In pictures: Remembering the 'Great Flood' of 1878 in Norwich
- Credit: Archant Library
It was on this day, November 16, back in 1878, when what was then called the Great Flood struck causing death, destruction and misery.
The people of Norwich has been assured that improvements to the drainage system and engineering works earlier in the 19th century would save the city from flooding.
There had been a snowstorm followed by a rapid thaw and heavy rain.
Our man on the spot at the time was journalist Mark Knights who wrote how the rain didn’t stop with everyone regarding the unusual weather with “deep anxiety.”
He described how the first fears were raised at Carrow where the waters were “stealing steadily” over marshes, towing paths and Clarence Harbour Road.
Colman’s Carrow Works flooded as the raging torrent swept into the city.
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The river burst its banks at New Mills and neighbouring streets were quickly underwater.
Once again it was the low-lying neighbourhoods around the Wensum that took the full force. In the streets the water was waist-deep. It flooded factories and homes causing widespread damage.
Darkness fell and the waters continued to rise. Thousands of people were terrified about what would happen to them. Many already lived in appalling slums.
It was time for heroes to step forward – and they did.
Mark wrote: “Many a deed of heroism was performed by worthy citizens, who plunged fearlessly up to their armpits in the muddy waters to help frightened women and children into boats.
“By nightfall on November 18 the city was quiet; but 4,000 people were lying uneasily in strange places, their minds filled with sad pictures of desolated homes.”
Two heroes who came to the rescue were two very different public figures.
One was beer baron Sir Harry Bullard and the other city bellman and town crier William Childerhouse.
Just about everyone knew William, the little man with the big heart, who balanced on a plank to shout his messages about where food and shelter were to be found.
At one time falling into the water, dragging himself out, bell and all, to carry on his good work.
Meanwhile the much-loved Sir Harry, the mayor at the time, led the relief work to help the people.
When he spoke the people listened and acted. Relief centres were set up in schools, food was handed out and the Guildhall was used as a storeroom.
And no less than 200 homeless people spent a night at the home of the governor of Norwich Prison.
We reported: “The whole of Norwich turned out to look upon this great calamity and to render aid. From the mayor to the humblest citizen, the one prevailing desire was to afford relief and comfort.
“The people who could afford to help others did just that and the disaster also strengthened the links between the police and the people.”
Those who died included:
- Thomas Arnup, who had been delivering coal. He and his horse were drowned.
- William Buck, a tailor, of Heigham Plain, swept away while trying to get home.
- Mrs Barber, who was bedridden. It was said she died of shock as the waters rose to the edge of her bed.
- George Churchyard, found in a warehouse in Heigham Street. He was 17.
- Robert Rudderham, who fell into the river from Carrow Works.
“The flood,” wrote Mark at the time, “was not an unmixed evil, for it scoured foul alleys in parts of Norwich and called public attention to the wretched hovels in these neighbourhoods.”