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Floods of Beckingham and Saundby

Beckingham Floods

Prior to the Second World War the area of Beckingham Marshes through to Misterton frequently flooded during the winter months. Armed with Hurricane Lamps it was not unknown for a number of 30 to 40 locals to use the area for ice skating when frozen over.

Floods 1947

The floods of 1947 were very memorable countrywide and became known as ‘Black Saturday’. It had been a particularly harsh winter and during January and February of 1947 there were some very heavy snowfalls with bitterly cold weather in between the showers. The ground had become frozen for up to a metre in depth so when the snow melted there was nowhere for the excess water to go. On 14th March when the thaw started the Water Board at that time, Trent Catchment Board (TCB), immediately started pumping water out of the fields.

On the 18th March the river was so high that people living in Melrose Road in Gainsborough started moving their possessions upstairs and a warning was put out on the 19th by TCB that the River Trent would be over the banks by evening tide. Dykes and banks were bursting all the way to Keadby with Crowle Pumping Station underwater. At the shipyard the workers were desperately trying to reinforce the bank but the river kept rising and putting more pressure on their efforts.

Photograph from the Carter Collection, Gainsborough Library, courtesy of Lincs CC
On the 20th March a stretch of Beckingham railway was completely washed away the other side of the Ramper Road in Saundby. Ernest Edwardson who lived in Saundby at Hall Top Farm, remembers being the last person to cross Gainsborough Bridge when he was fortunate to acquire a lift from a lorry carrying steel girders. If it hadn’t have been for the fact the lorry was heavily laden it was doubtful
whether it would have made the journey because by then the force of the water crossing the road was extremely strong and up to the axles on the vehicle. The road was closed for a week afterwards. The flood waters filled most of the fields in Beckingham from The Trent to within 30 feet of the 3 storey Shipyard Houses near the Railway Station.

The floodwater crept into the cottages and offices at the Shipyard and residents had to move out because the electricity was off and the water was still rising. The Army arrived on Saturday the 22nd to help evacuate all the residents and on that day they took away 23 people, 3 dogs and one cat in their ‘Army Duck’. The only remaining people down at the shipyard were 3 employees of Watson’s and 2 remaining cats who were all collected the next day by Army Duck. It was not to be another week before the electricity was resumed and at least 2 weeks before the Old Trent Road was open again to all vehicles and the employees back to work at the Shipyard. The clearing up operation was massive and the residents of the cottages were quite some time before they were able to move back in. All along the banks of the river along the east side of Gainsborough devastation was everywhere. The banks of the Trent burst at Morton flooding the area with 3000 people having to be evacuated. It was not until the receeding of the water that a body was found in ‘The Gap’ at Morton which belonged to a Mr Cooper that had gone missing a year earlier.

The breach in the bank at Morton extended to 280 feet wide, 50 feet deep and 250 feet inland which was a huge area to be repaired and needed specialist equipment. Huge mattresses were made from willow, built and sunk at both sides of the breach – this gave a base to work on. A 600 ton, 80 foot Dutch Crane was then brought across the North Sea and down from Hull which was the only vessel to be able to get close enough to the hole and deposit 2000 tonnes of material into the breach.

For the victims of Gainsborough and rural areas the British Red Cross donated a gift of £1000 worth of bedding, clothing and food and the government allocated each of 3000 households with half a hundredweight of coal and 2lbs of soap!

The floods of March 1977 were due mainly to persistently heavy rainfall which had been unable to drain away due to exceptionally high spring tides.
Eddie and Sue Atkinson had recently rented one of the cottages on Old Trent Road next to the Old Willow Works – both of which lie within the flood plain. Eddie was working at Trent Wharfage on the banks of The Trent and Sue was heavily pregnant with twins at the time.

They were becoming increasingly concerned when, after a bout of very heavy rain, the water continued to rise exceeding the high tide mark by the riverside. The higher the tide rose the less able it was to flow back under Gainsborough Bridge on its return so that eventually the water had no alternative but to spill over the banks. Because of the situation Sue moved out to family in Retford whilst Eddie moved all his belongings at the house upstairs. Remaining elelctrical appliances such as washing machines etc he transported to a friend’s house further up the road.

Trent Wharfage that stood on the banks of the river at Beckingham were keeping a close eye on the water levels and as soon as the river started overflowing the banks the office staff moved to temporary premises above the Nat West Bank in Gainsborough. They still continued to trade however, ferrying employees from Beckingham to work via a boat hired from Retford Marina called ‘Scooby Doo’ and cargo was ferried across the river to British Waterways’ premises or William Gleadell and Sons Ltd where it was loaded for delivery.

All along the riverside vast areas of fields were underwater as far as Dunham Bridge. The Ramper Road was closed to traffic for a week and during that time vehicles were diverted via Keadby Bridge with queues up to 6 miles long.
Two Beckingham school teachers, Tony Smailes and Derek Weir and his wife travelled by boat to Gainsborough which according to them was a much more exciting mode of travel! They were able to borrow a dingy, to which they attached an outboard motor, and they either travelled along the flooded road or across the fields.

They parked a car at Beckingham and a car in Gainsborough and once they had reached the other side they attached the dingy onto the roof of the car and continued their journey.  Another Beckingham entrepreuneur was Difuria who organised a service from Beckingham to Gainsborough via tractors in which several youngsters hitched a lift to school.
At its height the water crept up as far as John Foster’s house which is the first house on the right after the Old Willow Works towards Beckingham. Looking down Old Trent Road it was not possible to see the ‘passing place’ signposts alongside the road. The Old Willow Works was at that point being used as a cattle shed, all cattle having been herded further up field. Farmers were concerned about their crops afterwards – the rape crops were devasted but the wheat which had to be top dressed from the air did well.
The damage to Eddie and Sue’s house was extensive as the flood water had surrounded the house and reached the tops of the downstairs windows. Inside kitchen units were warped and swollen and the whole of the ground floor had to be hosed out to remove the mud and filth. Doors and windows were kept open for several days and nights to help the drying out process and Severn Trent helped out by providing gas heaters. The River Authority (who owned the house at the time) supplied a new kitchen and Trent Wharfage sent someone to help redecorate the house ready for when Sue and the twins returned.

Floods 2000

It was to be another 23 years before the Trent overflowed its banks again. In the first week of November 2000 there had been some of the wildest storms in memory batter the British Isles. Trees were uprooted, tiles flew off roofs and power lines were brought down countrywide. At times there were gusts of up to 70 miles per hour and a light aeroplane was flipped over at Gamston Airport. River levels were extremely high and rising with 35mm of rainfall falling over the next few days.

Warnings were sent out, the Floodwatch emergency number was on standby and everyone braced themselves for the worst. The height of the River Trent was 5.8 metres above its normal level and flowed over the banks onto Beckingham Marshes on Friday 10th November. Gainsborough, on this occasion came off lightly with little or no flooding although the Ramper Road was once again flooded and vehicles were forced to make the detour via Keadby or Dunham Bridge.

As the flood water spilled over the banks in Beckingham this time it was Pam and Irving Sugden who had to flee their house on Old Trent Road, which incidentally, was the same house that Eddie and Sue Atkinson had had to flee 23 years previously! The Sugdens had been keeping a close eye on the river and on the day it spilled over the banks, they watched as it crept closer and closer to their house, gradually surrounding them. Next door to Pam and Irving lived Kevin and Angela Howell and both families were preparing to move out.

Pam and Irving had fixed together some scaffolding to elevate items 3 to 4 feet up for all the items that could not be moved upstairs and other domestic appliances they took up to John Foster’s house further up the road.  By 3 o’clock that afternoon the Sugdens moved out and it was to be 7 months before they would be able to move back in.

Photograph courtesy of Worksop Guardian

Kevin and Angela Howell stayed at their house until 6pm that evening until the floodwater was about a foot deep and seeping in through their front door. They moved out and stayed at a bed and breakfast house nearby in Beckingham, Bulse Farm. Afterwards, once the floodwaters had receded there was a lot of clearing up to be done.
Pam and Irving moved back to their house and stayed for 3 weeks in their caravan until a mobile home arrived. The water on this occasion had reached the mantelpiece in the lounge (not as high as 1977). Most of the contents of their house was saved, although a kitchen table that had belongings piled onto had upended spilling everything into the dirty floodwater. They did however lose some valuable tools and machinery from the workshop that at the time had been too heavy to transport.
The Insurance company was surprisingly efficient and helpful and despite the area being a flood plain there are no problems getting covered for insurance as it is, after all, a relatively rare occurrence

As in 1977 the circumstances brought out the adventurous spirit in some!   The scene attracted a lot of visitors from around the area including the media who came to Beckingham to view the flooded landscape.

On the Gainsborough side of the Ramper Road people collected on Gainsborough Bridge to view and take photographs of the floods.

Beckingham and Gainsborough avoided any serious flooding in 2007 which devastated large areas including South Yorkshire, Hull and middle England from Berkshire to Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. In late June there were some very heavy downpours of rain that fell in a relatively short space of time and there was some flooding within the village that caused approximately 10 houses on Low Street, High Street and Bar Road South to be flooded.

Although there is quite a history of floods in Beckingham there has been a lot of work done on the flood defences. The area between the railway line and the River Trent is designated as a flood plain. Today it is only under exceptional circumstances that the River Trent overflows its banks.