The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Waveney Valley Floods of August 1912

We were struck by a Tornado on New Year's day. It was only an R0 when we got it, taking the tops off trees and so on, but it, in places it lifted off roofs, and moved cars. Tornados are not uncommon, strangely enough, and one can read accounts of storm damage in old newspapers where the storms are, pretty certainly, tornados. Whenever we get an unusual weather event, the journalists start chanting the 'climate change' mantra. A strange amnesia grips the average man when faced with the subject of weather. He can remember about wars, the names of the kings of england, and famous footballers of the 1940s, but extreme weather events seem to get lost to history, thereby making today's weather seem unusual.

East Anglia suffers from summer rainstorms that can be catastrophic. In fact, the Norwich Union was formed after two disasterous floods in Norwich in the nineteenth century. Here is a striking account, preserved in Eugene Ulph’s Scrapbook 1962-64, which is now in the Beccles Museum, describing such a summer storm, the Waveney Valley Floods.

Waveney Valley Floods of August 1912

Torrential rain accompanied by a severe hurricane left scenes of flooding and desolation. The strong wind and heavy rain played havoc with trees, orchards and houses on the higher ground. In 36 hours four inches of rain fell at Beccles. Weeks of wet days with only occasional sunshine culminated in a deluge in the last weekend of August. However towards the end of Sunday there seemed to be a promise of better things. On the contrary, the next day brought terrific wind and more rain and on the Tuesday morning the extent of the widespread damage was fully apparent.

Slates and tiles strewed the roads, tall trees were on the ground and fruit trees were stripped of their crops. chimney stacks were either on the ground or resting on neighbouring properties. Right in the middle of the town there was special evidence of the force of the storm in the battered appearance of the detached tower of the Parish Church. Large portions of stonework had been forced off by wind and rain.

The Waveney burst its banks, and miles of marshland on both sides of the town resembled a vast inland sea. The Gillingham Marshes were often flooded during the winter months, but this time water also lay to a great depth on those belonging to the Corporation.

Railway communication on the Waveney Valley Line between Beccles and Bungay was impossible as the track across Gillingham marshes was washed away for some distance. It was not long before the rising waters on the Corporation level brought services along the Yarmouth and Lowestoft lines to a standstill.

Swirling expanses of water cut off the town from the west, north and east. Even the south was affected, for from the higher ground towards Weston water rushed through Swine’s Green and along St Anne’s Road, causing flooding at Ingate Street. The medieval St Anne’s River was in existence once again. Its swollen waters contributed to those rapidly rising on the College and Caxton football grounds at the railway end of the Avenue.

Scene of desolation.

There was a scene of desolation in the Avenue, as elsewhere, as many trees had been blown down and the roadway was submerged to a depth of nearly a foot. It was very difficult to get to the Common, both lanes also being flooded.

Allotment holders in that part of the town suffered greatly as the preceding weather had delayed the harvesting of crops. When the water eventually receded, tenants found their plots in a deplorable state through the overflowing of sewage. Pumping at the Common Lane sewage station stopped on the Tuesday and could not be restarted for several days. In the meantime there was an awful accumulation in the sewers, causing a lot of concern to the authorities.

House flooding was particularly serious in the vicinity of the river. Many properties suffered at Bridge Street, Fen Lane, Thurlow’s Yard and Puddingmoor. There was a loss too at industrial undertakings. The timber yards and saw mills of Darby Bros. just on the Gillingham side of Beccles Bridge, were completely submerged. On the Beccles bank the tannery at Northgate was badly hit. Work was suspended for almost a week through the yards being inundated, the pits flooded and the water level reaching the fire bars of the engine.

Messrs Smith & Eastaugh lost a quantity of malt from their premises at the Score. Several tons of salt were dissolved when the water reached their store at the Staithe. The Northgate boat-sheds of George Wright were flooded. Mr Wright pointed out marks made on his buildings during a big inundation in 1879. Their height however was exceeded by eight or nine inches this time.

Bullocks Rescued.

Being summertime there were plenty of cattle on the marshes bordering the Waveney on the Gillingham side of the town. When on Monday evening water was creeping up an effort was made by marsh-men to remove a batch of five store beasts to safety. Despite their persistent efforts the bullocks refused to budge and, finally had to be left to their fate.

Next morning a photographer, Mr A. Leyneek, of Station Road, happened to see the animals floundering about while he was gazing at the flooded marshes from the churchyard wall. Braving the danger caused by wind and swiftly flowing water, he borrowed a rowing boat and set out towards the animals in the hope that he could attract them to safety. After a great deal of patient effort he got them to swim towards the town side of the river. Eventually they were hauled ashore by a band of willing helpers at the Puddingmoor boatyard of Mr Herbert Hipperson.

Wheat and barley standing in sheaves in the fields between Harleston and Bungay was washed away by the rising waters. Bungay itself was almost surrounded. Moving over Earsham Dam like a huge river, the flood washed away the embankment of the railway and the ballast from the track. The same thing happened on the Ditchingham side of Bungay station.

Some animals were drowned.


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