some two hundred yards from the north end of the bank, the walls are cracked, and the stone door head broken, and the flags in the floor are sinking in one part perpendicularly, as if one part of the buildings was standing on the solid and the other on the shifting ground.

"I also made inquiry as to whether any crack had been observed between the house and the dam previous to the bursting. I understand that several months previously a large opening appeared along the high road between the huts and the farm house, sufficient to admit a man's leg, which was repeatedly stopped with sods.

"The question whether the present embankment is properly puddled and laid together, I leave for others better qualified to decide; but I think no great engineering skill is requisite to satisfy any person possessing common sense that the best formed embankment that engineering skill can devise, and human labour put together, if placed on a yielding foundation, cannot be safe.

"From what I have seen and felt of the power of a gale of wind blowing down the length of the reservoir, at an elevation of ninety feet, I certainly should not feel confidence in an embankment of similar construction and strength to the present one resisting the pressure, though placed on the best possible foundation.

"I saw nothing when assisting to draw the valves in the pipes under the embankment to lead me to suppose they have burst or leaked at the joints so as to cause the breach, though I by no means think it safe to place the outlet pipes in such a position."


Below Bradfield the high road is swept away for a considerable distance, the rocks are torn up, and many huge stones lie scattered about the bed of the river. There are several extensive land slips, and in some places the hill sides are washed away.


At the foot of a steep declivity, embosomed amid trees, lies what is called Roebuck House. It is situated about a mile below Bradfield, and half a mile from Damflask. It consisted of two stone cottages, with the usual out buildings of a small farm. In one of these cottages resided William Marsden, his wife, and a child about two years of age. They had no warning whatever of the approach of the flood, and were all in bed at the time when it swept down the valley. Mr. Marsden, hearing a strange noise, got up, .and had just returned to his bed when the water crashed in the house with a noise which he describes as resembling thunder. He said to his wife, "We shall all be drowned." At this time the water had burst into the house, and was rising up into the bedroom. Mr. Marsden, with great presence of mind, broke a leg off the dressing table, and with this improvised instrument knocked a hole through the ceiling of the bedroom. He then got up the hole, and thence escaped to the roof of the house. His wife, standing upon a table in the room, threw the child up to him. He caught it in his arms, and carried it into a wheat field on the side of the hill, where it was out of danger. He then returned to the rescue of his wife, pulled her up the hole in the ceiling, and carried her also to the field already mentioned. As the ground here rises very rapidly, the roof of the house, and the hill side are nearly upon a level, so that there was no difficulty in escaping from the roof to the field beyond, and there they remained in safety until they were able to proceed higher up the hill to the Rock Farm, where they were comfortably accommodated for the rest of the night. Of course they had no time to dress, except that Mr. Marsden just slipped on his trousers, and his wife threw over her some garment which was nearest at hand. Their condition and the sufferings they endured, when exposed to the cold blast of the rough March wind as they stood Up on the roof of their house in the darkness, and as they trudged up the hill side, may readily be imagined. Had they remained in the house, it is hardly possible that they could have escaped with their lives. Their house was greatly damaged, a portion of the farm building was destroyed, and some domestic animals were drowned. One large pig was saved. Its stye was swept away, but the sagacious brute found its way up the hill side sooner than its owner, who found it there, alive and well, when he bore his wife and child to that place of safety. The foot bridge at this place was of course entirely swept away.
In the other cottage lived Mr. Tittcomb, his wife, two sons, and four lodgers. When the flood came, Mr. Tittcomb broke a pole off the bedstead, and made a hole in the ceiling, through which all the inmates escaped on to the roof, and thence to the hill side. One of the lodgers, in jumping off the roof, fell to the ground, and was somewhat severely hurt, but not so seriously as to be unable to walk up the hill along with the others who had made their escape.

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