Samuel Tymms once recorded: ‘On September 7, 1771 the Tyne rose six feet higher than had been known for some years, and inundated Newcastle and the whole of its banks, doing a good deal of injury.
The bridge was washed away, and many persons drowned. The rivers Wear, Tees, and Eden also overflowed. In 1815: Another great flood of the Tyne, similar to that of the year 1771, and almost as disastrous’ (1).
His account complimented that of John Sykes, who recorded events of 1833: ‘The flood in the river Wear, was nearly as violent as that in the river Tyne; Frosterley, Wolsingham, and Witton bridges, were all destroyed. The water at Durham was eight feet ten inches higher than ever known before; two houses at the end of Framwellgate bridge, with all the furniture, were entirely swept away; one of the Abbey mills, and the bridge belonging to the dean and chapter were carried away, as were four arches of Elvet bridge, and all the lower buildings of the city, garden walls, cic., either destroyed or left in a ruinous condition
At Barnard-castle, the Tees was so high that the arch on the Yorkshire side of the bridge not being large enough to contain so great a quantity of water, the battlement was forced down, and the water took its course along the street, drove away the causeway, washed away the soil down to the rock and demolished eight dwelling houses, so that not one stone was left upon another. The ground was so swept away that the end of the bridge was at least four yards higher than the rock, so that persons going into Yorkshire were obliged to go down a ladder’ (2).
These are accounts of vey substantial floods, for, at this period, many flood plains of rivers had not been built upon, and for them not to absorb flood waters points to the severity of the downpour.
These were not unusual accounts, as a trawl of history readily demonstrates. The year 1656 witnessed what was described as the General Deluge, which saw flooding of river systems from the Thames to the Humber. One account of 1682 tells a similar story: ‘This rain had not continued above an hour, but the streets of the City of London swam with water so high, that in many places boats might have rowed … At Hockley in the Hole, in the Parish of St. James’s Clerken-Well, it came down upon the Inhabitants like a sea, driving away all that opposed it … The River Trent likewise overflowed on the 25th of April, by reason of the land-flood that emptied into it, and by the effusion of waters, laid the meadows in a sea, the which being abated, a great number of goodly fish were found upom the dry Land’ (3).
May 18, 1722, in Yorkshire, witnessed what was called Rippon flood.
November 20, 1791, witnessed severe flooding of the river Don, near Doncaster, and the Derwent and Trent.
William White accounted for severe flooding in Yorkshire from 1775 onwards: Floods: — ‘The Aire has at various periods overflowed its banks and inundated some of the lower parts of the town, especially those on the south side of the river. One of the highest of these floods was on the 20th and 21st of October, 1775, when the bridges at Calverley and Swillington were destroyed, and a hare escaped by floating down the stream on the body of a drowned sheep. The height to which the water rose in Leeds, is commemorated by a notice at the corner of Water-lane. In December, 1790, another flood destroyed several bridges, and washed away Mr. Gilyard’s dyehouse, on Sheepscar-beck. On February 9th, 1795, a most destructive flood was produced by a rapid thaw and heavy rain; during which a boat was carried away from its moorings, and forced on its broad-side across one of the arches of the bridge, where it was broken to pieces by the forceof the ice and water; horses carts, timber, and furniture were carried away,and three men were drowned at Hunslet dam. Similar floods occurred in 1799,1806,1807,1816, and 1822. The most remarkable, though not the most destructive flood which has ever been known in the river Aire, was in 1824. On the night of Sept. 2nd, in that year, the inhabitants on the banks of the river were astonished to perceive it swelled in a few moments to a very considerable height, by a frightful accumulation of black water, which prevented the dyehouses and similar establishments from working, destroyed the fish in the river, and inflicted immense damage in its irresistible course. This strange inundation was produced by the sudden discharge of a vast quantity of peaty water from the bog on the summit of Crow-hill, about nine miles from Keighlcy, and six from Colne. An area of bog three quarters of a mile in circumference, sunk the depth of from four to six yards, and the flood which was thus distaarged rolled down the valley to Keighley with a terrible noise and violence. Stones of a vast size and weight were carried down by the stream more than a mile, corn fields were covered, and bridges were damaged, but happily no life was lost. A dreadful thunder storm raged at the time when the water descended from the moor, and the inundation was no doubt caused by the electric influence, or the agency of a waterspout, by whch the accumulation of ages was liberated in a moment, and precipitated into the valley below. In 1829, there was a yet more destructive flood in Leeds. At Blackhill, near Addle, there was a large reservoir occupying an extent of from twenty to twenty-five acres, and formed by the natural inequality of the ground and a large embankment at the east end about fifteen feet high. This reservoir was situated at the head of the stream known nearer Leeds by the name of Sheepscar-beck. On the evening of July II, the quantity of water in the reservoir had been materially increased by a heavy fall of rain during a thunder storm, and in the night the embankment gave way. The beck was in a moment increased to a mighty torrent; the fences, the walls, and bridges were carried away; the lands in the valley were covered and the mills by the bed of the stream were overwhelmed, and the goods they contained on their lower floors were either rained or carried away; the houses and cottages exposed to the inundation were deluged, their contents weft destroyed, and many a poor family lost all the clothing and furniture thet possessed in the world: in the neighbourhood of Timble-bridge and Eaststreet, great confusion was occasioned, and some of the inhabitants were in imminent danger of losing their lives, so that altogether this was by far the most calamitous flood that ever occurred in the neighbourhood of Leeds‘ (4)
An account of the flooding in December 1837 tells a similar tale: ‘The extremely heavy rain for two or three days preceeding this time, produced one of the highest and most sudden floods ever known in Yorkshire. In Leeds, Waterlane, School-close, and Lady Bridge, Lady-lane, suffered the most. The streets were rendered impassable. The water in some places being four or five feet high. The water in Messrs. Marshall’s mill, was thirteen inches higher than the level of Water-lane, much damage was done to property in the vicinity of the flood. At Bradford, Halifax, and other places the water did much damage. At Bradford, on Wednesday, the 20th of December, the rain descended in torrents for six or eight hours, and this, with the almost incessant rain for several days, caused a most alarming flood. The water in the beck had increased so considerably that the inhabitants in the lower parts of the town began to remove their goods. About two o’clock, the passage being choked up, the water shortly overflowed the whole of the lower part of the town. One continuous and impetuous current flowed from the end of Thornton-road, down Tyrrel-street, over the area of the Sun Bridge, Bridgestreet, Market-street, and Well-street; and reaching up the hill as far as Hustler-gate on one side, and Skinner-lane on the other. In many parts of the streets the stream was six feet in depth, From the Old Brewery, not only an immense number of empty casks, but several barrels of ale were swept away. At one time, a waggon laden with wood was seen majestically floating down the stream. The loss of property, especially by grocers, in the lower part of the town was very great. Three persons perished in the flood, Thomas Keeton, head ostler at the Sun Inn, while attempting to save some floating casks, slipped into a water course in Union-street, and was drowned’ (5).
The journal of the Royal Agricultural Society (1856) gave an account of 1853, and an opinion of a cause of the severity of flooding: ‘The Thame stream, which runs through the Vale of Aylesbury, is getting from bad to worse every year; in some places the bed of the river is entirely silted up, and, in addition to the other evils, that new pest of our rivers, the Anacharis alsinastrum (water weed), has found its way into all the branches and dykes of the Thame. In the summer of 1853, large quantities of hay, so valuable in this district, were spoiled, flooded, or washed clean away. There appears to be no system whatever of keeping up the banks, clearing the stream of obstructions, and cutting the weeds. If all this was properly attended to, the millers would have a more regular supply of water, and summer floods would cease. As it is, the least excess of rain in a wet summer season sends the water from the narrow, irregular, and partially blocked-up channel, over the adjoining meadows, to the serious injury or total destruction of the grass-crop. The same remarks apply, in a less degree, to the Ouse. No care is taken to confine the water within the river-banks, or to free the land rapidly from floods. The dykes are seldom properly trimmed or scoured, and in the neighbourhood of Olney are so grown up that cattle can easily ford them, and pass from one meadow to another. The little river Ray, which derives its supply of water mainly from landsprings or surface-water, in the winter of 1853 flooded the neighbouring Otmoor country for nearly six months. During the last summer it was, in parts, perfectly dry, and cattle which pastured on its banks had to be watered at a very considerable distance’ (4).
And so on and so on. The accounts of severe flooding over every century in Britain are numerous. An account of January 19, 1295, tells of a massive storm and heavy rain that ruined all the winter seed.
The ongoing problem of flooding and potential remedies were not lost on Georgians, as William Marshall wrote: ‘If the (river) banks be set upon the immediate brink, as in general they are, they become liable to be injured by the smallest deviation of the River. But if the lines of embankment be run at a proper distance from the river, as ten, twenty, or thirty yards, the Banks andt he shores are placed out of danger from the river; and a greater area being left for the water of floods to spread over, their rise will be proportionably less, and the requisite height of bank will of course be lessened in the same proportion.
Theory may conceive a waste of land by this means; but experience shews that such an apprehension is ill-grounded. The embankment is equally beneficial to the land it encloses, and to that it shuts out from the river. The enriched waters of floods, now consined by the banks, deposit on the inclosed slips the whole of those particles which hitherto they had scattered over an extent of country. By this means the swamps and hollows of the slips are presently silled up; and in time the entire surface is raised. I have observed an instance of this kind in which the ground on the river-side of the bank has been raised near a foot above the natural level of the ground on the other side of it. These slips, if of sufficient width, are singularly well adapted to the purpose of ozier beds: and are eligible pasture grounds’ (6).
When modern day politicians tell you that we are experiencing unprecedented flooding due to ‘climate change’ they are either ignorant or are lying.
Large scale, severe flooding has been a feature of the British landscape since time immemorial.
We have allowed rivers and their tribuatories to become silted up.
We allow the farming of every inch of land near rivers.
We leave rivers uncleared of weed and debris.
We continue to build on flood plains.
In an avaricious use of land, we have not built banks to rivers 50 metres from the river, and planted these slipways with (water-absorbing) willow trees, and linked them to culverts which drain into artificial lakes.
The flooding of the Foss by the Ouse in York was a direct result of a failure to stop flood water reaching York from higher up in the river system. It was not the failure of a pump. That is like saying a sticky plaster has come off in the shower.
We have not built dams, first suggested for the Somerset Levels in the 1830’s.
What we have done is allow politicians tell us: ‘we are being beaten by this relentless rain’ , as if this is a new problem! We are told that the government has to be fair in the distribution of ‘flood money’. Leeds is to receive £40 million, we are told, the equivalent of buying three MQ9 unmanned drones. This can be compared to the Department for International Development spending more than £100 million providing flood aid for foreign countries in 2015.
It’s all about lies and sticky plasters.
I would dearly like to put it down to ignorance, but it is difficult to imagine that our rulers are not aware of our country’s long standing flood problems, and the simple solutions.
lenin nightingale 2015
(1) Samuel Tymms, The Family Topographer: The northern circuit: Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, p. 31, 1837.
(2) John Sykes, Local records: or, Historical register of remarkable events, p. 289, 1833.
(3) ‘England’s Most dreadful Calamity By the late Floods, caused by the Unparalleled Rain’, 1682.
(4) William White, History, gazetteer, and directory, of the west-riding of Yorkshire, p. 501, 1837.
(5) John Mayhall, The Annals of Yorkshire, p. 451, 1861.
(6) William Marshall, The Rural Economy of Yorkshire, vol. 1., p. 226, 1788.