Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: The Dewsbury floods of 1946

Last week’s photograph showing the Playhouse cinema surrounded by flood water in 1946 has created some interest among readers.

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 8:22 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 8:25 am
SAVILE ROAD: Two buses struggle through the flood water at the height of the 1946 flood as they try to make their way back to the depot on Mill Street East
SAVILE ROAD: Two buses struggle through the flood water at the height of the 1946 flood as they try to make their way back to the depot on Mill Street East

Margaret Watson writes: This photograph, taken on the same day, will certainly arouse the interest of those who still remember the devastation this flood caused.

The two buses are seen at the height of the flood struggling on Savile Road trying to make their way to the depot on Mill Street East, Savile Town.

With a magnifying glass you can see the sign on the left of the Savile Hotel, sadly now no longer with us, and also the familiar double-decker ‘A’ bus whose route was from Batley to Thornhill.

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It is more difficult to make out the letter on the single decker, but it looks like the letter ‘L’, in which case it would have been a bus for learner drivers.

If that was the case, I’d think the learner driver concerned could well have been put off driving buses for life!

Mills were forced to close and buses couldn’t get through to take workers home to the worst affected areas in Savile Town, Thornhill Lees and Ravensthorpe.

Aldams Road was impassable but worst hit was in the vicinity of Mill Street East and Mill Street West.

The water swept down from the Old Anchor Inn like a torrent and formed what onlookers described as a second river.

All kinds of goods, including cattle, were borne along by the murky waters and a motor car was completely turned round by the force of rushing water.

Many tried to brave the floods but found themselves almost up to their necks in water.

Two police officers who had set off from Dewsbury with a boat on a fire engine tender were themselves marooned in Savile Town. They had hoped to float the boat to rescue those stranded but they had to abandon the idea when it capsized in the heavy current prevailing at the time.

On Wharfe Street, 44-year-old George Wright clung to a lamp post as the waters swirled round him, but was later assisted to safety by William Tillyson, of Savile Road.

A lorry loaded with coal got stuck fast on Forge Lane.

The driver, 33-year-old Alfred Hanson, had to take off his clothes and swim to safety.

Other lorries and cars attempted to force their way through but were marooned and their occupants could be heard shouting for help.

Dewsbury people seemed to respond with great calm, because it was after all just a year after the end of the war and they were quite used to living with danger and dealing with emergencies.

The whole of the town centre was flooded and according to one report, the buses in the bus station took on the appearance of amphibious landing craft.

For a time the bus drivers battled with the torrents, but finally, for reasons of safety, had to give up the struggle.

Work people from Messrs Wormald and Walker’s were conveyed through the floods by horse and cart to the bottom of Fall Lane, and later when the water became deeper a boat had to be used.

Lover’s Walk in Thornhill Lees resembled a scene after an earthquake with steel tubular railings being lifted from their sockets and the path torn up.

A crowd of onlookers gathered at Cleggford Bridge in Thornhill Lees, but police had to clear them because of the danger of rising flood waters.

Police also had the unusual job of having to remove the body of a man from a house near Dewsbury Feast Ground who had died before the floods developed.

When the police arrived at the house the two other occupants, Lena Mitchell and Sarah Iveson, had taken refuge on a table.

The two women were taken into a boat and the body of the dead man, John Mitchell, was moved to an upstairs room.

Thornhill Lees suffered a great deal because the drainage system couldn’t cope with the heavy demands made by prolonged rainfall.

Scores of cellars were flooded and beer barrels floated in the cellar of the working men’s club, and the floors of houses at the rear collapsed.

Some workers living on the other side of the river who couldn’t get home because there were no buses, caught a train to Mirfield and then a train from there to Thornhill Lees, which at the time had its own station.

At the Midland Bridge, connecting Savile Town with Westtown, the river rose above the level of the bridge and the water flowed into Mill Street West and over the goods railway line into the schools’ football field.

People in nearby houses hurriedly removed carpets and stacked up furniture as the water in the field rose.

Early in the evening the wall of the field collapsed.

From there the flood poured into the low-lying parts of Savile Town.

The adjacent Waverley Street was the first to be inundated and garden walls were washed over by the force of the water.

The onrush of water spread across Savile Road and Mill Street East and Wharfe Street and many mills in the area were soon flooded.

Some bungalows and cottages were flooded to a depth of seven feet and residents escaped by ladder from one bungalow to the railway bridge above.

When the water eventually subsided welfare workers took immediate action.

In one day some 300 meals were served in the district by wagons to those unable to do any cooking through the flooding of their homes.

Staff of the Dewsbury Social Welfare was also busily engaged from early morning arranging the distribution of meals by their mobile kitchen.

Breakfast, dinner and teas were taken to people who had been badly affected by the floods.

It took many months before all the destruction could be repaired and life return to normal

The flood of 1946 became a talking point in Dewsbury for some time to come, for everyone had their own story to tell.

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