holmfirth floods guide

Holmfirth Floods 1738 – 1944

Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852 Holmfirth Flood 1852

The Holme Valley has always been susceptible to flooding, with the earliest recorded flood dating back to 1738 in which severe rainstorms caused the River Holme to burst its banks and flood the valley. Luckily on that occasion damage was limited to farmland and no lives were lost.

But on 5th February 1852 the Holme Valley and indeed Holmfirth experienced the worst flood in its History.

The Bilberry reservoir was built in 1840 over a stream that had not been properly diverted, because of this the reservoir wall was weakened over the years. Following nearly a fortnight of storms and heavy rain, on 5th February 1852, the reservoir banks broke releasing 86 million gallons of water down the River Holme, down the Holme Valley and into Holmfirth.

The force of the water swetp away Mills, cottages, animals and people, even tearing up graves in the graveyard at Holmebridge.

In total the flood caused some 81 deaths, destroyed included four mills, ten dye houses, three drying stoves, 27 cottages, seven tradesmen’s houses, seven shops, seven bridges crossing the River Holme, ten warehouses, eight barns and stables.

An inquiry after the disaster concluded that the reservoir was “defective in its original construction” and that “the Commissioners, in permitting the Bilberry reservoir to remain in a dangerous state with the full knowledge thereof, and not lowering the waste pit, have been guilty of great and culpable negligence”.

A Wall of Water – The Tragic past of Holmfirth’s Summer Wine Town

Here’s the first 7 minutes of a documentary that looks in detail at the terrifying floods that ransacked the town in 1944. Rarely seen photos taken at the time are featured alongside interviews with eyewitnesses.

The full DVD is available to purchased on Amazon or quite possibly from The Tourist Information Centre in Holmfirth (please do call first to make sure they currently stock it).

Here are two eyewitness accounts from the floods of 1852 and 1944:

Holmfirth Flood of 1852 – Story 1

Once in 1852 Mrs Pots the waiter who worked in the elephant and castle was just going to sleep.  But just as she closed her eyes she heard a big bang!!! She went to look and she couldn’t believe her eyes because the street was full of water.

So she went to the kitchen table and broke the top off it and then the water gushed in through the window and she climbed on the table top and floated out the window. When the flood was over she went to the pub where she worked and it was wrecked, the walls, tables, every single thing and it took along time to repair the pub.

Holmfirth Flood of 1944 – Story 2

On Whit Monday May 29th 1944 after a hot, sunny afternoon a sudden storm with a violent cloudburst at about 6:30pm caused the Bilberry reservoir to burst its embankments again. It released even more water than in the 1852 flood and had a devastating effect along the Holme valley and into Holmfirth.

Some people were returning to their homes after the Whit Monday processions and singing in Victoria Park, others were in the local Valley Theatre when a flood warning flashed onto the screen.

Bridges were washed away, shops and other buildings were damaged or swept away.  Thirteen factories were seriously damaged and 107 people had to be evacuated from their homes.  Three people lost their lives.

The river in Holmfirth rose to a height of 18 feet.

Holmfirth Flood of 1944 – Story 3

On Thursday Sarah’s grandma came to visit us. She talked to us about the flood and she told us her story. She was in her house. Suddenly it started to rain very heavily. An old lady was having trouble getting out of the house.

A boy named Geoffery Riley came out to her rescue. Geoffrey’s dad saw that he was having trouble and he went to help. Suddenly the rain stopped and they all got swept away. Geoffery’s dad and the old lady drowned but a man spotted Geoffery’s hand and threw a rubber pipe in to rescue him. He got awarded.

Holmfirth Flood Timeline 1738 – 1944:

1738: Heavy rain caused the River Holme to burst its banks causing flooding in the Holme Valley. Damage was limited to farmland and no lives were lost.

1777: The River Holme burst its banks again on Wednesday 21 July 1777 following more severe weather. A stone church built in 1476 was swept away and 3 people drowned in the flood. The following year money raised from local clothiers helped to rebuild the church.

1852: The Bilberry reservoir burst its banks due to severe weather and faults in the reservoirs wall. 81 people died in the flood with countless homes destroyed by the flood.

1944: On Whit Monday, 29 May 1944, a severe thunderstorm and flash floods caused the deaths of 3 people in the Holme Valley. Due to reporting restrictions in place because of World War II, it was not widely reported and was overshadowed by the invasion of Normandy a week later. This led to some confusion as to the exact cause of the flood but it was confirmed that Bilberry reservoir was not to blame. It was suggested that the reservoir prevented the flood from being more severe. German prisoners of war, housed in the area, assisted with the rescue of local residents and property. There was extensive damage to properties in the valley: 17 mills, 61 shops and 109 homes were flooded.

The names featured on the following three panels are those of the three young children who died in the floods on Hollowgate in Holmfirth (where these panels are) in 1944. Lydia Ann Fearnes, Alfred Ashall and Charles Thorpe.

Missing People

The following is believed to be the nearest approach to a correct list of the missing persons which has yet been made out:
Holmfirth 1852 List of missing persons

Old Photo’s taken at the time of the Floods

Photo gallery of the damage caused by flood through cloudburst on Whit-Monday, May 29th 1944.

7 Comments on “Holmfirth Floods 1738 – 1944

  1. How tragic! Let’s hope that this never happens again. Holmfirth is too lovely a town for such events. Better that it should always be a happy place!

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  2. I remember the flood quite well. I was just five years old and marching with my Holmfirth Wesley Sunday School fellows in the Whitsuntide parade after the Sing in Victoria Park. I remember being ushered along with other children into the Liberal (Conservative?) club at the top of Victoria Street as the river rose, destroying Wallaces and other shops on the bridge at the bottom of the street.

    However, Bilberry did not burst its banks as it had in the previous flood in the 19th century.

    The photos you have on this site are Trevor Bray’s. Not sure whether he’s still alive now, as I’ve been living in Canada for the past 53 years.

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  3. I was a evacuee at I think THE BANK HOUSE,in dunford bridge in the care of mr and mrs roebuck who took me to holmfirth some time after the 1944 flood. being only 6 years old all I remember was filthy sludge, broken brickwork scattered about and the most horrid smell. I did hear at the time of a father and son drowning there. I now find that was not exactly correct.

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  4. Sadly, Trevor Bray died a few years ago. He took some lovely photos of our Wedding. We are friends of his wife, Jean.

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  5. The list of missing people for the 1852 flood (from the “Manchester Guardian”) contains quite a few errors, e.g. Matthew Fearns was pulled alive from the water by Joseph Barrowclough and no-one with the surname Kaye was killed.

    The exact number of people who died in the 1852 flood is a little uncertain. It’s regularly quoted at 81, but that seems to be the total including the identified bodies, the unidentified bodies, plus the list of 14 people still missing at the start of the inquest (the latter list likely included some of the unidentified). As entire families were wiped out, some of the bodies of the children weren’t formally identified before burial, so still appeared in the list of missing.

    In the weeks after the flood, the Huddersfield newspapers identified 79 people believed to have been killed. By July 1852, when the decomposed body of James Metterick was recovered near Castleford, the “Huddersfield Chronicle” gave the figure as 80. A commemorative sheet listing the names of the dead, published by printer Joseph Crosland of Holmfirth in 1852, gives the total at 78.

    The three victims of the 1944 flood were Donald Riley (of Spring Leigh, Woodhead Road), Mrs. W. Schofield (of Towngate, Holmfirth) and Miss Maud Wimpenny (aged 76 of Victoria, Holmfirth).

    Donald and his son Geoffrey tried to save Miss Wimpenny, but sadly Donald perished in the attempt. In recognition of his bravery, Geoffrey was awarded the Albert Medal and later the George Cross:


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  6. I remember the time of the floods very well, even though I did not live near Holmfirth, (where my mother was born), because just after the flood, my mother took me to see one of her aunts, who was Maggie Hill nee Thewlis, a sister of my grandfather and married to Lewis Hill, a farmer at Lee Farm. We were not sure we would ever get there but in the end we got a bus to Jackson Bridge and walked up from there. We saw a lot of the damage in the town centre. I was only 9 years old and I found it quite scary seeing all the damaged houses and shops

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  7. In 1944, I was only 3 years old but can vaguely remember the devastation the flood had caused. We were probably at the Whitsuntide Sing and Parade and most likely went home to higher ground where we lived up South Lane. Yes, lets hope it never happens again but I am sure if there is any sign of recurrence the authorities will be better prepared than they were in 1944. I also live in Canada but miss my hometown every day.

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