The Great Sheffield Flood

‘The Great Sheffield Flood’, as it became known, happened overnight between the 11-12th March 1864. Chief Constable John Jackson’s initial official report put the number of victims at 240. Later research records the number as higher, as they consider those who died as a result of injuries obtained in the flood to also be victims. Karen Lightowler’s research puts the death toll at 306.

The flood occurred during a period of rapid industrialisation. Sheffield’s rising population put pressure on the water infrastructure in the city. To overcome this, The Sheffield Waterworks Company (founded 1830) began a project named the ‘Bradfield Scheme’, placing four large reservoirs around the Bradfield Hills.

Construction of one of the larger reservoirs and the associated Dale Dyke Dam began in 1859.

On the evening of 11th March 1864, a local workman named William Horsfield noticed a crack in the dam. Sheffield Waterworks’ Chief Engineer ordered a hole to be blown in the by-wash zone of the reservoir to drain it quickly, but this was prevented by a storm that dampened the gunpowder.

At around 11:30, a large section of the damn collapsed, releasing 650 million litres of water down onto Sheffield. According to the historian Mick Armitage, the destruction stretched 8 miles. Alongside the huge loss of life, the flood also caused the destruction of 415 houses, 106 factories/shops, 20 bridges, 4478 cottage/market gardens, and 64 other buildings.

Flood Damage

Of the over 300 people killed in the flood, with many of them buried at Wardsend Cemetery. Some of these were Joseph AskhamElizabeth Bulloss (Lake)Mark CooperJonathon HorsfieldSarah JacksonWilliam NorthWalter ParkinHarry PashleyAlbert Walther, and James Willis. It is also possible William Horsfield, who first noted the crack in the dam, was related to Jonathon Horsfield, buried at Wardsend.


Lightowler, K., Sheffield Flood: The Aftermath, 2007. accessed 18/4/2017

Profile Written by Tom Gidlow