The forgotten flood

On the morning of 12th March 1864 a 17 year old boy rescued a kitchen table from the side of a Sheffield street. The remarkable story of how it came to be there would eventually be debated by Queen Victoria herself.

That 17 year old boy was my great great grandfather and I still have the table.


They had both just survived one of the worst peacetime disasters ever to hit England and until recently, very few people knew anything about it.

Shortly before midnight, on 11 March, a newly constructed dam built on the hills above Sheffield, on being filled for the first time, gave way releasing more than 690 million gallons of water into the Loxley valley

Families were awakened by the sound of what many thought was thunder coming down the valley towards them. There was little warning and no time to escape.

The Dale Dyke reservoir after the breach

The dam today rebuilt further up the valley.

Official figures state that 240 people lost their lives that night, while more recent investigation puts the death toll at 298. The body of one victim was found eighteen miles away in Rotherham, and in the small village of Malin Bridge, 102 people were killed.

The Cleakum Inn, where seven members of the Bisby family drowned, rebuilt and renamed the Malin Bridge Inn

The pub today

Communities were wiped out and entire families were destroyed. In one instance, Eleven members of one family were killed. The ages of the dead ranged from 78 years, to a 2 day old baby.

As the 8 meter deep waters subsided, bodies were discovered in the most unusual places, a news report from the time states that most were in their nightwear, save for the ones which had them ripped off by the force of the flood, and were piled fourteen high in places.

The Cleakum can be seen top left
The same view today, the pub hidden by the factory.
All that remains of Rowell bridge
Dirty water marks can be seen halfway up the houses
The damage was extensive

Livelihoods were also destroyed. In total 4 mills, 17 workshops, 3 shops, 39 houses and 2 pubs were totally destroyed; a further 17 mills, 11 workshops, 15 shops, 376 houses and 22 pubs were partially destroyed and 4,000 houses were flooded.

A pub close to the Cleakum survived and was later used as a makeshift morgue until grieving relatives claimed the bodies.

Following a special Act of Parliament, compensation of £273,988 was paid for damage to property, injury to persons, and loss of life – one of the largest insurance awards of its time. The water company were cleared of any blame!

Today you will need to know were to look if you want to see any sign of the tragedy. But little clues still remain.

A clob stone

These stones stretch out across the valley, most hidden in the undergrowth. They follow the line of the original ill fated dam wall. Clob is an acronym. Centre line, old bank.

Water level markers

These small metal signs can be found fastened to various buildings, set at the height which the water reached.

Kelham island marker

This memorial to the people that lost their lives can be found in the Millsands area of Sheffield. Notice the top line that marks the high water level. Remarkable because it is around five miles away from the dam.

My next door neighbour’s house was quickly built to act as an incident room with it’s location at the top of the hill, for obvious reasons.

This is where I live and work. The pubs mentioned are the ones I drink in and the Loxley valley is where I run. I wanted to share a much forgotten story with you, and yes, I really do still have the table.

This sypnosis could never do justice to the full story or the heartbreaking tales that came out of it. A quick Google search will unleash the full horror, for anyone who’s interested.

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