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Honouring the victims of ‘forgotten’ flood tragedy

Wreath laid at St Nicholas' Church High Bradfield monument to mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Sheffield Flood which killed more than 240 people. Geoff French president institution of Civil Engineers.

Wreath laid at St Nicholas' Church High Bradfield monument to mark the 150th anniversary of the Great Sheffield Flood which killed more than 240 people. Geoff French president institution of Civil Engineers.

The Sheffield victims of the country’s biggest man-made disaster have been largely ‘forgotten’, according to local historians.

Today’s 150th anniversary of The Great Sheffield Flood – which claimed at least 240 lives – was marked in Bradfield.

It was just before midnight on March 11, 1864, when water smashed its way through Sheffield after a newly built dam burst as it was being filled, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Around half of those who died in the deluge were children – one a newborn baby washed from his mother’s arms in Bradfield.

Three children also perished in a cellar while their parents were away.

Karen Lightowler, who devotes her spare time to tracing the descendants of those who died, said: “I am passionate about the flood.

“It is this country’s worst ever man-made disaster but virtually nobody knows about it.

“It’s such a tragedy that so many people died through no fault of their own.

“If it had happened in London there would be an annual memorial for it. Everyone would know about it.

“But because it was in the north and because it involved working class people nobody remembers it.

“That’s why I like to do my little bit.”

Mick Drewry, whose book on the disaster is due out later this year, said: “It’s not even very well known about in Sheffield, never mind nationally.”

Bradfield parish archivist Malcolm Nunn’s great great great grandfather was William Horsfield – the farmer who first spotted a crack in the Dale Dyke dam.

It had just been built to supply drinking water to fast-growing Sheffield.

Hours after Mr Horsfield raised the alarm the structure collapsed and 650 million of gallons of water cascaded down the Loxley Valley, devastating farms and hamlets devoted to metal working.

The flood water met the River Don and then laid waste to large areas of the centre of Sheffield.

One body was even found at Conisbrough, 18 miles downstream.

Events to mark the anniversary began when Geoff French, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, laid a wreath at St Nicholas’ Church in High Bradfield.

The institution joined those in remembering the flood, as the dam failure was ‘instrumental’ in improving the future design and construction of dams.

A special service, public lecture and an exhibition where residents could see the flood plaque, graves, church registers from the 1860s and displays of work by school pupils were held at the weekend.

Today a wreath will also be laid in Sheffield city centre.

The death toll from the flood night was 240 but probably exceeded 300 due to diseases caused by the water.

More than 700 buildings and 20 bridges were also destroyed.

More than 100 were killed just in Malin Bridge

Sheffield historian Ron Clayton lives at Malin Bridge, the Sheffield suburb, which was a village in 1864.

Malin Bridge was worst hit by the flood waters, with 102 deaths. A photograph of the shattered remains of the Cleakum Inn, rebuilt later as the Malin Bridge Inn, is one of the many striking images of the disaster.

Ron said: “If you look at those photographs, Malin Bridge was ground-zero. It was devastated, whole families wiped out, buildings just washed away.

“The death toll of the flood was massive.

“There’s nothing else to compare with it in peacetime in terms of man-made disasters.”

Ron said interest in the 1864 disaster is growing, but if you mention the Great Sheffield Flood to most people in the city they usually think of the 2007 inundation when homes were flooded and two people died in the water.

 

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