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The Sheffield Flood


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I am related to one of the victim families...I wonder if there are other members on this forum with a similar connection?

Are you going to commemorations 8th/9th March at Bradfield? Karen Lightowler is trying to get descendants of victims together. Does she know about you?

I am descended from victim John King.

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I have never heard of the commemorations. thanks for letting me know I am related, on my maternal side, with John Hudson who, together with his wife and two of his children ,was killed ...I presume drowned?

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Here is the text of Mary Walton's Foreword to the reprint of the Samuel Harrison book in 1974:


At the time of the major air raid on Sheffield in 1941, there were jokes around which rather shocked some people about it being “the only exciting thing which had happened in Sheffield since The Flood”. It is not really at all unnatural to find a disaster exciting; and indeed the combination of stunned horror and counteracting frenzy of activity were alike at both times.

Certain it is that “The Flood” (which was the most destructive event of its nature in England) has always remained in the collective consciousness of the people of Sheffield as a matter of interest and almost of pride.

There is no need to mention here the nature and extent of the devastation which followed the breaking of the embankment of the Dale Dyke Reservoir on the night of 11th to 12th March 1864; it is the purpose of Harrison’s book to relate these circumstances. Some details about the author are, however, both pertinent and demanded by justice, for Samuel Harrison was a man worthy of some remembrance.

He was born in Somerset in 1826, the son of a Wesleyan minister. The child of a Methodist manse moves about a good deal, and it was from Woodhouse Grove School, Bradford, that he came to Sheffield as an apprentice to the printing trades. His masters are given by two authorities as William Challoner of Church Street, and William Saxton of High Street, but in fact these two men combined their businesses during Harrison’s apprenticeship in the High Street premises. Here also was the bookshop which Harrison managed in connection with the business (such an association was usual in those days) and the office of The Sheffield Times, a weekly paper. He taught himself shorthand and obtained a post as reporter on this paper; a fellow reporter was Henry Pawson.

Both young men were successful in their new businesses, and when the owner of the newspaper, William Willot, retired in 1854 they went into partnership to buy it from him. But Pawson was really more interested in commercial printing and stationery than in newspapers; the partnership was dissolved in 1857 and Harrison shortly afterwards left High Street for new premises in Bow Street. This building was described by a contemporary as “imposing”; it was destroyed to make way for the Telephone Exchange. opened in 1926. now itself deserted as being too small.

Harrison was now a respected man of business with a family and a published book; in 1853 he had married Mary Gardner from Kineton in Warwickshire, and about the same time published “The Last Judgement”, a poem in couplets, which went into four editions. At Bow Street he was introducing new techniques which helped to revolutionise newspaper printing. His type-high stereo plates made quicker production possible and were copied everywhere. These factors increased the circulation and standard of The Times so much that Harrison was able to take over, as they declined, the Iris, the Sheffield Mercury, and the Argus.

His tireless energy did not make old bones. He died on 21st February 1871, at “Oak Villa”, Broombank (the western of the two houses in Clarkehouse Road joined together to make what was for many years Sister Needham’s nursing Home, and now occupied by a department of the University), of “a fever” followed by bronchitis which was his first illness as well as his last. To the many people in the town who admired Harrison’s success as the product of honest industry his death came as a real shock; at forty-four he should have been in his prime, and his ten children were all under twenty.

His great pride, “The Last Judgement”, is now forgotten; his “History of the Sheffield Flood” is a much more suitable memorial, for it illustrates not only his contribution to the history of newspaper publishing and reporting, but his capacity for taking pains, and his judgement on what interests readers.

At the time of the disaster, Harrison the printer and Leng the editor had already ensured that news should come quickly to the public. Leng edited The Sheffield Telegraph, established as the town’s first daily paper in 1856, and his use of the electric telegraph, and of bands of reporters sent out like a military expedition in the middle of the night, ensured that the people were able to read at their breakfast tables a lengthy and reasonably accurate report of the event much as we do now. Frequent editions throughout the day completed the tale and the newspapers of other towns had the story with surprising speed. The Sheffield Times, being a weekly appearing on Friday, was already set up, but even so Harrison got a half-a-column of late news conveying the gist of the tale to his readers; and a full supplement was included with the following Friday’s issue.

It is also typical of the two men that it was the quietly industrious Harrison and not the brilliant Leng who followed up all the reporters’ tales, appearing at intervals as the stories of distress, relief, enquiry and compensation unrolled, and checked, corrected, expanded and completed them to form a narrative of events from the building of the embankment to the passing of the Act, on 29th July 1864, which enabled the Water Company to raise money for the payment of compensation.

The result was a book which has held the attention of Sheffield for more than a hundred years. Copies have been cherished in households where it was kept because the family had endured the hardships related in it. It has been sought for eagerly by people moving into the areas most affected, where even now there are places where the narrative can be checked and the scenes of the time easily recreated in imagination. It has a good claim to be Sheffield’s favourite book; and indeed in its way it is a classic.


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Sheffield disaster victims

Flood 300 (circa)

Blitz.  660

Hillsborough 96

Pre Clean Air Act respiratory fatalities. Many thousand, but somehow it appears to be more acceptable to kill many over a longer period of time.



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