On this day in 1864 the Dale Dyke Dam in Sheffield broke, causing one of the largest floods in English history. 650 million gallons of water swept down Loxley Valley and through areas of Sheffield. The flood destroyed 800 homes and killed around 293 people, thus making it the largest man-made disaster to befall England, and one of the deadliest floods in history.
Individual stories from the disaster are particularly tragic. For example Joseph Dawson found the currents too strong and was unable to save both his wife and two day old baby boy – the Dawsons’ unnamed child became the first victim of the floods. The destruction afterwards led one observer to remark that Sheffield was “looking like a battlefield”.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of this tragedy. As a student living in Sheffield and whose family hail from the city, this is a particularly poignant day. This event, despite its scale, receives little attention outside Yorkshire, and is often forgotten in general histories of the period. This article (apologies for linking to the Daily Mail – I’m generally not a fan but this is an interesting article) raises the argument that this neglect of the event is precisely because it happened in the North to working class people – had it happened in London, they argue, it would receive much more attention. I am not sure how much I agree with this very class-based attitude to the event. Perhaps the reason it is rarely studied beyond local enthusiasts is because of its geographical location. At this time the North was booming industrially but London remained England’s core. However I know that many would counter this by saying that the geographic distinction is inherently class-based, as some argue it still is today. However in the long-run, these debates are overshadowed by the very fact of the event. Faced with the terrible death toll and widespread damage, these debates seem little important. What matters is that we remember and commemorate the disaster of this event, and the lives the flood tragically cut short.