These days the trend seems to be to blame freak catastrophes caused by the weather on something called ‘global warming’, which applies whenever we have an above average summer, or that other and incidentally meaningless term ‘climate change’, which serves as a catch-all for all remaming meteorological anomilies (hot or cold).
It’s worth noting, then, with the recent spate of floods across the North that this is nothing new, as the record will show.
On December 23, 1837, a Saturday, Leeds was hit by a freak flood so severe that, according to the Leeds Mercury of that date, it was “one of the most highest and sudden floods ever known in Yorkshire or other parts of the kingdom” and led to “calamatous results”, specifically in Water Lane, where a large boiler was disturbed from its position “on the bank of the Monkpits” and washed downstream and in the process destroyed a temporary footbridge “together with about 12 trees”.
It went on to say that the main bridge, which was in the process of construction by Messrs Fayrell and Sons, was not “in the slightest bit damaged.”
However, others did not get off so lightly. Among those affected were Marshall and Co, Tetleys. The water inside Marshall’s mill was said to be 13 inches higher than the level of Water Lane itself. The water rushed with such force it threatened to carry away several horses, tethered in the stables there but were rescued at the last moment.
Several tons of wood, the property of one James Wilson, was washed away downstream from School Close, while the affect was even felt on Briggate, with one grocer, Mr Fessant, who lost a quantity of sugar to the rising waters.
“The water in some places, was four or five feet high and the thoroughfare, therefore, impassable, excepting to those who had a relish for a cold bath.”
The paper also reported: “Three gentlemen enganged a donkey cart to take them out of Water-lane [sic] onto Briggate. The ass, with the patience common to his kind, plodded his way very satisfactorily for some distance but unforuntaly, becoming entangled in a hole, he fell. The cart was upset, driver and passengers tumbled into the water. After floundering about they acceeded to getting to land without injuries other than the mortification of being heartily laughed at by spectators.”
Down near Lady Lane, the water was said to be “so strong that articles of iron weighing severt hundredweight were tossed about like so many pots.”
Of course, this was not the first time Leeds had seen a flood. There were others, notably in 1775 and also 1807.
On Tuesday October 26, 1875, “A Sufferer” wrote to the Leeds Mercury commenting on a recent flood which resulted in the loss of many barges. He wrote: “I beg to say the whole mischeif might have been prevented if there had been proper moorings. In the first place, the moorings are not sufficiently strong for the pressure put upon them.
“It would be well if the managers of the Canal Company would copy the example of the Aire and Calder Company - they do not allow old craft to accumulate in the river.” He dded: “And kindly allow me to suggest that if private policemen were stationed on their premises, [they] would prevent the whoelsale stealing of coal which is daily going on.”