The Great Sheffield Flood  -  Photo Gallery

-  The Trail of Destruction  -

The River Don - just below Rutland Road Bridge (which is off to the left) The same view today

The building roof, marked with an asterisk in both pictures, is the same: and this currently belongs to 'Turton Bros, & Mathews Ltd. on Neepsend Lane (the 'town-side' of Rutland Road).5  In the background of the old picture, to the left of the tall chimney, the hillside rising towards Shirecliffe can faintly be seen - just as it appears in the modern picture.

The Ball Street Bridge (Sheffield to the right)

The Ball Street Bridge today

The twisted and mangled remains of the Ball Street Bridge are clearly shown in the 1864 photograph. The building marked 'x' in both pictures is the same. The building marked 'y' in both pictures is also the same - except today it is minus the roof, top floor, and interior!

Samuel Harrison writes:

'The Ball Street foot bridge, adjoining Mr. Mills's tannery, was destroyed. Although it was constructed of iron, it was torn down by the force of the water, and bent about as though it were only a piece of pasteboard. A large portion of it might be seen long afterwards lying in the river in a sloping position, and not entirely disconnected from its original position at one end.'

The following account relates to an in incident which occured at the 'Eagle Works' on Mowbray Street: 6


'The following letter, written by a girl, eleven years of age, to her grandmother at Leeds, describes what she saw of the flood:-- "Eagle Works, March 17th, 1864.--Dear Grandmother,--I have no doubt that you will be very anxious to know how we have got on. Aunt was awoke by the screaming of some pigs; she got out of bed, lifted up the blind, and saw the water rolling wave over wave. She awoke my uncle, and said, 'Oh John, the World's at an end.' 'Nay, my lass, it cannot be.' They awoke me, and when I saw the water I did not know what to think. Uncle went down the stairs to look, and he saw the water had risen up three steps. He then came up and told us, and just then the gas went out, and we had only about half a candle. Aunt and I then gave up ourselves for lost, but uncle said if the water came any higher we should be obliged to get on the roof. However, he went down again, and found the water had lowered almost a step. O, how thankful we were when we heard that ! Uncle then insisted upon our going to bed, which we did, but could not sleep, and he said he would give anything for a pipe of tobacco, and aunt and I the same for a cup of tea. In the morning we had no fire, no bread, nor anything; and the worst of it was, our kitchen was four or five inches in mud. However, uncle got through into the warehouse, and got us a crust of bread and some tea, and in a short time he was able to get us a loaf and some bread and butter. Almost all the furniture downstairs is spoiled, the piano is smashed, and almost all the household things are spoiled; but aunt says she cannot murmur, because there are so many poor creatures so much worse off than we are. One poor family opposite to us had nothing to eat nor a bit of fire until about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon. You may be sure we are all of us very thankful.--I remain, your affectionate granddaughter, S. J. G."' [Sarah Jane Green] (GFAS)

FOUND, on Thursday, a large MASTIFF and RETRIEVER DOG. The
Owner can have him by Paying Expenses. If not owned in Seven Days
will be Sold. --- Apply at No. 12 Court, Garden street, Sheffield.

'A man named Willett, and his daughter Priscilla, aged 14, lived in Long Croft [between Green Lane and the river]. 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.' (GFAS)

Geoffrey Amey's version of this story reads as follows:

' . . . Mrs Ryder, her eight year old daughter, and her son, Robert, who was eleven, at least succeeded in getting out. The mother waded exhausted to a lamp post, hanging on to it with one hand and gripping the little girl with the other. Robert, clenching with frozen hands his mother's clothes, was suddenly swept away in a rush of water and never again seen alive. In an effort to save him, Mrs Ryder let go of the post and she and her daughter were dragged along by the current. Luckily, they were spotted by some men, who tugged them clear.' (CDDD)

Penistone Road - at the bottom of Hoyle Street (Netherthorpe Road) - towards town Penistone Road - at the bottom of Netherthorpe Road (towards town)

ABOVE: The painting on the left shows a log, said to have weighed 2 tons, that had been washed by the flood from Butcher's works at Philadelphia (a little way up valley from Rutland Road) and deposited on Penistone Road. Being too heavy to move, it remained there for weeks, providing an ideal subject for photographers and artists alike. The building on the extreme left is the New Inn, and the road junction immediately beyond it (which almost doubles back) is Cornish Street, with a few yards further along, Dun Street. The road to the right is Hoyle Street: this location is currently the bottom of Netherthorpe Road - as seen in the recent photograph on the right - which shows the same view. In both pictures, the tower of Sheffield Cathedral (near the town centre) can be seen in the background (just right of centre).

'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.' (GFAS)

In the Green Lane area - not far from Dun Street, 'the six children of the Wells family had been left to face the unexpected deluge alone in their little cottage . . . As usual, their mother had left them to collect from their father the bunches of watercress that he had been gathering during the week from the clear Pennine streams miles away, so that she could sell them for a penny a bunch at the Saturday market in Sheffield. It was now, as the flood water was at its height at about one o'clock, that she returned only to find that she couldn't get anywhere near her cottage for the swirling water. In frustration and distress she flung the basket of cress into the waves and the leaves spread and bobbed along the surface. The group of onlookers tried to comfort her and prevent her from wading in but through her shrieks and sobs they discovered that two of the children, her thirteen year old son and his three year old sister, had been left sleeping in the downstairs room, and that they, at least, must surely have been drowned. The agonising wait for the water to subside is all too easily imagined and all must secretly have imagined that there was little hope of finding any of the children alive despite their reassuring words to the frantic mother. As the level gradually dropped the crowd inched forwards down the devastated lanes, slipping on the thick layer of glistening mud and holding their cloaks in front of their faces against the nauseous stink. At last Mrs. Wells got within calling distance of the cottage and waded through the slime to shout to the children. To her immense joy and relief the frightened faces of the children who had been sleeping upstairs appeared at the window. "Are you all safe, is everyone there?" "We're alright up here," her daughter shouted back tearfully, "but we don't know what's happened downstairs to Emily and Frank. We heard a scream and we tried to get down the stairs to them, Mamma, but there was water coming up and we couldn't get past."

Her joy had now turned to horror on hearing that the two children from downstairs were not with them. Picking her way through the debris she pushed her way into the house, expecting to find the bodies of the two children in the mud on the floor. Casting her eyes frantically round the dark room she couldn't see any sign of the children until, looking up, she spotted the two still, naked bodies huddled together on the top shelf of the cupboard in the corner. She let out a horrified shriek, thinking that they were dead, and to her amazement, the children woke. Their mother lifted them down and as she tried to warm their shivering bodies they began to tell her about their frightening ordeal. "The bed was floating about and we thought we'd be thrown off into the water. We didn't know what was happening. We tried to get upstairs but it was blocked so we stood on the chair and climbed onto the shelf."' (DSSF)


At the Kelham Rolling Mills 'the sleeping watchman was roused by the commotion. Suddenly fully alert to the terrible danger, he screamed a warning and raced across the works yard towards the open doors of the mill. The team of men with long handled tongs were drawing snaking lengths of red hot, glowing steel between the iron rollers with a deft, almost casual skill from long practice. "Get out, the river's rising. The island's flooding!" shouted the watchman, but by this time the men needed no warning as water flowed through the open door and hissed across the hot iron floor. They came rushing out, wading through the rising water, towards the factory gate, only to find that, for some reason, it was locked. "Good God, we'll all be drowned, where the hell's the key?" "There's no time to look for that. Here, climb up on t'roof." So, frantically grabbing for any hand or foothold, the men scrambled up onto the beams above the factory floor. In doing so one of them knocked over a barrel of light oil and the spreading pool was quickly ignited from a red-hot steel ingot which had been hurriedly dropped. Tall blue flames now danced over the surface of the swirling water and the men on the roof beams held their breath in fear as they considered whether they were going to suffer death by fire or by water! But the fire burned down and the beams held firm and the men clung on to witness the chaotic scene below.' The man who originally raised the alarm 'gave a loud gasp and pointed, "That's my bed! I left my wife . . . asleep in it at Malin Bridge."' Other articles of his furniture were washed into the factory - they had been carried a distance of two and a half miles. 'The next few hours would reveal the grim fact that his wife, two children and his father had been carried off' - and drowned. (DSSF) 

At the southern end (nearest Sheffield centre) of Kelham Island 'were three small cottages. The three families who lived in these cottages, the Hills, the Clarkes and the Eatons, had been roused by the noise and commotion over the wall, and as faces now appeared from the relative safety of their upstairs windows water began to flood into the communal yard below. For the Hills this was only one of many recent broken nights sleep. For the past weeks they had been up almost hourly to tend to their three children, now turning fitfully in their little beds in the fever of smallpox. The Eatons, like most families, kept a pig in a sty in the yard. This pig was an especially fat animal, enormously prized by the family who had lovingly reared it, coaxed it, scratched its great back with a stick and fed it with every available scrap for months, anticipating the bacon, ham and black pudding that would keep the family going through the following winter. It is only this which makes it understandable that John Eaton, seeing his most precious possession squealing for its life as its sty rapidly filled with filthy water, determined to take action. After all the loss of the pig could well be the final straw to land the destitute family in the dreaded workhouse. "I must save t'pig!" he shouted over his shoulder as he rushed out of the bedroom, down the stairs.

Whilst his wife watched anxiously from the window John waded across the flooding yard to the animal's shelter. He tried to coax the pig out. He tried to push and poke the pig out. But it refused to budge. His heart thumping and breathing heavily, Mr. Eaton paused for breath and became aware that, above the din, his wife and neighbours were screaming at him and pointing to something beyond the wall. "Get out John! Save yourself! Leave it!" is all that he could make out before the full force of the flood hit the wall, bringing it crashing down, engulfing the sty and carrying off the screaming pig and dashing its owner ferociously against the opposite wall. "Help! Save me!" he gasped as the foaming water swirled round the yard. "Hold on John! I'm coming!" shouted his wife, but it was too late and the water tore him from the wall and swept him to his death, watched by his horrified neighbours. To compound their horror Clarke and Hill now saw the figure of Keziah Eaton, John's wife, struggling out of the door below them. "I'm coming John! Hang on!" she cried, not realising that her husband was beyond rescue, and the two shocked observers got no chance to shout a warning, but had to watch helplessly as the water swept Keziah off her feet and her long heavy skirts dragged her under and away down the mill race to join her husband.' (DSSF) 

John Eaton's body was eventually found two miles away while that of his wife, Keziah, was found just a few yards from their home, which was little damaged.

The flood waters burst into the Workhouse on Kelham Street (directly opposite the entrance to Kelham Island - Kelham Street no longer exists) '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. . . . 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 Workhouse, enlisted about a score of able bodied paupers to 'cross 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 as much 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. . . . 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.' (GFAS) 

'In Cotton Mill Row, near Alma Street [running off Alma St. just beyond the Workhouse], 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 mall 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.' (GFAS) 

Geoffrey Amey's version of the story:

'A widow, Emma Wallace, awoke to discover her house in Cotton Mill Row awash and had rushed outside before realising her two children were still asleep inside. As the water rose, she screamed for help and a neighbour threw down a knotted sheet. Mrs Wallace hung to it for a time, but her strength ebbed and she was borne away to die. Ironically, her children were rescued from their bed.' (CDDD)

'Henry Wall worked at a local tannery as a skin dresser. He was twenty-eight years old and each week earned twenty-five shillings on which he kept his wife, Louisa, and their three children. When the flood reached their little home in Green Lane, the family got on to the roof and were exposed to the cold for a long time. Wall, normally a healthy man, was shivering so from shock and damp that he was unable to move and had to be assisted down. He became ill and died within three months. That was just one of many similar cases that would not be included in the casualty lists. As a direct result of the flood, a regrettably large number of people contracted diseases brought on by exposure or immersion in filthy water, or sustained permanent injury, leading sometimes to death.' (CDDD)

A little distance beyond the opposite side of the river from Green Lane/Alma Street is Harvest Lane:

'John Parkes, who lived in Harvest Lane, heard cries of 'Make for the tip' (railway embankment) and, in the confusion, imagined his house to be ablaze. When he opened the door water rushed in, bringing with it a dead grey horse. Together with her husband, Emma Parkes strove to get out with their son, Alfred, who was five, and baby Emma, aged three months. The wife cried: 'I can't stand, I'm going.' That was the last Parkes saw of his family. He remembered no more, but was told later he had floated out of a window and dragged himself by a shutter to the roof of his house. ' (CDDD) 

'From the new Corporation Bridge [Corporation Street] 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.' (GFAS) 

'The fall of the iron bridge was timed at one o'clock on the Saturday morning. The streets alongside the river were said to have resembled a 'manufacturing Venice' and, the observer added with considerable understatement, 'gondolas could have been rowed about with the greatest ease'.' (CDDD)

The whole area between Corporation Bridge and The Wicker was submerged, with much property damage and many personal escapes. 'Along the river side in Nursery street were strong iron railings, fastened with large coping stones. These were all torn down, broken up, or scattered to a distance.' (GFAS) 

'The Manchester Railway Hotel had its entire front broken down.' . . . 'Several small buildings at the end of Nursery street, near the river, were demolished. All the houses in Nursery street and adjoining streets were flooded to the height of five or six feet, and filled with a layer of thick mud and slime. All the cellars were filled, and many of the inhabitants were held prisoners by the water during the greater part of Saturday.' (GFAS) 

It is surprising that only two lives were lost in this region; one being a 'young man named Jonathan Turner, aged 17,' who 'lost his life in Nursery lane. He lodged with a Mrs. Davis, in a small cottage, and occupied as his sleeping apartment a little back room on the ground floor. The water broke a hole in the wall of the house, and poured into the room where Turner was sleeping. The door was shut, and escape was impossible. The water rose nearly up to the ceiling, and the poor young man was drowned.
      The other loss of life in this district occurred in Joiner lane, Stanley street. An old man, who got his living by dealing in coals, named Richard Haslehurst, but better known as "Old Dickie," lived here in a low shed . . . the old man slept on the top of a large box, which served him as a bed. When the flood came the old man managed to get out of his little domicile, and was heard to scream for assistance. The water, however, washed him away, and his dead body was found next day in the Wicker.'


' . . . only the natural elevation of land prevented the very centre of Sheffield from being inundated.'

'By the time that the flood had reached Lady's Bridge, word had already reached the ears of many of the people living in the crowded town centre courtyards and tenements that some excitement was afoot. Dozens now came rushing down Waingate, roused by passers by and neighbours hammering on doors as they passed, putting on coats and hats, towards the ancient bridge to watch the spectacle. They were certainly not disappointed! A crowd of more than two hundred had soon huddled onto the bridge to experience the thrill of their lifetime as they leaned over the parapets and looked into the mass of dark water which foamed and raged against the arches. . . . The shaking of the structure added to the excitement, though, had they known that virtually every other bridge had been smashed that night they may have considered it more prudent to watch the fascinating spectacle from a safer distance! . . . Looking back towards the Wicker, however, rapidly caused the onlookers to pause and reconsider their own position. The scene was incredible. Water flowed everywhere. In the few remaining pools of light shed by the street lamps, scenes of carnage were glimpsed. Water flowed from every side street, bursting open the shuttered doors of the shops and pubs and carrying out a fantastic variety of merchandise. From the premises of Levi Fox, Number 74, flowed tin and wooden toys, artists materials and photographic equipment. From the draper's shops were plucked the fashionable dresses, materials and cummies to ride the waves. John Walsh, the confectioner at Number 100, lost his stock of sweets . . . ' (DSSF)

'A shout of horror went up as a naked man was picked out, clinging to a street lamp before being swept away before their eyes, as other bodies and pathetic items of domestic furniture became apparent in the rushing tide the mood on the bridge became more sombre. Amidst it all the old bridge stood firm and survived its battering.' (DSSF)

Samuel Harrision writes:

'When the flood was at its height the scene on the Lady's Bridge at the top of the Wicker was most extraordinary. The water came rushing down between the buildings on each side with a force that made the Lady's Bridge quake and tremble. Against the bridge were piled up trees, logs of timber, broken furniture, and debris of every description. The light from street gas lamps revealed to spectators, of whom they were a good many, some of the horrors of the scene. The arches of the bridge were nearly choked by the accumulation of rubbish, and the impeded waters rose to a fearful height, breaking over the parapets of the bridge, and rushing . . . over the broad thoroughfare of the Wicker. Here might be discerned a man in a state of nudity, and who had been swept down by the flood, clinging to a lamp post in order to avoid being carried away, and there he perished, as much from the benumbing influence of the cold as from the effects of the water. In the Wicker the shutters of many of the shops were washed down, the doors burst open, and the contents of the shops carried away or destroyed. The losses sustained by many tradesmen here were very serious. In Blonk Street the flood deposited several dead bodies, as well as a vast heap of timber and broken rubbish. The wall at one end of Blonk Bridge was knocked down, together with a portion of the enclosed Cattle Market.' (GFAS)

The 'New White Lion Inn' - The Wicker (Half way along - arches to the right) The Same view today (The New White Lion pub still remains)

'In the Wicker Station of the Midland Railway, the water rose to the height of four feet . . . The warehouses for goods were flooded, and the large doors at the entrance of the coal yard were carried away. Two dead bodies were found in the railway station--one that of a woman in a state of nudity, and the other that of a man partly dressed. A man named Peacock, who slept in one of the coal offices near the Midland Station [at this time, the Midland Station was located between the fork of Saville Street and Spital Hill], was drowned. His body was found in the office of Mr. Bishop, coal merchant, by whom he was employed as a clerk.' (GFAS)

Samuel Harrison writes:

'But now the night's worst terrors were all but over for, although the dark flood spread over the lower Don Valley to cause immense damage to the vast new steelworks, invading the cellars, wrecking the crucible steel furnaces and ruining the precious steel, the wave's terrible destructive power was spent. The viaduct [Wicker Arches] had been the finishing gate of the wild, careering gallop, although the flood did have a final vindictive sting in its tail as both the nightwatchmen at Naylor's Vickers Steel Works and Hornby's Chemical works were overtaken in their flight from their flooded homes and were overcome by the rising tide. Thomas Gill was thus the flood's final tragic victim.' He had been on duty at the Chemical works, near Brightside Lane. Despite his cries, nobody was able to get to him in time because he was encompassed by 'a waste of waters boiling like the sea'. 'The swollen river swept its burden of bodies and wreckage through Rotherham, Mexbrough and on towards Doncaster where, shortly after ten on the Saturday morning, there was still enough water to spill over the banks and flood the cellars of nearby homes and to deposit its grisly cargo and household treasures for the locals to pick over.' (GFAS)

Geoffrey Amey writes:

' . . . the River Don had carried its cargo through Rotherham and on to Doncaster, which is 18 miles from Sheffield. At Rotherham, Police Sergeant Ireland noticed an 'extraordinary' rise in the level of the river at about 2.30 a.m. He was able to warn those living close to the banks and the sleepy eyed residents, more fascinated than frightened, tumbled out of bed and, having surveyed the scene, went back home to collect ropes and long poles. The reason for this was soon apparent: the water was bobbing with articles of all kinds and the inhabitants of Rotherham, some in boats, fished out what they could from the fast flowing river. Shouts of surprised joy greeted the capture of a table in reasonable condition or of a three legged chair that could be repaired. The body of a woman, in her nightdress (probably Elizabeth Trickett, of Malin Bridge), was hauled out, as were those of a young girl and a near naked man. The flood spread over hundreds of acres of low lying land before reaching Doncaster where the corpse of a woman, wearing earrings and a brass wedding ring, was recovered. It was hours before the Don returned to anything like its normal level.' (CDDD)

'The flood had run itself out, leaving in its wake widespread grief and destruction. In addition to the deaths and injuries, thousands were without homes or work. Some factories and shops never reopened; in a number of instances, nothing remained to reopen. Bodies were being found weeks afterwards, while others were never traced. In material terms, an accurate balance sheet was virtually impossible (although various valuations were attempted). In human terms, the damage was incalculable.' (CDDD)

Copyright © 2001 Michael Armitage

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