8 March 2010


Dale Dyke Reservoir earlier today
Another bright blue sky day so off I go to the moors west of Sheffield and park up just past the hamlet of Strines. My mission today was to walk around Dale Dyke Reservoir. You may never have heard of it and there are many Sheffielders who have neither seen it or heard of it either which is terribly sad. Why? Well you have to go back to 1864.

A hundred years earlier, Sheffield was an insignificant little town but by 1864, its population, along with its metal industry, had burgeoned. There was a desperate need for reliable water supplies and The Sheffield Water Company were busily constructing dams, pump houses and associated piping works and overflow channels in the Loxley Valley. Three major reservoirs were planned and the first one, nearing completion was the Dale Dyke Reservoir, fronted by a massive earthen embankment.

In the early evening of March 11th 1864, an employee of the company noticed a crack in the embankment wall. The weather was foul and the reservoir behind the dam was just about full to capacity with wind-whipped spray coming over the top. The crack was reported and the chief engineer was summoned from the centre of Sheffield. Futile efforts were made to deal with the growing emergency but just before midnight the dam burst, allowing an estimated 650 million gallons of water to surge down the valley through riverside settlements and farms towards the city itself.

That night over 245 people were killed by the flood, including the entire Bisby family - George (44 yrs), his wife Sarah (43) and their five children - Teresa (14), Elizabeth (12), Thomas (9), Hannah (6) and Hugh (4). They were sleeping in their beds when the water came to this long forgotten family, turning their dreams into a nightmare.

The Great Sheffield Flood is one of the nineteenth centuries forgotten disasters. No doubt if it had happened in London or the south east, it would still figure in the national consciousness. For many years, there wasn't even a proper memorial to the flood victims in Sheffield and the cut-price one that was belatedly erected during the last decade is in the middle of a riverside apartment complex looks impermanent and unimpressive. Equally ordinary is the little plaque I discovered on a stone stump in the pine forest above the reservoir...


  1. Elizabeth12:52 pm

    What an interesting account,YP. Astonishing to think that so many lives could be taken and yet the incident be virtually erased from the annals of local history, especially as it was caused by the element that was so important to the town's indusry. Perhaps it reflects, sadly, how dispensable the working class people were considered, but odd that there wasn't one altruistic factory owner taking up the baton to commemorate them. (Had it have happened thirty years down the line, I'm sure JG Graves would have been erecting a memorial before the mud dried up...but probably for all the wrong reasons!)
    Coincidentally, I've just been re-reading, Graham Swift's, 'Waterland', which touches on the importance of water to the, albeit different, industries of the Fens at around about the same time.We so easily forget, in our push-button world, the dangers that workers encountered, every day, to provide basic goods and services.

  2. ELIZABETH Thanks. I must read "Waterland" again - especially as I have recently visited The Fens. Your thoughts about the "workers" of earlier times makes me think you may have socialist leanings - far more attractive in a woman than dangly earrings methinks.

  3. Trouble is lefty women usually wear dangly earrings- who can forget the initials JF- the lefty, dangly earring wearing consulatant who was once the object of Pudding's desires...

    How he used to long for her visits where she would manipulate the figures for him...

  4. Elizabeth12:18 am

    Why thank you,YP,but it may simply be that what I have is just a good dose of Yorkshire common sense and when one has had more children than Mrs Bisby, one comes to realise that anything dangling can be a serious health hazard! x

  5. GENERAL BOOTH (Salvation Army) I dispute vehemently your allegation that I had designs upon the literacy consultant! This is a game that guilt-ridden people will sometimes play - batting the ball to another player in order to deflect suspicion but I heard the noises from the stockroom young man and that wasn't literacy consultancy that was happening in there!
    ELIZABETH More than Mrs Bisby! Good heavens, are you Mother Nature herself?

  6. Anonymous1:29 pm

    The employee who noticed the crack in the dam wall is buried in the churchyard of a small parish church overlooking the valley.
    One of my very extended family was saved when her father put her on the roof to escape the floodwaters that came roaring down the valley.

  7. She wasn't half a 'do-gooder' that's for sure...

  8. Goodness that is so sad YP.
    I found your blog via another New Zealand blog today and your name truck with me, we have just left the UK on Xmas eve and am missing my yorkshire puddings lol.
    I am a yorkshire gal, originally from Wakefield and went back to the UK last year and lived in Flamborough, a great place and some great photo's.
    New Zealand

  9. Aha, another reason to sing my praises YP. I bring you another fan :-)
    Just make sure you express a few socialist sentiments ukkiwi, or he'll cut off your danglies.


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