Worst Ever Floods Devastate the Eden Valley

Posted 20th January 2016 by Maggie Clowes

This wasn’t written in 2015, though it could have been. March 1968 saw what seems to have been a flash flood in Appleby; the river broke its banks at 5pm and the water started to recede seven hours later. But in that short time Jubilee Bridge was badly damaged and people said they felt the St Lawrence Bridge “shudder”. At one point it wasn’t possible to cross the road because of the strong currents. Some businesses carried on regardless: the chip shop didn’t stop cooking chips, the pubs kept pulling pints and Burne’s Garage (actually on the Sands) continued serving petrol until 9p.m. Some brave souls donned swimming costumes to save their possessions and one old lady would have slept through it all if the Vicar and the Police Sergeant hadn’t broken into her house. We found this account of the 1968 floods in a scrapbook compiled by Mrs Kath Smith which she kindly loaned to the Society.

Read the full report:

Worst ever floods devastate the Eden Valley


Flood water swept through homes, shops and garages Last Sunday saw the start of a massive mopping-up operation at Appleby, where the damage was estimated to be in the region of £250,000. The Mayor, Mr Fred Brown, has launched an appeal for contributions to an emergency fund. Everybody gave a hand in cleaning up the damage left by the River Eden, which burst its banks on Saturday evening, rising to its highest level since 1928. All day the swollen river had been nearing danger level and by 4.30 it was swirling ominously at the pavement edge on the Sands. Then just before 5p.m. it gave way and the water spilled over the A66 road, flooding it to a depth of several feet. This was the signal for residents on the eastern side of the town to move furniture, carpets etc. upstairs, while those on the Sands tried desperately to salvage cars and goods from their shops.

About midnight the flood water reached its peak, and all low-lying ground on both sides of the river had been transformed into a swirling lake. The main road was completely inaccessible and traffic had to be diverted via Garbridge Lane and the Express Dairy. It was not until about 1a.m. that the waters began to recede, and then for the first few hours, only very slowly. It left a trail of broken wreckage and slime in its wake with pavements ripped up and walls knocked down.

The flood water badly damaged the Jubilee Bridge, completely sweeping away the Bongate side and buckling the superstructure. Bystanders on the bridge over the Eden were worried about its safety when the archways practically disappeared, and the bridge started to shudder with the pressure of water. Both bridges were built in the 1880’s, the Jubilee Bridge being erected by the Appleby Corporation to commemorate Queen Victoria’s reign of fifty years.


Several were trapped by the rapidly rising water, including Mr Harry Horn and Mr Robert Hull, who own a coffee bar and sweet shop on the Sands. Luckily, their kitchen had a flat roof and they were able to climb out of the bathroom window and on to the bridge, via this roof. A difficult task in itself, but even trickier with five poodle pups also to move. Another rescue operation took place at Low Wiend, when the Vicar, the Rev. A.G.W. Dixon, tried to rouse 90 year old Mrs Eleanor P Gibson. Failing to do so, he contacted Sgt. Derek Read. Accompanied by Mrs May Coney and Mr Frank Wappett, they gained entry to the house and rescued the sleeping Mrs Gibson and took her to the safety of the Vicarage. Mrs Gibson was quite unharmed and returned home on Monday.


While many stopped work to watch the flood’s progress, some tradesmen battled grimly on, including the staff at Burne’s garage. They continued selling petrol until 9 p.m., when the garage was standing in 4 ft. of water! When the water became too deep to enter the office for change, they brought the till out on to higher ground and carried on from there. Mrs Marjorie Knowles, who is employed at the garage, told a “Herald” reporter that the water reached nearly 5ft. in the lock-up garages. On Sunday morning, they hardly dare look in them, but the cars were not badly damaged and were left to dry out. “We got all the new cars out,” she said, adding that the staff took them to higher ground on Garth Head’s Road. She estimated the damage at around £1,000 but said that they had fortunately sealed off the petrol tanks early in the morning so they were undamaged. Mrs Knowles laughed when she recounted the amount of salvage they had collected., including a chest of drawers, a small cabinet and a 40 gallon drum of oil, which came floating down the main road.

Appleby’s only chip shop kept on frying until 9.30p.m. when the water was lapping around the counter and they were forced to close shop.


Mr Don Joscelyne, Spooner’s Garage, recalled the events of Saturday night, from when they first knew for sure that the river would flood. He and his staff worked against time to clear twelve new and second-hand cars from the workshop and showroom and tow them to higher ground, but some of his own could not be got out in time. They placed stores and equipment on what they thought was a safe level, but they later had to be moved again even higher. During these operations he was also occupied with towing stranded motorists who had ventured through the floods on the Sands. “By this time the strength of the current was such that even wading across had become a perilous operation” he said. “We locked the doors so that any equipment of a buoyant nature would at least be contained in the garage.” During the clearing of the vehicles, they also had to remove the ambulance - which they staff - to the other side of the town, to prevent it from getting marooned, but Mr Joscelyne was forced to go over later and make sure it was not going to be marooned there either.


On his return he found that the current was now far too strong for hime to re-cross the main road, leaving Mr Tom Winder and his family, together with some of the staff “marooned” in Mr Winders flat above the garage where they spent a very uncomfortable night. At one stage Mr Winder and Mr Brian Crisp donned bathing costumes and swam around the garage trying to secure the doors and tie down floating equipment, but were unable to stop the workshop office desk from floating downstream. Mr Joscelyne recently took over the cafe next door, and he had to rescue the staff by means of a Land Rover.


The Bowling Green and Tennis Club ground was flooded to a depth of 5ft., and on Sunday morning the green still looked like a swimming pool. The damage is reckoned to be about £1,500 and although the green might be in use again in about a month, the tennis court - which was completely devastated, will be out of action for the whole season. The football pitch was not only flooded, but was littered with debris from a wall which had collapsed with the pressure of the water in Chapel Street. A spokesman for the club said they anticipated that Saturday’s match would be still on if they could clear all the debris away in time. “It is going to take a lot of hard work,” he said ”but the soil is very sandy and the field should drain in time.”


Waist deep in water were Mr & Mrs L Elliott, The Sands, who had to spend the night upstairs while the water swept through their downstair rooms. “I was really frightened” said Mrs Phyllis Elliott “The water was roaring and I was afraid the house wouldn’t stand it.” The water, in fact, demolished one of the downstairs walls, and Mr Elliott who had to keep going downstairs to lift furniture to a safer height, eventually resorted to his swimming trunks. Even the Police Station which is about 4ft 6in above the road was flooded to a depth of 18ins, forcing officers to move to an upstairs room. Across the river, it was much the same story. Chapel Street and Low and High Wiend were flooded to a depth of 4ft. while Bridge Street reached a depth of 18in. Mr & Mrs Dennis Balmer and their young family, in common with other Chapel Street residents, were stranded up stairs all night, with only a candle for a light. Mrs Rachel Dodgson was one of many who made the mistake of judging how high the water would be and finding to her cost that she had not placed her furniture high enough. She had put a lot on top of a table, but unfortunately everything was swept off into the water.


The public houses in the town had their fair share of trouble. The Grapes Inn was badly flooded, but the landlord, Mr Leslie Mounsey, assured everyone that business would carry on as usual - but it was a case of standing room only, for all the seats were soaked. Mrs L Dinan, whose husband is landlord of the Crown and Cushion Inn, not only found her home flooded with water, but also with refugees from the other side of the river. She spent half the night supplying them with coffee, tea and biscuits. Describing seeing the water rushing through the Cloisters, Mrs Dinan said “It was terrifying. it came gushing through the cracks in the walls.”


For St Lawrence Church, it was a sad day when it was flooded to a depth of 2ft. The Vicar and about 30 parishioners spent Sunday clearing the unpleasant residue and slime from the church, and it was a strange sight to see the carpets from the aisles hung over the gravestones to dry. A funeral which was due to be held on Sunday afternoon, had to be transferred to Appleby’s other church, St Michael’s at Bongate. But a wedding on Monday went on as planned despite the absence of carpets. The Council offices in the Cloisters suffered considerable flood damage, but the adjoining office, belonging to Mr W. Binney, architect, came off worse, with foundations damaged, The fire brigade did a marvellous job pumping out houses and cellars, and were out on Saturday night and all day on Sunday and Monday. Their own premises were flooded, but they were too busy to deal with this and the water was left to drain away on its own.


The Borough Council swung into action by organising coal for those stricken by the floods and contacting large local organisations to see if they could supply heating and drying equipment. They gratefully acknowledged the help of Messrs P. A Haines (Northern) Ltd; British Gypsum Ltd., A. Atkinson and Derek Richardson. Other organisations which came to the aid of the town were the Round Table, the Rotary, the Inner Wheel, and the Ladies Circle. Doctors, nurses and County Welfare officials all gave valuable assistance and tried to visit all the old people who had suffered from the flood. One thing which gave heart to those stricken victims was the spirit of neighbourliness which everyone showed, and the many offers of help that they received.

More News
Previous Page...