The just-completed Dale Dyke Dam ruptured on this date in 1864, sending 100 million gallons of water rushing through the Loxley river valley toward the English city of Sheffield. The local economy was driven by the city’s expanding steel industry, and Sheffield was in great need of new supplies of water. Constructed over five years by the Sheffield Water Company, the reservoir was being filled for the first time on the evening of March 11 when the dyke’s earthen wall collapsed. Within minutes, the towns of Bradfield, Damflask, Little Matlock, and Malin Bridge had been obliterated, with parts of Hillsborough and Owlerton suffering major damage as well before the torrent struck Sheffield itself, crushing several working class residential areas.
The Illustrated London News described the flood as a “water demon” that roared “with a voice of thunder” as it charged through the valley.
Everything gave way before the roaring torrent. The immense mass of water, filled with debris, razed the ground along its track as easily, and almost as instantaneously, as a cannon-ball makes for itself a lane deep into the ranks of living men. Whole familes — buried in sleep or, perchance, startled from it by the rushing roar — were literally hurled into eternity.Well over 250 people lost their lives in the Sheffield Flood, which remains the greatest human-caused disaster in British history. The oldest victim, Ann Cook of Rutland Road, was 87. The two youngest -- including the first to die in the flood -- had been born March 9 and had not yet been named. At Malin Bridge, the Armitage family lost eleven members and the Spooners thirteen. At Hill Bridge, a man named William Crookes jumped from his bedroom window, fearing that his house was about the be dislodged by the cascade; his house was in fact perfectly safe, but Crookes later died from the injuries he sustained in the fall. At the farmhouse of James Trickett near Malin Bridge, ten people died, including Trickett’s entire family, one boarder and three servants. While there were no human survivors at the Trickett farm, eleven cows, six calves and a pig survived when the flood waters missed the barn where they were sleeping and crushed the house instead.
In the morning, the very foundations of their humble and hitherto peaceful abodes were undiscernible, and their bodies were lodged, some of them miles off, in the most unheard-of nooks and corners — here and there singly, elsewhere in heaps of ten, a dozen, or fourteen. Almost all were in their night-dresses — from some even these had been torn off by the violence of the flood. Several were shockingly mangled, and all, of course, covered with slime and mud. Let us draw a veil over this part of the picture; it is too heartrending to allow of our taking more than a general and hasty glance at it.