Number 66 – July 2013

More About the Walsham Floods of 1912 and 1968 (See Review No. 62 July 2012)

Some 30 years ago an eyewitness account of the 1912 flood appeared in the Walsham Observer. It was written by Ada Unglass, who lived in a cottage in The Avenue. Her father was the gardener at The Grove.

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

‘From Rolfe‘s shop to beyond Miller’s Bridge was just one large lake. A dinghy and oars were found from somewhere and it was rowed to each cottage. The rescued people were taken to the Priory Room where blankets and food was sent down from The Grove. One old lady refused to be rescued. She took a rope that she used as a linen line, and a bucket up to her bedroom and stayed there. Every morning she lowered her bucket to be filled with food and drink. She said afterwards that she had been better fed then than in any other time in her life.’

A black and white old photograph showing a group of people in old fashioned dress to the right with a house to the left and flood water in the foreground.


‘My father took all the carpets upstairs and stacked the furniture on the tables. However when the iron railings were washed off the bridge near our house, he said it was time to leave. He put me on his back and with mother, two brothers and a sister we walked to The Grove where we stayed for a week.

The water was to come over three feet up the walls of our front room. When eventually it went down it left a thick layer of green sludge. The men of the village were given time off work and they went into the houses using water and brooms to sweep out the sludge. They then did women’s work getting down on their hands and knees and scrubbing the floors with soap and water. When they went, mother, being fussy, did it again.

As the schools were flooded there were no lessons. The children loved playing in the water. How some did not drown I’ll never know. Photographers descended upon us from other villages. Their photos were sold at the Post Office including one we had of the old lady pulling her bucket up.

When the excitement had calmed down the powers to be said it would never happen again. The traffic was diverted at Miller’s Bridge where the men worked for many weeks. The water level gradually went down and, horror of horrors, we then saw what awful things had been thrown into it, and I mean AWFUL things. There were no refuse or ‘night‘ carts in those days.’

Since the first articles on the floods appeared we have heard from Peter Nunn in West Sussex telling us that in 1912 his grandfather Wilfrid Nunn was involved in the rescue of trapped people such as the elderly Flatmans who lived in what is now the hairdressers. Then it was a shop selling corn and animal feed. Wilfrid’s diary states that it was feared the back wall would collapse into the river so using a horse and cart he and Walter Rust, a horseman, rescued the couple out of their upstairs window.

The next severe flood was in September 1968. Eyewitness Miss Ethel Sturgeon wrote down her memories of that time. She lived in The Old School House.

A black and white old photograph showing flood water in the middle of a street of houses.
The 1968 Flood – click to enlarge

‘It had rained all day. At 6 o’clock that evening, as it was Sunday, I walked across the wet road to the Congregational Chapel. On my return home I could see that the river was very high. I called into Mrs. Dove at Brook House and told her that there will be a flood. She replied that the house had never been flooded. I called at dear Mr. and Mrs. Clarke who said not to worry there would be no flood.

I returned home and after a short while I could hear the dustbin swirling around in the rushing water outside the back door. At 10 o’clock the water started to come under the kitchen door. Feeling a bit unsettled I took a few things upstairs, later wishing I had taken more. I sat in the bedroom listening to the radio when I heard a car passing outside. Looking out of the window I could see by the headlights that I was surrounded by water.’

‘Slipping on my coat I went downstairs, what a sight met my eyes. With water flowing like a river through the rooms I stood by the hall by the front door with water over my ankles and rising rapidly. I remember thinking how I was going to shut the door when I went out. I stood still and said ‘Lord, I cannot shut the door, will you shut it for me?’ With faith I opened the door and it banged behind me as soon as I was out. I always remember how grateful I felt.

The water was high at my front door but I could see it was not as deep near the garage. Crossing the road I could feel my feet almost from under me by the force of the flood. But by thinking of the text read out at the Chapel services earlier that evening my fear went.

I walked up to the Avenue stores where Mr. and Mrs. Welch let me in. I told them that it wouldn’t be long before the water is in their home, but they didn’t believe it. They made me a cup of tea, but I never had the pleasure of drinking it, for in less than five minutes the water came in the hall so deep that Mr. Welch had to carry his family upstairs, and me also. It was a long night as we watched the water. I thought of my mother who, had she been alive, would have been trapped downstairs in bed unable to move.

At last the rain stopped and morning came. The water started to go down at 11a.m. and my brother in law came for me in his Land Rover. It had taken him two hours to do six miles. I had to leave my dear friends to do a lot of work cleaning up the dreadful mess. I want to thank all the dear people of Walsham for their kindness to me, I shall always be grateful.’

The Bury Free Press September 20th 1968 (?)

‘In Bury St. Edmunds 270 homes were flooded after nearly three and a half inches of rain fell in 24 hours. The village of Walsham le Willows was hard hit. Thirty seven houses and the Congregational Chapel suffered from flooding as the river quickly overflowed its banks in torrential rain. Among those marooned in their bedrooms were Mr and Mrs Clarke of The Haven who were rescued from the swirling waters by their son in law Mr V. Hubbard and Mr Graham Nunn who drove the tractor. The only casualty was their pet dog who drowned in the living room.’

Why ‘The Blue Boar’?

The building dates back to the 1400s, although we don’t know when it came to be called ‘The Blue Boar’. It’s a common enough pub name and usually refers to the de Vere family, great landowners in the east of England. Their crest was a fierce wild boar, Latin verres, sounding like Vere. Early medieval painters, with their limited palettes, showed the beast as dull blue, an attempt at its natural colour. To liven things up, artists gave the animal gold tusks, gold hooves and importantly, gold genitalia. The de Veres led the Lancastrian armies during the 15th century Wars of the Roses. It’s unlikely that Walsham would have supported Lancaster.

The nearby church of St. Mary’s has the opposing Yorkist white roses carved on the roof beams, and white roses on the stained glass. Walsham’s lord of the manor, John de la Pole, was married to the sister of two Yorkist kings, Edward IV and his brother Richard III. This king, his grave later covered by a Leicester car park, also had a boar as his emblem. It was appropriate for Richard because he was of the York family, and the Latin for York was EBORacum. Medieval puns were often outrageous! To avoid confusion with the rival de Veres, Richard’s boar was white (with the usual gold bits). Perhaps Yorkist Walsham once had a pub called ‘The White Boar‘. With Richard’s defeat at Bosworth in 1485, thanks to de Vere’s tactics, maybe the villagepub sign was repainted blue. We can’t be sure.

We know for certain that on 17th May 1716 the Town of Walsham was charged 1s. 6d. for Beer at the blewbore, quite an outlay for those times. Often, even in official Victorian notices, the pub was referred to simply as The Boar . The original bills can be seen in the Bury record Office.

Brian Turner


Bills and Receipts of the Parish Constables of Walsham le Willows 1708-1821
Transcribed by researchers of Walsham History Group publications and available for £2.50 | 01359 258535.

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