Sheffield's Great Flood of March 1864 - stories of just a few of the victims of disaster that hit city

Sheffield historian and author Mick Drewery has written the first of two special articles to mark the anniversary of the disaster of the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864.

By Julia Armstrong
Thursday, 4th March 2021, 3:17 pm

Mick writes: “Having written a book on the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 – Inundation – it wouldn’t be difficult for me to cut and paste something to commemorate the forthcoming anniversary but as I am Chair of the Friends of Loxley Cemetery Group I thought I would do a bit more research on the 22 or so Flood victims buried in Loxley Cemetery.

There may be more victims buried there that we know of as a number of members of families buried at Loxley were not identified immediately after the disaster struck and there is a possibility that their bodies were found at a later date and then reunited in the family grave.

Extensive research on all of the Flood victims has been undertaken by Karen Lightowler in recent years and her work is invaluable to genealogists and local historians alike. Karen is a member of the Group and has made a contribution to the Group’s Flood anniversary special newsletter that members will have received this week.

The Chapmans' cottage. Picture courtesy of Malcolm Nunn

So, rather than cover what has already been done I thought I would look at the Flood victims buried at Loxley from a different angle; from the compensation claims that were submitted to the special commission set up to judge and award claims against the Sheffield Waterworks Company, who were responsible for the Dale Dyke Dam, which collapsed, sending a huge wall of water down the Loxley Valley and through Sheffield, destroying everything before it.

Of the A-Z of Flood victims buried at Loxley, the Armitage and Bates families are covered in the newsletter and will be familiar to members. The other family graves at Loxley are those of the Bower, Chapman, Crownshaw, Denton, Hudson, Turner, Buckley and Proctor families.

No family suffered a greater loss of life than the Armitage family of Malin Bridge as the inundation swept away the Stag Inn taking with it eight of the twelve Armitage family members killed that night. Malin Bridge bore more loss of life to the Flood than any other neighbourhood with at least 102 people being killed. Of all 12 members of the Armitage family lost to the Flood, only the life of 64-year-old landlady of the Stag Inn, Eliza, was claimed for to the Flood Claims Commission.

This was submitted by Arthur Green, forgesmith, and his wife Fanny, and steel melter John Banham and his wife Margaret; Fanny and Margaret being Eliza’s daughters and listed as administratrixes. The claim was for £250 but the record states that this was withdrawn, probably due to the daughters being married and not dependent upon Eliza. No claims were made for any of the family’s property lost in the Flood. Seven members of the Armitage family are buried at Loxley, the other five were recorded as unidentified.

The Bates gravestone, courtesy of Karen Lightowler

File cutter William Grant and his wife Jane submitted claims for the loss of the lives of Thomas and Harriet Bates, also of Malin Bridge, on behalf of their daughter Annie, Jane being administratrix. The claim for the life of table blade grinder Thomas Bates was for £500, which was withdrawn.

The claim for the loss of Harriet Bates was for £300 and this was assessed and agreed by the Commission, who awarded £67-2s, including costs. A further, extensive claim listing property lost by the Bates family amounted to £94-2s. Of this £50 was awarded. The list included work related tools and equipment, furniture and clothing but the single most valuable item was a cured pig at £7-14s.

Seventeen-year-old John Bower was living with the Chapman family at Little Matlock where he was an apprentice forger to Daniel Chapman All occupants of the Chapmans’ cottage were drowned except John Denton, another apprentice.

John Bower’s father, labourer John senior, submitted a claim to the Commission for £10-19s in respect of funeral expenses and expenses for searching for John’s body, which was found at Loxley on March 14. He also claimed for John’s clothes (£1-5s for a suit of working clothes, 12s for a pair of boots and 13s for his clothes box) and 10s cash lost to the water. John senior also included a claim for loss of crops and damage to a garden that he tended at Bland Row, Loxley (£1-15s). Of the total £15-14s claimed John senior was awarded £7-8s.

Sheffield Flood 1864: a newspaper illustration of people searching for the dead at Malin Bridge

A further claim for £100 in respect of the loss of John’s life was withdrawn. This may have been due to young John living with the Chapmans and not contributing to the Bower household. It is most interesting to note from the claims that young John’s clothes and effects actually belonged to one Mr Henry Jubb, a Rotherham solicitor who also owned the garden that John senior rented. Henry Jubb also provided the money to pay for John junior’s funeral. In effect, perhaps excepting what portion was awarded for the loss of crops, the money went to Henry Jubb!

Five members of the Chapman family perished as the torrent of water crashed through their cottage at Little Matlock. The bodies of husband and wife, 29-year-old Daniel and 23-year-old Ellen, were found in Sheffield during the following day. Of their three sons, three-year-old Samuel’s body was found at Loxley on the same day, 14-year-old William’s body was found much later (no date recorded) at Swinton near Rotherham, and the body of six-year-old Frederick was recorded as not identified.

Daniel Chapman’s losses were claimed for by his brother, Thomas, and consisted of furniture from the cottage (£88-18s-4d), clothes of the family and an apprentice - this is likely to have been John Denton, who survived – (£48-9s-6d) and £20-10s cash kept in the property. This appears to be a large amount of money to be kept in the house but it is likely to have been for the payment of wages of the men working the forge on the following day, Saturday; £20-10s is the equivalent of around £1,220 at today’s value.

A Sheffield City Council picture of the damage at Rowell Bridge Wheel, Loxley, Sheffield, following the Great Sheffield Flood

The total claim for Daniel Chapman’s material losses was £157-17s-10d, of which £95 was awarded by the Commission. No claim was made in respect of any Chapman life lost.

Hannah Elizabeth Crownshaw was a live-in barmaid at the Stag Inn and died alongside the Armitage family and two lodgers named James Frith and Henry Hall. Known by her middle name, 17-year-old Elizabeth’s father, John Crownshaw, a butcher’s blade grinder of Loxley Bottom, submitted two claims to the Commission.

The first was in respect of the loss of Elizabeth’s life and, however he came up with a value on his daughter’s life is beyond me, but he submitted a claim for £160 (£9,500 today). The Commission, however, had no difficulty in putting a value on poor Elizabeth’s life; it was £5 (£296).

The second claim was for the loss of a painted deal box and its content of clothes, valued at £10-10s, and for the cost of her funeral, which was £15-15s. John did a little better with this claim and was awarded another £5."

Mick Drewry’s fascinating book Inundation is available direct from the author – email [email protected] To contact Friends of Loxley Cemetery, email [email protected]

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor

A picture of the aftermath of the Sheffield Flood of 1864