Postcards that tell story of Norwich’s Great Flood of 1912

Norwich 1912 Floods: Magdalen Street

Norwich 1912 Floods: Magdalen Street - Credit: Archant

A baby was lost in the swirling waters, a hero succumbed through exhaustion and an elderly woman was said to have died of shock and fright... this was the Norwich flood disaster of 1912.

Norwich 1912 Floods: Heigham Street.

Norwich 1912 Floods: Heigham Street. - Credit: Archant

Soon after the rains had stopped the photographers were out in their rowing boats capturing the awful scenes and turning their pictures into postcards which were sent around the country and abroad.

We get a flavour of what it was like during that terrible time in these rare postcards which are part of a collection of flood pictures sent to me by a reader for the ongoing appeal to raise money for the Norfolk Deaf Children's Society.

The cards are passed to Michael and Sylvia Porter who have now handed over £105,880.73 to the society and £23,000 of that has come from YOU – our readers.

The person who delivered these cards to Prospect House did not leave a name or address so I would like them and so would the Porters. 'Every penny they make will be put to good use by the society who do so much to help deaf children,' said Michael.

Norwich 1912 Floods: Raglan Street

Norwich 1912 Floods: Raglan Street - Credit: Archant

By looking at the faded photographs we get a flavour of those terrible times in the summer of 1912 when non-stop rain and a gale force wind broke river banks and sent water cascading into Heigham, Dereham Road, Westwick Street, Oak Street and across to Magdalen Street and other parts of the city.

Four months' rain fell in a single day. Norwich was cut off from the rest of the country for two days. Roads were impassable, bridges at Trowse and Lakenham came down, trams stopped running, there was little gas or electricity and buildings crumbled.

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Many people were trapped in their homes as the filthy waters rose and a massive rescue operation swung into action with people in rowing boats saving others.

Tragedy struck when Edward Poll, just five months old, was swept from his mother's arms. His body was found two days later.

Norwich 1912 Floods: Midland Street

Norwich 1912 Floods: Midland Street - Credit: Archant

Fish porter Porter George Brodie of Sawmill Yard, Oak Street, worked through the night carrying people through the waters to safety. His wife begged him to stop but he carried on until he collapsed through exhaustion... and drowned.

And Mrs Kemp of Goat Yard, Oak Street, was reported to have died through shock and fright before she could be rescued from her home.

It turned out to be a disaster which brought the people of Norwich, rich and poor, together. They worked together in the teeth of the floods helping each other.

At least 2,000 people were made homeless. Most lived in the poorer parts of the city and couldn't afford insurance. They lived day to day, hand to mouth and the floods knocked them for six.

Norwich 1912 Floods: Westwick Street

Norwich 1912 Floods: Westwick Street - Credit: Archant

But postcards like these highlighted the plight of the people and members of the Royal family contributed £150 to a nationwide appeal which raised more than £24,000, a substantial sum in those days and equivalent to something like £2.5 million in today's money.

It also brought the police and the public closer together. The Watch Committee raised the city force for extraordinary and brave acts and awarded the officers two days' extra pay.

Officers helped to organise relief programmes and the distribution of emergency and food parcels.

'No more humane civic force exists in England than the Norwich police,' said our papers at the time.

The relationship between the police and the public reached an all-time high.

It would be a long time before the people of Norwich and many in the rest of Norfolk recovered from the floods in that awful summer of 1912.