Rotherham Family History Society

Preserving and caring for the heritage of Rotherham

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January 2018 Meeting Speaker Report

Thursday, 4 January, 2018 - 19:00

SPEAKER'S REPORT - 4 January 2018

The Story of the Sheffield Flood - Suzanne Bingham

On a less than salubrious night our speaker, Suzanne Bingham, ensured that the brave band of members who attended enjoyed a good start of our New Year's programme.

The night of March 3rd 1864 in Sheffield remains the worst city event outside war. Suzanne showed the happenings on that single night were not the whole story. Between 1821 and 1841, due to industrial growth, the population of Sheffield doubled to around 68,000 and doubled again by 1861. This meant that water supplies needed to be massively increased and in 1830 Sheffield Water Works Company was brought into being. By 1848 reservoirs had been created at Redmires and Rivelin but still demand increased for water to feed the growing steel industry and the many water mills along the Loxley river system. The Bradfield Reservoir scheme was meant to be a long term solution to this need. The Dale Dyke was a huge earth embankment which was almost complete by late February 1864 but an extremely wet winter and a very wet day on March 11th had fatal consequences. A crack developed in the dam which, despite desperate efforts and the presence of the Chief Engineer, led to a catastrophic collapse. A wall of water swept down the Loxley valley leaving an eight mile trail of destruction in just thirty minutes. Our speaker covered the aftermath of the disaster with 240 bodies eventually recovered. For public health reasons there was a speedy inquest which proved inconclusive due to the bias of the Coroner against the Water Company. Various reports followed including one by Sheffield Water Works which concluded, unsurprisingly, that it was an 'Act of God'. The Company also had a Parliamentary Act passed allowing a 25% increase in the Water Rates so, in effect, compensation was paid by the people of Sheffield.

Despite its importance, there was no proper memorial to the disaster until 1991. The Sheffield Flood remains a little-known historical event, even locally, though it features in The Guinness Book of Records as a man-made disaster.

This was an excellent talk which both informed and entertained those present.

RJ Bye