On the 11th March 1864 the then town of Sheffield suffered from a devastating flood which brought death and destruction. But what caused it?
Well in basic terms the dam wall at the Dale Dyke dam failed sending the contents of the newly constructed reservoir crashing down the valley straight for the town.
The Dale Dyke dam wall failed whilst it was being filed for the first time. The night the wall failed Sheffield was hit by a gale which caused the water to put excess pressure on the newly finished dam wall. The dam engineer John Gunson was onsite on the night of the collapse. It’s said that he noticed the crack and opened the values to reduce the pressure on the wall in an attempt to stop a collapse. However the wall failed and approximately 3 million cubic metres of water rushed out of the reservoir and into the Loxley valley. Now if you’re like me that figure means nothing but in terms of pints of beer that’s 5,279,261,959. The water swept through the north of the town from the west to the east. The flood hit the areas of Loxley, Malins Bridge and Hillsborough first following the path of the river Loxley. Loxley at the time actually wasn’t in Sheffield as the town hadn’t grown out that far yet. It was an industrial area down in the valley being home to several trip hammers and rolling mills. One was owned by the Chapman family. When the flood hit the mill and hammer were lost and 5 members of the family died along with around 12 other people in the area.
Hillsborough was next where around 42 people died as the water took everything in its path. The water then carried on down the river valley and the turned where the Loxley joins the river Don. This took the water straight towards the industrial areas of the city. For anyone who knows the city today that where Kelham Island museum and the Wicker Archers are. This took the water through Neepsend and Shalesmoor on towards Attercliffe. This area was highly populated at the time and so the loss of life was great.
In total the disaster claimed the lives of around 240 people of all ages. The youngest recorded death shows a baby Dawson of just 2 days old. Many of the victims were never found as the water took them away. Some bodies were even found the other side of Rotherham in the areas of Kilnhurst and Swinton some 14 miles away. Also the flood destroyed and damaging around 600 homes and washing away the houses contents. There was also the loss of animals and crops and infrastructure such as the bridges over the rivers Loxley and Don.
The people of the town has raised around £42,000 (around £2.5 million in today’s terms) to help those in need. Also an act of parliament meant that the people of the town could make claims against the Sheffield Water Company who had built the reservoir for loss of property and life as well as for injuries.
As always a court case ensued and John Gunson got the blame, although the water company stood by him and kept him in the company until he died. The dam was rebuilt in in the 1870’s and is still there today. If you want to go it’s near Bradfield on Strines Moor just of the A57 not far from the reservoirs in the Derwent Valley.
This is where the flood becomes kind of personal to me. My family lived around the Hillsborough area. In November of 1864 my 3 times great Grandparents Charles Beckett and Eliza Parkin married at St Philips church in Shalesmoor. The church obviously survived, but were they affected in any way. Did the loose friends? My research doesn’t indicate they lost any family and there are no familiar names in the lists of the dead which is part of the fantastic research carried out by Karen Lightowler in conjunction with Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Hallam University. You can see the research here: https://www2.shu.ac.uk/sfca/ . It is a fantastic resource. The claims section does show that Charles Becket did make a claim for loses though. He was a quarry man and claimed £13 (around £812 today) for loses of personal possession such as tables and chairs but also the tools he used in the quarry such as his hammers and picks. He was awarded only £9. Also there were claims made by who I believe to be my 4 times great Grandfather George Parkin and by 2 members of the Elshaw family who I must be related to as we are all descended from one man.
So the flood left a trail of devastation in its wake that would change the town and wiped out entire families such as the Chapmans who lost a mother, father and 3 sons. But out of the devastation it gave us genealogists and fantastic insight into our ancestor’s lives as we can read the claims for loses and get a feel for how they lived and how the flood impacted on our lives.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!