Review number 62 – July 2012

100 Years Ago: The Great Walsham Flood of 1912

An old black and white old photograph of a flooded street with a cart and people.
Walsham flood 1912 – click to enlarge

‘Anything more serious than the floods of the past week would be hard to imagine. The rainfall on Monday has had no parallel in modern times. In Great Barton four and a half inches fell in 16 hours and in Walsham roads have been converted into rushing rivers, houses flooded and animals drowned.’

‘A couple of days ago the river in Walsham was dry, but by Monday afternoon a number of cottages along the river route became flooded, some having over four feet of water in their down stair rooms. The schools were flooded, also the Temporance Hall. The Congregational Chapel, and at Rolfe’s the butchers several sheep were narrowly saved from drowning. Many managed to move furniture upstairs before their cottages were in undated and in some cases even pigs and other livestock were carried to the bedrooms for safety.’

An old black and white old photograph of a very flooded street outside Rolfes the butchers shop.
This photograph opposite Rolfe’s the butchers was taken a couple of days after the flood had begun to subside. click to enlarge

‘Regrettably in the flood at Sunnyside Farm on the Finningham Road a great number of pigs and fowl were drowned. The great surging volume of water, in some parts 40 foot wide and six foot deep and stretching over a mile up the Finningham Road, rushed into the lower parts of the village and constituted a sight never seen before and never to be forgotten.’

‘Some elderly persons living near the Baptist Chapel were trapped upstairs without food or heat. At 6pm: an attempt was made to get through with a big horse and a heavy cart. The water however was level with the horse’s back and the flood lifted the animal off its feet. Some villagers were rescued out of their upstairs windows with the aid of a horse and cart and some ladders provided by Mr. Nunn. Mr. Kerrison’s cottage in Coach Road (now The Avenue) was inundated with over three feet of water and the family was helped through the flood by Mr. Ward and Mr. L. Borley. (Leonard Borley perhaps thought of this time when five years later in the First World War he struggled through the mud and water at Passchendaele, where he was to meet his death.) Hundreds of yards of road have been washed away.’

‘In all, forty houses in Walsham were badly flooded. A visit to the Girl’s School and House after the flood had subsided revealed a sorry sight. The water having risen to a height of four feet had tossed furniture about in all directions and left the floor covered in mud and rubbish.’

In other reports, this flood in 1912 was compared with one that had taken place over thirty years earlier on 3rd August 1879. The Bury Free Press of the day told the story:

An old black and white photograph of a group of people with a flooded area in front of them.
The Avenue, 1912. click to enlarge

’On Sunday morning at about 2 am: a most fearful thunderstorm passed over the village of Walsham le Willows….The rain fell in torrents from the storm that seemed to come from the southeast….At about 4 am: the water was seen rushing strongly down river and many anxiously watched its progress. So rapidly did it rise that in less than an hour the schoolmistress Miss Kirby and the infant 61schoolmistress had to be taken from their house by the bedroom window, as the lower rooms were flooded.’

‘The water also rushed through the houses of Henry Jaggard and William Clamp and by 6 o/clock the road from Sunnyside Farm to the Independant Chapel, a mile and a half, was impassable. In the cottages the lower rooms were filled with water. A double tenement adjoining the chapel was washed down. At any little flood these cottages have been filled with water and so the poor people….had got their furniture upstairs. However the water came in with such force that it undermined the foundations and at 7 o/clock the end of the house gave way and fell with a fearful crash. One poor woman, the wife of John Lummis, fell with it into the stream, but a man named Baker, at some peril to himself seized her and rescued her…. The other end of the house gave way but….the children of both families were rescued.’

‘The water at Miss Kirby’s school was about 5 feet deep and part of the back wall fell down. The next house, Mr. Clamp’s seems to have sustained the most serious damage as many of his goods were destroyed as the back of the house fell out. The water also entered the house of E. Pollard, H. Hunt, G. Smith, W. Smith, J. Read and James Firman who suffered much. During the day some hundreds of persons came to see the effects of the floods.‘

‘The following Tuesday a meeting was held in the public hall chaired by H. J. Wilkinson (of Walsham Hall). A committee decided to set up a fund to help the poor people affected. The collections totalled £22.2s.8d. The committee voted that this money should be distributed according to the list of losses that were valued by Mr. I. A. Clarke and any surplus to be used for the repair of the school.’

James Turner

Correspondence: The Floods of 1968

Review No.47 of September 2008 has prompted the following response:

‘Dear Mr. Barber,

I was very interested to read the recent History Group Review article about the 1968 floods. I remember very well the rescue of Mrs. Clarke as I was also on that tractor and trailer. Not only was the water very deep but it was fast flowing, the trailer tended to float behind the tractor and the strong current buffeted it around. It was quite a difficult job to hold the ladder steady against the upstairs window. It must have been a terrifying experience for the poor lady.

We had returned to Walsham that evening but were unable to get home. The lady at The White House put us up for the night. It was only during the course of the next day that I was able to help my girlfriend and her family get back to Vine Cottage and start to clear up.

The big hot air driers from R.A.F. Mildenhall were an enormous help in getting the houses dried out as quickly as possible. A 24-hour rota was organised and each house could use a unit for four hours at a time. We worked round the clock for the next few days.

With kind regards,

Mike Jordan

Berndorf, Austria.’