Saturday 3 August 2019

Britain's worst dam disaster

The people of the Peak District town of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire are still unable to return to their homes as fears continue that the dam holding back the Toddbrook Reservoir (pictured) above the town may burst, unleashing a devastating flood.

The reservoir was built in 1831. About 20 miles away, the collapse of another dam in 1864 brought Britain’s worst ever dam disaster. As Sheffield became a major centre for steel-making, the Sheffield Waterworks Company decided to build new reservoirs in the surrounding hills to provide the water the booming area demanded.

By 11 March 1864, the first of them, above the village of Bradfield, was almost finished when a local man noticed a crack in the structure. It was a wet, stormy night and water was also coming over the top of the dam. Within hours, the structure had burst, and a mountain of water careered down the valley below.

Bradfield was the first place to be hit, though mercifully most of the inhabitants had been evacuated, but no warning reached Malin Bridge, where more than 100 people were killed, and altogether in the valley, 270 died. For the full story, see my book A Disastrous History of Britain.

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