Tale of city torn apart by deluge

Maggie Lett and Geoff Rowe will be signing copies of their book, Flood Waters,  at Waterstones, Orchard Square, Sheffield on Saturday, July 23 from 1-3pm.
Maggie Lett and Geoff Rowe will be signing copies of their book, Flood Waters, at Waterstones, Orchard Square, Sheffield on Saturday, July 23 from 1-3pm.

MENTION the Sheffield Flood to most local people and they’ll probably recall their experiences in 2007 when great stretches of the city were under water after the River Don burst its banks.

That event resulted in two people being killed. The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 took the lives of more than 240 people, who were drowned in their beds or swept to their deaths in a matter of hours when the Dale Dyke Dam above the city was breached, suddenly releasing millions of gallons of water to pound its way down the valleys and through the heart of Sheffield. It was the worst disaster to hit Victorian Britain.

These days sadly there’s little to remind people of the devastation caused by the Dale Dyke disaster and the path of the 18ft high wall of water that wreaked such devastation. Two local authors hope to change that.

Maggie Lett and Geoff Rowe spent months researching the Great Sheffield Flood. Their historical novel, ‘Flood Waters’, is a fictionalised story of how lives were lost and families torn apart by the disaster. Many characters in the 316 page book are based on real people who were involved in the disaster, where they lived and how they died; others are pure invention to carry the story forward and examine the aftermath of the flood, its repercussions and loss, and how the murky world of Sheffield’s underbelly schemed to exploit the tragedy.

“We found it very strange that there wasn’t much in Sheffield to mark this tragedy,” said Maggie Lett. “The more we researched, the more we started to get a feel for the sudden horror of that night and we used the historical facts to tell their own story.

“There are so many documented incidents, like the men suddenly noticing a crack in the dam wall and trying to make out how serious it was just by the light of lanterns, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm. It’s such a vivid image - these men huddled into the slope of the dam wall, getting more and more worried but trying more and more to reassure themselves - especially when you know what happens next.”

Maggie Lett was born in Liverpool but moved to Sheffield in the late 1970s. She was a journalist on Sheffield Morning Telegraph and Sheffield Telegraph before moving to the press office of Sheffield City Council. She also taught journalism at Norton College and Sheffield University.

Geoff Rowe was born in London and moved to Sheffield in the early 1990s and has worked in a variety of jobs from pensions administrator to bin man. He has also played in several local bands.

“We’re hoping Flood Waters will be the catalyst for more people to find out what happened in the city that terrible night because so many people, even in Sheffield itself, don’t seem to know anything untoward even happened,” he said. “That seems ridiculous when you’re talking about the worst disaster to hit Victorian Britain and it was here, in Sheffield.”

Maggie Lett and Geoff Rowe opened and ran Bukowski’s Piano Bar and Diner on London Road in 2001 and wrote Flood Waters after the bar closed for business three years later. They now live in Spain.

Flood Waters is published by ACM Retro and can be purchased from www.acmretro.com and local bookshops for £9.95.

The authors will be signing copies of their book at Waterstones, Orchard Square, on Saturday, from 1pm-3pm.