Heritage: Flood victim’s death mask made by his grieving son

An artist's impression of people desperately searching the waters for survivors in the Philadelphia area of Sheffield
An artist's impression of people desperately searching the waters for survivors in the Philadelphia area of Sheffield

Tragic familytale from the 1864 Sheffield floods, where hundreds died and much of the city was destroyed, is laid bare as part of an exhibition

This death mask, pictured right, can be seen in the Sheffield Life and Times gallery at Weston Park Museum as part of a display about the 1864 Sheffield Flood.

The Lord Mayor and olthers at the wreath laying ceremony at the flood memorial, Sheffield, United Kingdom, 11th March 2017. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

The Lord Mayor and olthers at the wreath laying ceremony at the flood memorial, Sheffield, United Kingdom, 11th March 2017. Photo by Glenn Ashley.

Around midnight on March 11, 1864 the embankment wall of Dale Dyke dam collapsed, sending a torrent of water down the Loxley valley, through Malin Bridge and Hillsborough.

The water travelled along the Don through to Wicker and on towards Rotherham. Many homes and business were destroyed and the water killed at least 240 people.

It was the worst civilian disaster of the time and became known as the Great Sheffield Flood.

Photographs that are held in Museum Sheffield’s collections show the devastation of the village of Malin Bridge after the flood.

The photographs are part of a set taken by Lawrence Frederick Peacock (1838-1900), and measure only 65 × 90mm.

You can see how the water has gouged the ground and taken away the entire walls and sides of people’s homes. Most people were in bed sleeping and had no warning that the flood waters were coming.

In 1864 Joseph Goddard (aged 67) and his wife Sarah lived at Malin Bridge.

The flood destroyed their cottage and killed Joseph and Sarah, their daughter and two grandchildren.

Joseph’s son Edwin searched for the bodies, with his young daughter Hannah.

The flood waters had carried Joseph’s body all the way down to Owlerton and into the home of a man called Mr Shaw.

It was fairly common at this time to make a cast of a deceased person’s face, particularly when most families didn’t have photographs of each other. Edwin made this plaster death mask of Joseph.

The family tradition is that tears of grief were mixed in with the plaster as Edwin carefully made the cast of his father’s face.

The cast was then used to make a portrait bust of Joseph that they could remember him by. Joseph and his wife Sarah were buried at Wardsend Cemetery.

After the flood, people were able to make compensation claims against the Sheffield Water Company.

Edwin and his brother Leopold claimed for the contents of Joseph and Sarah’s home and funeral costs.

The Register of Claims is held at Sheffield Archives, and Sheffield Hallam University host a searchable website at sheffield Flood where you can browse the records.

You can see more objects related to the 1864 Sheffield Flood at Weston Park Museum, and at Museums Sheffield online.