Transcript of a story in the North Berks Herald, Saturday, May 3, 1913. NB Punctuation and paragraph layout are the same as
as the original article.
Terrific Storm at Abingdon
STREETS AND HOUSES FLOODED
As the result of a violent thunderstorm which burst over Abingdon and the district on Tuesday evening, Stert Street, Broad Street, the Market Place, and other parts of the town were flooded to an extent far exceeding the steadier but more general flood of November, 1894, and previous inundations of the town from the stream which enters the Stert culvert at the north end of Stert Street.
The basement of the Co-operative Stores, where hundreds of pounds
worth of damage was done.
Picture reproduced by permission of Oxfordshire Photographic Archive
Comment: while the caption says this is the Co-operative stores, the shop signs say otherwise. Inspection of the 1913 street directory shows Aldsworths (see sign) as being sited at 50 Stert Street and described as Engineers and Machinists, and in their advertisement in the same volume, the Railway Engineering Works. This will have been on the West side and probably the building that was adjacent to the Beehive on its South side (where the flood was at its worst.) The windows top right seem to be an unusual design; apparently they are known as Venetian windows.
The storm broke with great violence shortly after seven o'clock, and the downpour of rain continued without intermission and with little abatement for nearly two hours, during which time the gauges kept by residents in various parts of the town registered from 1.75 up to 2 inches of rain, the biggest return being from the Workhouse. After the frequent rains of several previous weeks the water-courses were more or less full and the land was saturated. Consequently, when the sudden rush of water came the course provided for it on the Fitzharris side of the town proved quite inadequate, and the flood came pouring through Mr G.E. King's premises and Mr J.T. Morland's grounds with great force and volume.
SOURCE OF THE MISCHIEF
The offending stream flows from Sunningwell through the meadows to Northcourt, thence across Boxhill and Fitzharris grounds to the culvert in Mr Morland's grounds, continuing under Mr King's premises into Stert Street, where the culvert takes a devious course, leading along Bridge Street to Thames Street and the river. The culvert through which the stream passes at the lower end of Northcourt has recently been enlarged in connection with a road improvement there, with a view to the prevention of floods. It, however, proved of no avail on this occasion. On the upper side of the bridge the parapet was swept away and the flood surged on to the road, which was covered with water for several hundred yards. This breaking of bounds was not a sufficient diversion to prevent the flood from rushing towards Abingdon. (Continued below map)
Shading shows the probable extent of the flood as described in this article (1912 map)
EARLIER INCIDENTS OF THE STORM
During the two hours' downpour (which was accompanied by heavy thunder and vivid lightning) nothing very exceptional had occurred (violent as was the storm) to warn people of the inundation to follow. Wootton Road (near Dunmore Farm), Radley Road (at Pond Head), and other low-lying parts of the district were reported to be flooded, but that was in the ordinary way incident to any severe thunderstorm. In the borough parts of Bostock Avenue and other roads at that end of the town were also under water, but that was nothing alarming. At the Picture Palace in Stert Street more than a hundred people were enjoying an excellent programme when the storm came on. Half-an-hour afterwards the drain in Messrs. North's yard adjoining became choked, and water was observed trickling through the gangway from door to door at one end of the building. Presently it became a steady stream, and the attendants were kept busily employed in sweeping it into the street. Meanwhile, the rain soaked through the ceiling from the operating box, which was flooded out, and the performance had to be stopped, the people receiving passes for the following evening. Hanneford's Circus, stationed in the "Nag's Head" meadow, was partly flooded during the performance, and performers and spectators suffered much discomfort, but the management carried out the entertainment as satisfactorily as could be expected under the circumstances. These were preliminary and unimportant incidents, which, as we have said, did not prepare the occupiers of property in Stert Street and Broad Street for an unprecedented inundation. At half-past-ten, when the storm had passed off and stars shone out brightly, the .......
...........FLOOD WATER CAME WITH A RUSH.......
......from the stream we have described. In the darkness it was impossible to ascertain exactly what had happened on the boundary of Mr Morland's grounds, and we can only describe what was discovered at daybreak after the water had gone down and the place became accessible. It was then seen that the huge volume of water unable to enter the small entrance to the Stert culvert, had surged to the right and made a breach fifty yards in extent in a thick stone wall forming the boundary between Fitzharris and Mr Morland's grounds. To have had such extraordinary power the water must have been of tremendous volume, for the ground is of a much lower level on the outer or Fitzharris side, and the wall was swept down level with the upper ground, above which the structure was built some four or five feet high. This wide breach in the wall extended the line of attack, and partly diverted the rush of water from Mr King's premises to Mr Morland's orchard: otherwise, the former must have suffered more heavily. The water-line along a fowl house and wall in Mr Morland's grounds showed that the flood had attained a height of more than four feet when the full rush was on. On Mr King's side, as the mouth of the culvert at the rear of the premises became choked, the water rose rapidly, and rushed through the gateway and the house into the street to join the flow through the adjoining gates from Mr Morland's grounds. The few people who at eleven o'clock had assembled on the edge of the flood at the lower part of the Vineyard were astonished at the volume and velocity of the water pouring into Stert Street. It was like a mill-stream, and surged through channels which it made in the macadam. The depth of the water at this spot was about 2 ½ feet, and as it flowed to lower ground the area and depth of the flood rapidly increased.
The Stert Stream's outfall under Thames Street and by the bridge.
THE FLOODED PREMISES IN STERT STREET
The Hordeum Works, which flank the west side of Stert Street at that end, were quickly inundated, and the water flowed from the low windows of the old malthouse adjoining into the street. The Lamb and Flag public house was soon flooded. Mr Cullen's grocery warehouse came next, and a stock of sugar, flour, etc, was ruined. A row of cottages, the offices of the Town Clerk, Dr Hayward's house and Mr Thatcher's premises, all on the east side of the street, had 18 inches to two feet of water in them. On the west side, the Knowl, the fine, old fashioned residence of Mr J.G.T. West, was very badly flooded. The water was 2 ½ feet deep at the entrance gate, and there was nearly two feet of water on the ground floor. Furniture floated about, and the inundation was so rapid that little could be done in the way of removal. The premises now occupied by the Oxford Co-operative Society , at the corner of Broad Street, have suffered considerably from each of these rare floods in Stert Street. The ground slopes towards the shop, and the water rushed to this lower level into the cellar as through a sluice. After the cellar had been filled the water rose steadily up the outside walls of the premises, and in the gutter at the corner the depth was nearly four feet, while in the shop it was afterwards ascertained that the counter had been covered by 3 ½ feet of water. On the opposite side of Broad Street the Bee Hive public house fared ill. The cellar was full of water, and the gas-meter was dislodged. At the counter in the bar the water stood 2 feet 3 inches deep, and poured through the closed doors from a level some inches higher. Meanwhile the flood was steadily rising and encroaching along Stert Street. The ground slopes towards the west side and consequently the shops there had to bear the brunt of the misfortune. Messrs Ely Bros, stationers and tobacconists, had nearly three feet of water in their shop, and a considerable quantity of stationery, fancy goods, tobacco, etc, was saturated. Mr Hathaway's cellar, shop, etc, were also flooded, and< confectionary goods and stores were spoilt. Even when the flood had reached thus far up the street people, basing their calculations on past experience, did not anticipate any considerable quantity of water finding its way much further. But they were soon disagreeably deceived. Between 12 and 2 o'clock the flood covered the whole street, filling all cellars, and covering ground floors a depth of from 18 inches to two feet, according to the height of the sills. Harrison's (Mr Cullen's) provision stores, including the cellar, were invaded by the rush of water. Messrs. Langford's corn stores were badly flooded, and sacks of corn and seeds stood halfway in water. Mr Palmer's beer and wine cellar was filled, and the shop and rooms behind were flooded to a depth of more than two feet, a quantity of confectionery goods being reached by the water. The premises of Mr J. E. Cottrell, butcher, were extensively flooded, and water poured into the cellars, but fortunately it did not reach one cellar in which a quantity of bacon was stored, and 30 pigs in pens at the rear of the yard, awaiting slaughter, escaped an earlier fate. Mr Hainsworth's shop and hairdressing room, and other premises on that side of the street, were also more or less flooded. At Mr. Dupont's drapery establishment the gas-meter was detached from the pipe in the flooded cellar, and the gas escaped until cut off from the main. In the shop a considerable stock of dress lengths and other drapery on shelves near the floor were badly damaged. The shop of Mr W.H. Hooke, stationer, had about 18 inches of water in it, and a quantity of leather and fancy goods and stationery was spoilt. On the east side of Stert Street Mr Cullen suffered further loss, and altogether he had four shops and warehouses involved. His stock, damaged or utterly spoilt, included a large quantity of sugar and flour, and he has estimated his loss at £500. The Meadowsweet Dairy Company's shop was among those flooded, the stock being much damaged. From the Plough public house to Mr Warland Andrew's studio all the premises along the east side of Stert Street were flooded to a depth of from 18 inches to two feet, and tradesmen suffered loss by stocks being damaged. In many instances willing help was rendered the owners by friends who waded more than knee-deep in the swirling water to rescue anything stocked near the ground floors. The water, after slightly flooding St Nicholas' church near the Norman doorway, reached the ridge in the broad space beyond, and then ran down the gutter in Bridge Street, the pressure being thus relieved. In the meantime the water had covered the middle of the Market Place and the gas-lights, reflected on the rippled surface made what resembled a Venetian scene
IN BROAD STREET
The flood reached nearly the whole length of Broad Street, filling the Steam Plough and other cellars, and covering the ground floors of shops and houses. Dr Challenor's household at The Limes had the worst experience, for the premises were inundated from the rear, where the water, rushing from Mr Morland's grounds, burst through cracks in a brick wall , and flowed over garden and lawn into the house, flooding the surgery, drug store, and other rooms, including the kitchen, to a considerable depth, varying according to the floor level. In the surgery and kitchen the block flooring, swelling with the moisture, burst from their setting, and were thrown about in confusion. The drug store, forming a sort of cellar below, was flooded to a depth of several feet, and required pumping out the next morning. During the flood Mrs Challenor courageously made her way to an outhouse on the farther side of the garden, and rescued a number of fowls, which otherwise must have perished. The water reached nearly half the length of Queen Street, and a number of cottages were flooded.
At two a.m. the flood began to abate, and two hours afterwards it had disappeared, leaving a nauseous slime on the floors of shops and houses.
THE SCENE ON WEDNESDAY MORNING
A large number of people visited the scene of the flood during Wednesday, when the Borough Surveyor's staff and extra hands were busy, as they had been during the night. The steam fire-engine, two manual engines and several hand-pumps were used in pumping water from the cellars, and the work occupied the whole of the day. Tradesman and their assistants were engaged in overhauling and sorting their damaged stocks, and householders were vigorously cleaning the muddy and saturated floors. Mr Morland's orchard remained flooded, and ground from which the water had receded bore traces of the torrent which had swept over it. The boundary wall which had yielded to the force of the stream lay shattered for a distance of 50 yards, as if a battering ram had been used against it. Flower beds and borders had been swept by the flood, and debris deposited upon them. Boards and boxes were piled up on corners, and in the orchard hen-coops lay stranded or were floating about. A large quantity of poultry, including prize strains, had been overtaken by the flood, and about 170 hens and chickens perished. A pony and donkey had to swim for their lives. The water-line along the stone wall and a fowl- house built against it showed that the flood had reached an astounding height, measuring more than four feet. As already explained, the spreading of the water caused by the bursting of the wall saved Mr King's premises from more serious damage, but the water rushed through to the yard with great force, making huge holes, one of which required several barrow-loads of broken bricks to fill it. The water also swept through the house from back to front. Mr King had the foresight to remove his motor-car from the gateway to high ground in the Vineyard. In the Hordeum Works a quantity of gluten meal in sacks was saturated, and other damage was caused by the inundation. Where the water had rushed through one of the old malthouse doors a deep hole was made in the street, while in all directions the binding material of the roads was washed away, and the surface left rough and stony. The Knowl, like Dr Challenor's house, was in a deplorable condition on account of the large quantity of mud and other filth deposited upon the floors and furniture. No attempt was made to clear up the Co-operative Stores until Thursday, when the drawers in the counters were found full of water, and the woodwork was so swollen that reconstruction of the fittings seemed inevitable. All stock left within three or four feet from the floor was entirely spoilt. As already stated, Mr Cullen is the heaviest loser by the flood, his large grocery stock being mainly stored on ground floors or in cellars.
With the help of a balance remaining on an old relief fund account gifts of coal were made to enable cottagers to dry their houses.
Several cyclists returning home on Tuesday night attempted to ride through the flood in Stert Street, but had to dismount in water which in places was nearly waist high. An enterprising jobmaster brought out a horse and vehicle to convey people through the flood.
The many tons of groceries spoilt by the water in Mr Cullen's various stores comprised sugar, flour, soap, salt (stacks of which were dissolved) tea, jams, cocoa, etc.
The fall of two inches of rain on Tuesday evening was equivalent to 200 tons of water per acre of land. Mr F. Mitchell of Culham writes:- "Our rainfall on Tuesday evening from 7 to 9 was 2.04 inches. Reckoning an inch of rain to the acre as weighing 100 tons and the area of the Culham parish as 2000 acres, over 400,000 tons of water fell in two hours."
The river rose rapidly after the storm and yesterday had overflowed the towing-path near Abingdon bridge. On Tuesday night the water rushed from the mouth of the Stert culvert in Thames Street with such tremendous force that the (unreadable - flow?) could be traced across several arches of the bridge with which it ran parallel.
The district was visited by another thunderstorm on Thursday afternoon, but the rainfall was only moderate. Several roads in the district were, however, flooded in the evening.
An Oxford Journal Illustrated photographer was at the scene of the flood on Wednesday and pictures will appear in the next edition of that popular paper.