Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Flood stories reveal Mirfield’s past

Nostalgia: Easthorpe, Mirfield. Picture kindly loaned by Brenda Hurst.
Nostalgia: Easthorpe, Mirfield. Picture kindly loaned by Brenda Hurst.
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Every now and then I try to provide items of interest which our Mirfield readers may appreciate because I am aware they are sometimes neglected in this column.

But this is only because I don’t have much knowledge of the history of Mirfield, and certainly few photographs. If Mirfield people send me their history and their photographs I would be happy to use them.

Fortunately, Barbara Hurst, of Mirfield, has sent me five or six lovely photographs of old Mirfield, one of which is pictured above.

Mirfield and Dewsbury may not have a great deal in common these days, but years ago they shared an interest in many areas of life, mainly to do with the textile industry.

They also shared an interest in the River Calder and the canal which ran through both towns and brought prosperity and jobs for thousands of local people.

Sadly, It also brought devastation when the Calder broke its banks during heavy rainfall and flooded the neighbourhood - one of the worst floods being the Great Flood of 1866, which caused great devastation in both Dewsbury and Mirfield.

In the past I have written about the affects this had on Dewsbury, but did not mention how it had affected neighbouring Mirfield.

This week I have tried to rectify this omission by searching through the files for 1866 to report on what happened in Mirfield.

It was this time of year - October - when the heavy rains which caused the flood, fell on the Calder Valley.

Six people perished in the flood which swept through Dewsbury, but the one consoling thought in Mirfield was that it had passed through their town without one single person losing their life.

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The Ship Inn was entirely inundated with water during the flood, and in the flooding the thick flagstones of one of the cottages were torn up and thrown in a heap.

Eleven little pigs were rescued from a flooded stye, and carried upstairs into the bedroom.

The sow was left to take care of herself, and when the water subsided she was found standing on her hind legs, with her forefeet holding on by a ledge, and her nose was just out of the water, she having saved her life by this expedient.

Two broad boats were left on a field high and dry, but they were got off again and re-launched.

The flood also made havoc of an old family mansion, Broad Oaks, the residence of the late Mr Stancliffe.

The water rose 6ft 6ins above the level of the road, and the lower rooms in the house were filled to the height of 2ft 6ins.

Twenty five yards of wall, distant from the river by 100 yards, were washed down, and an old man, who has lived on the premises 47 years, stated that he had never before seen water enter these premises.

Cote Wall Bridge had been nearly carried away and the supports were all but demolished.

The lodge at the entrance of the grounds was almost submerged, only the roof being visible during the flood.

The pavement was torn up, and the embankment gave way, and the wall bounding the property of Charles Wheatley Esq, showed fearful signs of the power of the flood.

Large stones, some weighing nearly half a ton, were carried some distance over the field.

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The premises of Messrs. Day and Son suffered considerably - the flood carried down part of the goit wall, and rushed with fearful violence through the mill yard.

A broad-wheeled waggon had been placed across the entrance to prevent goods being floated away, but it was tossed about like a play thing.

The extraordinary flood had not been confined to the river and canal. The rainfall was immense, and the drains were quite inadequate to it.

In the neighbourhood of Towngate there was quite a stream, and the little brooklet that flowed through the pinfield and thence through the park at Blake Hall, was like a river.

Behind the hall a wall had to be broke through to allow the water free scope to prevent the stacks being flooded.

But it increased in such a volume in front of the hall that it swept down 50 yards of the strong and mortar-built wall that bounded the park.

The turnpike was impassable and pedestrians were permitted to go through the park, through the kindness of Mrs Ingham.

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The most exciting event of the flood in Mirfield was the rescuing of Mrs Armitage and her five children.

Her husband, Joseph Armitage, who worked at Mr J H Wheatley’s mill, was engaged all day at the mill, and was unaware of the unfortunate plight of his family.

Mr Armitage and William Wildsmith occupied the two cottages facing the river near the corn mill.

On the morning of the flood, Mrs Armitage had kneaded a bowl full of dough, but the water rose so rapidly it began to enter the cottage, compelling her to leave her kitchen and take refuge upstairs with her five children.

All communication was soon cut off, as the flood rose higher and still higher. She lighted a fire in the bedrooms with what little coal she had been able to collect, hoping that the water would soon subside.

But it continued to rise, and when evening came, the cottage door had broken away with the force of the flood, while her furniture was floating about.

At about 7pm, a crowd which had collected on the canal bridge, were alarmed at hearing cries of distress coming from the cottage, and some individuals resolved, at all risk, to attempt their rescue.

By this time, the poor woman had no more food for her children, the fire had nearly burnt out, she had no candles, and the flood was increasing.

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The rescue was attempted by Matthias Bickers and George Naylor who waded through the water to the back of the house and got on to the roof.

After some great difficulty, a ladder was let down into the flood below and they managed to get on to it.

The children were brought out one by one and placed on the ridge of the roof - the little things holding on to each other, and the little infant being laid in the midst of them.

Finally the mother was lifted out, which was a work of some difficulty, as the windows were old mullioned ones, and very small.

Other assistance arrived and the whole family were carried through the stream to a neighbour’s house, where they obtained shelter for the night.

The cottage next door suffered in like manner, the water rising in the house to the height of 40 inches, floating the furniture about.

Mr and Mrs Wildsmith, the occupants, had also taken refuge upstairs, but were without either fire or light and were compelled to spend the dismal night in fearful uncertainty, the screams of their neighbour, and the roar of the water, having raised their alarm to a fearful pitch.

Another cottage adjoining, occupied by the maker of “Dewsbury Humbugs”, had water in it nearly five feet high, and he had about £5 worth of sweetstuff spoiled.

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Readers who are not aware of local history, may be interested to know that the mention of Matthias Bickers, who helped in the rescue, was one of the founders of Bickers Department store in Dewsbury.

The Mrs Ingham, referred to as living at Blake Hall, belonged to the Ingham family who owned Combs Colliery in Thornhill.

The firm “Dewsbury Humbugs”, which was mentioned, could well have been the forerunner of what became Bullocks sweet factory in Dewsbury.

But I could be wrong on that and will need to do further research. Bullocks was the firm which made the first stick of Blackpool rock.