Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury's dramatic Great Flood of 1925

Men and women were swept off their feet

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 9:44 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 10:19 am

Margaret Watson writes: There were many times in Dewsbury’s history when prolonged rainfall resulted in the town being severely flooded.

Over the years many great storms and incessant rain would cause the River Calder and the underground Batley Beck to burst their banks.

The worst flood was in 1866 which resulted in the loss of five lives, but there were other floods equally severe but fortunately with no fatalities.

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BRADFORD ROAD: Two young men have a bit of fun in their home-made boat as the flood water was receding

In future columns I hope to write of some of these, but I am starting this week with the Great Flood of 1925.

This one caused widespread destruction, especially in Batley Carr, and it was an event which people would talk about for many years afterwards.

It started on the afternoon of May 25 when the heavens literally opened and the town was deluged by monsoon rains and hailstones as big as walnuts.

Bradford Road was described as a gushing river, two feet in depth, rushing along at a furious rate, knocking pedestrians and cyclists to the ground.

The rainfall was phenomenal, and there were terrific flashes of lightning, followed by tremendous crashes of thunder.

This district had seen many severe storms before.

But the torrential downpour and the equally remarkable fall of hailstones, made this one exceptional in the extreme.

Batley was hit worst, suffering rainfall which was equivalent to 106 tonnes of water to the acre and gigantic hailstones smashing windows as well as injuring those who hadn’t had time to shelter.

In one hour something like 350,000 tonnes of water fell upon the town and heavy winds played havoc with trees and shrubs.

In Batley Carr, cellars were flooded, many walls collapsed and allotments washed away, including the hen huts with the hens still inside.

The flow of water surging through the streets was so strong it swept able-bodied men and women off their feet.

There were many alarming scenes of people being carried some distance down the “rivers”, some of whom were being totally submerged.

The Workhouse at Staincliffe was flooded after Fox’s Dam burst, and 14 babies under the age of three had to be rescued from the nursery.

The sewers and drains, unable to take the volume of water rushing down the valley towards the Calder, flooded the cellars of shops and licensed premises in the town centre.

The flood was at its height just as the workpeople from the numerous factories and workshops on Bradford Road were leaving work at 5.15pm, and astonishing scenes were witnessed.

At that time a powerful force of water, 12 to 18 inches deep, was rushing down the whole width of the thoroughfare, and all the time it was overflowing into the premises on either side of the road.

A considerable number of the men, some of whom removed their boots and stockings, were able to wade knee deep through the water.

Many of the mill girls followed this example and, walking arm in arm, managed to cross the stream in safety.

There were many instances where parties of men carried the womenfolk and children across the stream to a place of safety.

Several firms in the locality brought out their motor lorries and horse-drawn wagons to convey their workpeople, and others, across Bradford Road.

Other wagons also helped ferry hundreds more across, and one or two enterprising carriers did a good “ferry business” by charging a penny a passenger.

Most of the factories on Bradford Road sustained great loss to stock and materials, and quantities of finished cloth were rendered useless.

With the storm breaking with such suddenness, and the rain descending with such severity, mill owners and shopkeepers had no chance to prepare for it.

Waves swept from the Batley end, and the water, to the depth of several feet, rushed into mill warehouses and dwellings.

A sturdy wall at the top of Victoria Street was swept flat by the weight of water, and both this street and King Street were quickly awash, and loose paving stones on Town Street were ripped up.

The water stayed in the hollow of Bradford Road for many hours, and considerable damage was reported from the surrounding mills. Weaving sheds and engine houses were deluged, motive power was cut off and workpeople had great difficulty in gaining places of safety.

Men waded up to the waist in the vicinity of the mills of Fenton’s and Newsome’s, and journeyed to and fro carrying women and girls to dry ground.

Extensive damage was caused in the Springfield area where water got into one house to such a depth that the sideboard was floating, and practically everything was ruined.

All along Bradford Road, from Edwin Box’s motor garage to the Crown and Cushion Hotel, every basement was flooded.

Occupants had to rescue their belongings the best way they could, working in many cases far into the night by the aid of candles.

Other severe floods followed this one and many businesses went bankrupt because of ruined stock and orders lost.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the local authority bravely took the decision to do something about these recurring floods.

They undertook a massive and costly flood alleviation scheme which has since helped keep Dewsbury relatively dry.

It involved the Calder having to be dredged, widened and deepened from the bridge by the Anchor pub, along past where Wickes is now situated.

The massive Batley Beck was also cut through under the roundabout which used to be in front of the town hall.

However, not all floods in this area were caused by the Calder breaking its banks.

Some were as a result of thunder storms and torrential rain on high ground.

One occurred in Thornhill in 1848 which proved that living at the top of a hill far away from the Calder wouldn’t save you from floods.

In future columns I hope to write about this particular storm, as well as other severe floods in the district.

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