Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Wednesday, March 20, 2002


‘February fill-dyke, black or white.’ The old saying seems to be becoming more true each year! I don’t know whether it’s because of global-warming or simply that we are having a run of bad weather but the poor people down in Gill Meadows could be forgiven for getting quite depressed about this. I have every sympathy with them and I think I can guess at the questions they are asking. Why didn’t the developer foresee this and put an adequate drain down to the canal?

Remember what I said about history often teaching us lessons? I was looking at some papers in Barnoldswick Library a couple of years ago and came across an account of a court case between a man called John Bagshawe and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company 1790/1799. John Bagshawe inherited the Coates estate from his uncle William in 1791. The estate included farms at Coates Hall, Greenberfield and Coates Flatt, the Corn Mill and Greenberfield Quarries.

When the canal company first brought out plans for the line of the canal in 1770 William negotiated with them to make sure they put in ‘an arched road’ under the canal to allow a road to the quarry to pass through and also a newly constructed ‘deep drain’ he had put in to de-water Greenberfield Quarry. I wonder whether this is the drain which is failing the inhabitants at Gill Meadows now? Remember that if the canal wasn’t there, it would make sense for the drain to head towards the valley below the canal about two hundred yards west of the lock-keepers house. It looks like a likely candidate to me. I know this doesn’t help make the water flow but it might be useful to know where the drain originally ran from and its age.

We are very lucky in Barlick as regards flooding because we are high up on the watershed. County Brook and Lancashire Ghyll (just beyond the Stone Trough pub) flow towards Earby but everything from the far side of the Weets and Foulridge flows out into Lancashire. Earby bears the brunt of this water as anyone living at Lane Ends will tell you! All Barlick has to contend with is the water off the east side of Weets down Gillians Beck and Calf Hall Beck. Under normal circumstances this is no problem but there was at least one time when we saw just what the dangers could be.

A lot of the older people in the town will remember the flood that hit the town on July 12th 1932. There was an ice storm and cloudburst on the Weets and all the becks became raging torrents. Bancroft Dam was washed out, the wall next to the road torn down and the water rushed down below Hey Farm and down Ouzeldale. Clough Mill was flooded and the culvert under Walmsgate overwhelmed.

At the same time, Calf Hall Beck had joined in as well. The beck runs under Calf Hall Shed in a large culvert under the weaving shed and this couldn’t take the water. My mate Ernie Roberts was working there at the time and he said that the first warning they had was when water started to well up through the flags in the floor. Within ten minutes the flags were bursting out, lifting the heavy looms and the flow of water washed them into a heap. The back gable end caved in and the beck ran straight into the shed. The weavers rushed out and there was so much water running down the side of the mill they had to fix a rope across the lane so that they could get across on to the higher ground next to the shed. One weaver called Mole was washed away and finished up in Calf Hall Lane, luckily he was alright.

The water rushed down towards Butts Mill and flooded that as well. Below Butts things got worse as the two becks combined. Harold Duxbury told me that he and Evered Houldsworth were standing in Briggs and Duxbury’s original works on Commercial street looking through the window at the back and watching the water rise. It rose very quickly to the level of the old slaughter houses and Harold said he remembers clearly that there were lumps of ice two inches across floating past, remember, this was July! As they watched they saw a hand above the top of one of the stable doors in the block of buildings below. It was a carter called Widdup and he was trapped. Harold and Sid Barnett got a rope and went down into the flood. They had to pull rubble and stones away from the door but they got him out before the water reached the ceiling. Harold had to borrow a change of clothes off his father because he only had one set!

Harold told me that there were cats and dogs and bits of huts floating past and never seen again. Cars were washed down Walmsgate and everything finished up in a heap at the bottom of Lamb Hill. There were two things Harold remembers clearly about that day. The paper credited his father with the rescue instead of him and he never got his watch to run again! The carter, Widdup, died shortly afterwards and Harold said that he didn’t think he ever got over the shock of his near-drowning.

So, history is giving us a message. Even though we are generally safe from floods, if we get a severe enough event on the Weets, the 1932 flood could happen again. We would do well to remember this and make sure that the culvert under Clough Park is kept clear, don’t allow the becks to be used as dumping places for rubbish and look to our own drains if we are anywhere near one of the watercourses. Better to do something now than wait until there is another cloudburst.

Back numbers on, contact me on 813527 or I’ll be pleased to hear from you.