Past Floods in the Calder Valley

Extracted from “It’s Water under the Bridge”

by Molly E. Sunderland

According to newspaper reports the Calder Valley has been subjected to flooding since the early 1800s. There was a disastrous flood in 1837 but few details are known about it apart from the fact that the arches of the canal viaduct at Black Pit (near to Riverside School in Hebden Bridge) were unable to take the waters, which rose to the height of the canal and ultimately flowed over it. The waters damned back and formed an immense lake out of which the houses stood up in a pitiable condition. On that occasion a boat was rowed from the canal and over the walls of New Road to the White Horse Hotel which was situated near to St. George's Square and which is now a car park. In 1837 there wouldn't be any shops in Crown Street and the Carlton Buildings had not been built so the vast amount of water in the centre of Hebden Bridge must have been a sight to behold.

On New Road, one of the houses with steps leading up to the door and owned by a Mr. Wrigley (this property would probably be near to the Railway Public House) was flooded to such an extent that it put out the fires, whilst a cottage on the opposite side of the road was filled to the roof.

Mr. Wrigley's daughter who attended a school on Commercial Street had to be brought home to New Road on a raft.

A butcher's shop situated on Bridge Gate, and owned by a Mr. Helliwell was so deep in water that the stone posts near to his shop were covered He sat on the table in his shop and watched all sorts of things being swept along by the current whilst another person was stationed near to the bow window which was projecting from the shop, to ward off wheelbarrows etc. when they came dangerously near.

The gable end of a weaving shed at Hangingroyd was washed in and calicoes and other goods were carried off in considerable quantities. Some of these were afterwards collected from the fields at Brearley and from other places further down the valley.

In August 1859 a flood covered all the ground between Salem Mill and The White Horse Hotel. However in 1866 there was really serious flooding in the area - apparently there wasn't anything as bad again until the one that happened in 1946 - 80 years later.

There are no obvious reports on how serious it was in Mytholmroyd but it is reported that in Hebden Bridge "the railway bridge on station road" received such a tremendous shock that it was shaken to its foundation. Just where a part of it seemed to be giving way, a man declared that there was no danger and he ran along the parapet. The instant he had cleared the dangerous point the parapet went over and the whole of the roadway was in a perilous condition. For some two months there was no approach to the station except round by Mayroyd Mill and it was many months later before everything was back in a good state of repair.

Another serious flood occurred in December 1891 when New Road and Market Street in Hebden Bridge looked like a canal. Ten years later in November 1901, Market Street was flooded again - the offices of The Hebden Bridge Times were then situated in the building of the old Ebenezer Chapel on Market Street but water did not affect these premises. Hundreds of people though, probably going to and from work, passed through the building to get round the water in Market Street by way of Garnet Street and Hangingroyd Road. Mytholmroyd would not escape on these occasions either but again nothing was reported about it.

On the 10th February 1920 Mytholmroyd experienced flooding again as the following three photographs show. How many times must the Dusty Miller have been affected!

On Saturday 21st August 1954 - almost eight years after the disastrous flood of 1946 -Mytholmroyd suffered once again. The rapidity with which the level of the river rose did not give householders and shopkeepers time to remove things from their downstairs rooms. The river rose 6ft in only two hours before it overflowed into the road and about two feet in the last fifteen minutes! The siren was sounded just before eight o'clock on that Saturday morning giving the first warning that flooding was imminent. The water in the Dusty Miller rose to 3'/2 ft. in the bar; this was 2ft. below the 1946 level.

Traffic came to a standstill in the village but a coach travelling from Barnsley with forty people on board heading for a holiday to Blackpool became stranded opposite to the entrance of Midgley Road, when it tried to get through the floodwater. This was due to the stalling of the coach's engine.

Police and firemen joined local men by wading into the water at waist high level to get the passengers and their belongings to safety - apparently many of the passengers' suitcases contained their hard-earned holiday money!

The first rescue attempts however were made by the driver and one of the passengers who changed into bathing trunks in the bus. They carried five people to safety including a twelve months old baby.  The firemen then attached a rope to the coach, which was used as a guide rope as they and the police earned both men and women shoulder high from the bus to the bottom of Midgley Road.

Residents of Mytholmroyd threw open their homes to give shelter to the passengers and the schoolroom at Mount Zion Methodist Church was opened where the stranded holidaymakers were provided with hot drinks and cakes which people had brought in from the neighbourhood. Before leaving to return home, the people from Barnsley, in gratitude for the help given to them, had a collection, which they then gave to the Church funds.

Another incident, which occurred during the 1954 floods, was that of a car driver approaching Mytholmroyd from Hebden Bridge who was on his way to Halifax. He was stopped and was both asked and advised not to attempt to drive through the water. He ignored the warning and proceeded forward -but not for long! The car engine stalled in the middle of the floodwater so he decided to get out and walk to safety. He took off his shoes and socks, gingerly tested the depth outside the car door where he found that the water was only up to his knees, so he got out. He started to walk back to safety but after about ten yards he suddenly disappeared below the flood level. He was rescued with the help of villagers and a boat hook! Obviously, he was soaked through but was full of apologies and laughing at his sudden method of "bathing". It turned out that he had stepped out on to a wall at the side of the car and when the wall ended so did his bid for dryness!

On the other side of the village, water overflowed once again from the Elphin Brook into New Road near to The Shoulder of Mutton - it was 10ft. above it's normal level and the cellars in the public house were flooded where barrels of beer could be seen floating about in the water

Thornber Brothers again suffered badly as they still had large buildings at Elphaborough in August 1954 housing pedigree stock but unfortunately a few hundred of these were lost by drowning.

The rain ceased shortly after 11.30 a.m., the water receded as quickly as it had risen and the main road through Mytholmroyd was passable again by lunchtime but leaving another trail of destruction as it last did in 1946.

The siren warned the residents of Mytholmroyd of many more floods in the 1950s and 1960s none of which were very serious. The people who had lived through previous floods would usually be milling about in the village viewing the River Calder and commenting "river wain't come aat, t'winds in t'wrang direction" or "It never floods when t'winds blowing daanstream". And what's more they were usually right!!

However, on the 17th October 1967 people in the village were awakened at 1.30 a.m. to the wailing sound of the siren with its rising and falling tones warning everyone of an impending flood.

The River Calder on this occasion did not overflow which was probably due to the flood alleviation work which had been carried out earlier in the year and which is covered in a later paragraph. There had been a very heavy storm and it was the vast amount of water sweeping off the moors so rapidly that it did not allow the drains to cope with this influx of water. Also, a blocked culvert above Midgley Road did not help the situation.

The water gushed down the hill flooding the houses at East & West Parade to a depth of 2ft. before continuing downhill, affecting other properties on its way and finally waterlogging the centre of Mytholmroyd once again. Fortunately, not many houses at East and West Parade were occupied at the time and these two rows of houses were demolished shortly afterwards and replaced with flats now known as Orchard Walk.

Mytholmroyd was once again cut off and the playing fields at White House -Holme, used by Burnley Road School took on the appearance of a lake. According to newspaper reports, the following day, pupils at the school under the supervision of their teacher Mr Ian Hellowell, took a boat on to the Holme and by mathematical calculations worked out that there was over 6,000 tons of water on the playing fields. An unusual and interesting lesson no doubt!

Hawksclough

Water flooded through the cottages at Calder Brook, behind Walkleys Clogs - known as Maude's Clog Soles at that time - and one of the residents, a 72 years old lady who was bedridden had to be rescued by fire service and ambulance personnel as her bed was downstairs in the living room with water rising around it. At nearby Holme End Dyeworks, damage was caused to 15,000 yards of cloth.

Wood Top Dam Burst its Banks

During this storm in 1967 the dam at Wood Top above Hebden Bridge burst its banks. Wood Top dam, 100 yards long, 50 yards wide and 15 feet deep in places had not been used for many years apart from by the local angling club. Previously it had been used to supply water to Wood Top Dyeworks, which had now ceased production.

Very early in the morning on the 17th October 1967 this dam practically emptied its volume of water, making its way towards and through the nearby 17th Century farmhouse belonging to its elderly owner Mr. Eric Greenwood, demolishing a wall in the house and continuing to rush through the adjacent barn creating more havoc.

The loss of this water from the dam however did not affect the River Calder as the water and rubble was carried downhill to its resting place in between Crow Nest and the railway embankment.

In the 1970s Mytholmroyd experienced minor flooding on several occasions. Although some of the shops were affected many of them along the main road through the village escaped without getting water into their premises. The first signs of water in the road were when the water seeped up through the drains on the northerly side of the road. When this happened The Dusty Miller was always badly affected due to the fact that the road, which is at a higher level than the pub tends to camber towards the pub.

Shopkeepers on the opposite side of the road, having experienced several of these happenings didn't start to panic until the water reached the edge of the footpath just outside their premises - once it did it was then time to move quickly by carrying things from the ground floor to a higher level!

Cloudburst

On the 27th June 1982 a local man was saved from drowning when a flash flood caused the Elphin Brook to burst its banks. The rush of water down the Cragg Valley brought rubble and trees with it. At Scarbottom, two local men who lived nearby tried to free the debris from the stone bridge across the Elphin fearing that it would damage the electricity and gas pipes which hung across the side of it. Suddenly the parapet could stand the pressure of water no longer and it collapsed, throwing one of the men into the water whilst the other man managed to jump clear. The man in the water managed to grasp the gas pipe and grimly hang on but as the water rose up to and around his neck he had difficulty keeping his face clear of the severely swollen brook. Local man Stephen Preece, who was the leading fireman at the time, came to his aid by tying a rope around his own waist and edged his way across the gas main to make a successful rescue. The following year, Mr. Preece along with three other local people was awarded the Royal Humane Society Bravery award

When the stone bridge in question collapsed, it left five privately owned cottages as well as Scarbottom Mill, which was owned by Redman Bros, isolated. The following day, Mr Richard Redman and a team of willing helpers worked solidly for about eight hours to build a temporary bridge to enable access to the cottages and the mill.


© Molly E. Sunderland 2003 to present, Reprinted with permission