Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Great Thornhill flood of 1848

Dewsbury and Mirfield have suffered a great deal over the years from floods and storms, one of the worst being in Thornhill in 1848.

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 29th June 2022, 3:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th June 2022, 3:16 pm

Margaret Watson writes: Such was the violence of the water that fell, some tombstones in Thornhill churchyard were literally driven from where they stood and some of the coffins exposed.

The following is a vivid account of the storm as it appeared in Dorothy Nuttall’s book A History of Thornhill.

Large angry-looking clouds began to darken the atmosphere and continued to enlarge until about 10am when distant peals of thunder were distinctly heard.

FLOOD: Workmen try to remove hailstones which covered some parts of Dewsbury town centre in 1912 following a severe thunderstorm. They are seen shovelling them out of the garage of Box Brothers on Crackenedge Lane.

As the hour of 11am approached, the flashes of lightning became more vivid, and seemed to emanate from two or three points of the heavens at one and the same time.

Before 12pm the rain began to descend in very large drops, and anon there poured down torrents of hail and rain, the lightning flashing and the thunder roaring in a manner tremendously awful.

Thus it continued until near 3pm when there was a slight abatement in the hail and rain, but only, as it were, to gather strength for a more violent and fearful elemental strife.

About 3.30pm, the storm began to rage and as if on fury bent, it exceeded its former violence and became indeed terrific. When there was an interval of a moment between the incessant peals of thunder, the sound of the descending hail and rain was truly awful and the rush of water down the various watercourses resembled the noise of some mighty cataract.

Such was the violence of the waters, some of the tombstones were literally driven from the places upon which they stood and some of the coffins, which contained the ashes of the silent dead, were exposed to view.

The water as it increased in quantity began to find its way into the church in which the reverend gentleman was holding divine service at the time. Being pent up at the bottom by the fence wall, it flowed backwards into the chancel through the chancel doorway.

It also ran in a stream through the western doorway and down the aisle, meeting the other stream in the chancel so that in a short time a large quantity of water collected in the sacred edifice.

The water now reached the top of the wall adjoining the road, and so great was the pressure that the wall was unable to bear the weight, and it gave way before the service closed.

At this point, the pent up water rushed with terrific force across the road and fell with full force against the wall and doors leading to the rectory. These doors, although large in size and strongly made, were literally broken to pieces and the large stone gate-post driven down.

Down rushed the water thickened with hail down to the rectory, and the person left in charge of the house, hearing an unusual noise, opened the door to ascertain the cause and thus made way for the house being filled with water.

She narrowly escaped injury, but the house now presented an appearance which could not easily be described.

A solid bed of hailstones was lodged in one room from five feet in thickness, and the cellars were so filled that it took weeks of labour to restore them to their former state.

The rectory was quite unfit for habitation, and the Reverend and Mrs Torre had to stay with friends.

It was months before house and grounds were restored.

Nearly 100 years later, in 1935 there was a similar amazing storm in Mirfield, the like of which local people had never seen before, and one which was terrifying in the extreme.

On that day in April, the sky turned black and suddenly it seemed day had turned into night, and torrential rain fell non-stop, hour upon hour.Lightning flashed vividly throughout the day, and thunder came in continuous deafening peals, and in the midst of it all hailstones crashed down and snow started falling.

This never-to-be-forgotten storm varied between conditions of almost tropical intensity and Arctic severity.

Roads were turned into rivers by thousands of tons of water being released in a big burst which could have been likened to a cloudburst.

The storm broke over Upper Hopton and continued throughout the afternoon until early evening, and for an hour it was a pure thunderstorm.

Lightning flashed vividly, thunder came in long drawn-out volleys, and for a time the rain was torrential.

At about 3.30pm, snow and hail started to fall, and continued falling for an hour, the fall being so thick that snow was still lying in the fields until late at night.

The thunder and lightning continued for five hours, and at night there were unprecedented scenes in the district of Lower Hopton.

The Vicar of Upper Hopton, the Reverend H N Myers, likened the visitation to tropical storms which he had experienced while serving in Jamaica and Panama.

“It was not at all like an English storm,” he said.

“The sky was almost pitch black and from about 3pm it was one mass of forked lightning.

“The roads leading to Lower Hopton were like many rivers, and when the rain turned to snow we could dimly see the white-topped roofs of the houses lower down.”

When the deluge was at its height, water roared its way down Hopton Lane, sweeping at a depth of 18 inches over the full width of the lane.It uprooted setts and even flagstones, leaving holes in the pavement into which ordinary-sized barrels could have been put.

The worst flooding occurred in the neighbourhood of Chadwick Fold, Chadwick Lane and at Calder Road, by the Bridge Hotel.

The water raced down the hillsides sweeping away nearly everything in its path, ploughing up gardens.

No wonder residents would talk about this terrific storm for many years afterwards.

Read More

Read More
Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Honouring Dewsbury’s finest