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A Short History of Sheffield Flood

"On Friday, March 11, 1864, exactly at midnight ... An overwhelming Flood swept down from an enormous reservoir at Bradfield, carrying away houses, mills, bridges, and manufactories, destroying property variously estimated at from half a million to two millions sterling in value, and causing the loss of about two hundred and fifty human lives."

So wrote Samuel Harrison, a local journalist, in his book A Complete History of the Great Flood at Sheffield, published in 1864. His aim was to "furnish a consecutive, authentic, and original narrative of the Flood and its incidents" as he felt the accounts that had appeared in the newspapers did not give the true and complete story. The book also includes lists of the dead and missing, an account of the inquest, and illustrations taken from photographs.

Photographs below: left "The devastation at Wisewood" right Malcolm Nunn with the headstone of his ancestor, William Horsfield.

The devastation at Wisewood Malcolm Nunn with the headstone of his ancestor, William Horsfield

William Horsfield, a workman employed by the Water Company, was the first to notice a crack in the side of the embankment. Mr Fountain, one of the contractors, and various workmen, neighbours and others connected to the construction of the reservoir, then took lanterns to examine the crack, but the general opinion was that there was no immediate danger. However, it was decided that John Gunson, the Water Company's chief engineer, should be sent for:

"Mr Fountain sent his son, Stephenson Fountain, on horseback to Sheffield, to tell Mr Gunson to come to the reservoir as soon as possible, as there was a crack in the embankment; and off the young man rode as fast as the darkness of the night, the fury of the tempest, and the mountainous nature of the road would permit."

Stephenson then gained renown as having saved several people by alerting them to the danger. Stephenson Fountain's family later emigrated to Australia. He married and had five children, dying in 1912 aged 65. Several 'Rural Links' buses in South Yorkshire are named after local people, including Stephenson Fountain!

The following pictures show the bus named after Stephenson Fountain and the dedication plaque inside the bus.

Stephenson Fountain - the bus! Old colours Dedication plaque inside the bus Stephenson Fountain - the bus - New colours!

Samuel Harrison describes the scene the morning after the flood:

"How changed is now the aspect of the valley! There is the reservoir, which last night was nearly full; but now it is almost empty, and in the embankment is a great chasm, as though an earthquake had parted it asunder. Rocks and trees are torn up; houses have utterly disappeared; roads are swept away and impassable; bridges have vanished; and the works of industry have been "blotted out and rased" as completely as though they had never had any existence."

Some of the bodies were found a great distance away, including several at Doncaster, twenty-seven miles from the reservoir.

Below: "Ruins at Malin Bridge"

Ruins at Malin Bridge

The Great Sheffield Flood was one of the biggest man-made disasters in British history, although there are many people in the Sheffield area today who have never heard of it. The Flood was in the national newspapers at the time and Samuel Harrison tells us about the interest in it at the time:

"The number of visitors to the various scenes which we have mentioned was perfectly enormous. All day on Saturday, and again all day on Sunday, a continuous stream of people poured in the direction of Hillsbro' and Malin Bridge. Many came by railway from great distances. ... It was some weeks before the excitement and interest died away. The visitors all expressed their astonishment at the effects of the flood. ... The photographers were busy at all the most picturesque parts, and have produced faithful representations of many objects of interest."

Below: Visitors at the scene of Sheffield Flood, with the photographer's cart in the background.

Visitors at the scene of Sheffield Flood, with the photographer's cart in the background.

There are several websites devoted to different aspects of the flood, some of which are listed on the links page.

The following pictures show the "CLOB" stone - Centre Line Old Bank - one of four stones which mark the line of the original reservoir embankment, and the view across Dale Dyke Reservoir today.

Stone marking Centre Line Old Bank View across Dale Dyke Reservoir today



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