Artistic tribute to catastrophic flood devastation

A contemporaryphotograph of the devastation caused by the bursting of the Dale Dyk Dam in 1864.
A contemporaryphotograph of the devastation caused by the bursting of the Dale Dyk Dam in 1864.
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Sheffield’s Great Flood may have happened 150 years ago, but the catastrophic event has been remembered in a very special one-off exhibition.

The Great Flood, which happened on March 11, 1864, tore through the city’s Loxley Valley area and killed up to 300 Sheffielders.

But while the catastrophe may now be consigned to the library archives, its memory is still alive at the 99 Mary Street gallery, in an exhibition known simply as ‘Flood’.

Flood’s centrepiece is a series of archival images – never before seen in public – taken after the dam had burst back in 1864. The stunningly-detailed images show a ravaged Loxley Valley, strewn with debris, battered gable-ends and wrecked masonry.

But in spite of this, the people in the scene are seen in their best dress – long, elegant skirts and even tops and tails.

The photographs belonged to the father of Nik Daughtry, who runs DED design company, which is based at 99 Mary Street.

He said: “My father was an electrician and was gifted the images in 1975 from the owner of a house he was working on in Crookes.

“He found them in a hidden roof space and offered to buy the pictures.

“The lady who lived there said he would need to speak to her son when he returned from work. He waited and when the son returned, the son said he was happy for him just to have them, seeing as he was a keen historian.”

The photographs, now enlarged and on display, inspired the artists’ artwork for the exhibition.

Painter Lyn Hodnett chose to paint a ghostly-looking figure seen in one of the photographs.

The artist said: “There’s a figure with their back to us in the corner of one of the images. I think it’s a woman because of her big dress so I decided to turn her around so that she is looking at us.”

Another artist, silversmith Brett Payne, created a candlestick to mark the flood’s anniversary.

“A lot of silversmiths were killed in the flood, so this nods to them.

“But my piece is also produced using a very similar method – I’m just using a hammer to forge it and fire.

“And it’s nice because the candle will be lit in memory of the flood victims.”

Ceramicist Emily Taylor created a vase that will collapse – echoing the dam – once it’s filled with water.

“I’ve decided to depict tower blocks on the vase because the dam itself was created to support Sheffield’s exploding population, in the same way that huge blocks of flats were constructed as a solution to a growing population.”

But perhaps the eeriest artwork in the show is Anthony Bennett’s sculpture of one of the flood’s victims, Joseph Goddard.

“Joseph, and his wife Sarah, were killed in the flood,” says Anthony.

“His children searched all over the valley for their parents and then they found the bodies.”

Anthony’s realistic sculpted head is complete with an Abraham Lincoln beard.

“In the Victorian times it was custom for people to create death masks of their loved ones.

“In this case it was the son who made his dad’s death mask. He would have surrounded the head with linen and then poured the plaster on the face.

“It’s said that the plaster of a death mask is mixed with the tears of the loved one and you can imagine this with the death mask of Joseph Goddard.”

Like many of the flood’s victims, Joseph Goddard was a skilled craftsman.

“He was a stained glass craftsman and would walk around Sheffield with his telescope, tapping on stained glass windows and inspecting them in the hope of finding a fault so he could get some work out of it.”

But Anthony’s given a bit of life back to Joseph Goddard.

“I’ve brought him back to life so I’ve opened his eyes and trimmed his face. I’d say I’ve taken about 10 years off him.”

To complement the sculpture of Joseph Bennett, metalworker and stained glass artist Katharine Boyd has created a stained glass window made of lilies.

“I thought the lilies could represent Joseph and his wife Sarah,” she says.

Printmaker Jo Peel drew a scene of flood devastation on the gallery’s vast glass frontage.

And artist Jason Thompson has carved wreckage from a piece of wood from a scrapped Sheffield tree.

The variety of work in Flood is stunning - but the real star of the show is the series of enlarged glass-plate contemporary photographs.

Flood runs until tomorrow at 99 Mary Street.