Horses Rescued From The Extraordinary Flood of 1924

by Cath Round & Walter Halford, Research by Derek Round, 2006
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Taken in 1906 off the Beaufort Bridge, looking down the old Avon towards Healings Mill, the left-hand side is King Johns Island; further on is the Lockkeeper’s bungalow. As far as I know, Mr. Bathurst had three steam boats moored at this time; it is likely that they are the ‘King’, ‘Queen’ and ‘Jubilee’. On the right-hand side of the photo is ‘Breakingstone Meadow’; this is where Mr. Bathurst unloaded his passengers, along side the Mythe Road. (Round Collection)

Although the greatest flood in living memory was on 8 March 1947, there was an extraordinary flood that occurred on 7 June 1924. Mr. Webster of Forthampton Court Gardens, reported[1] that:-

 “… a rainfall of 2.63 inches on Saturday, of which 1.4 inches fell in as little as two hours during the evening storm. Drains and gutters were totally incapable of carrying off the full flow of water, with the consequence that most people had their own little flood; backyards, garden paths and other approaches were impassable, there being an overflow into many houses. Roadways in the neighbourhood were flooded. At ‘Tiger Pitch’, Shuthonger, water gathered to the depth of three feet, while, at Twyning, the flood cascaded down the roadway from the Green to the river, near the Fleet and displaced and swilled away a considerable portion of the road. At Bredon, the road was quickly under water in places, the terrific downpour wreaked havoc in the gardens, and a considerable quantity of poultry in the district, met a watery end. The Ashchurch Road was covered from the end of the garden wall at ‘Oldfield’, nearly to the ‘Pike House’.[2]  Many carcasses of animals have been seen floating down the Severn. The scene around Tewkesbury has been a beautiful, but sorry one; thousands of acres of a most promising grass crop have been laid low. Gardens in Perry Hill and The Hollams have been ruined for the season. Messrs. Bathurst’s steamer, ‘The King’ landed a party to the roadside wall. The water was on the road to the depth of nearly three feet, consequently pleasure cars had to be towed through it by horses, or a heavy motor vehicle. Most of the latter type got through own power, but occasionally, there was a stoppage, and one lorry remained water-bound, throughout one night. Many amusing and interesting incidents entertained the crowds assembled there.” 

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In the background is the ‘Black Bear’; a crowd gathers at the end of ‘Beaufort Bridge’ to see the van of S.J. Moreland and Son Ltd., of Gloucester, which made matches called ‘England’s Glory’, as it makes its way through the flood. The name can be seen above the cab. On the right, there is the gateway of ‘Breakingstone Meadow’, a sign showing “Car Park”; a circus should have been held there, but was cancelled because of the flood. On the left is Bathurst Boatyard.  (Round Collection)
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Looking down the Mythe Causeway, in the background, the Water Tower can be seen; it was the first Water Tower to supply water to Tewkesbury. On the left-hand side of the Mythe waterworks, there is a chimney. To the right-hand side of the railings, someone has marked in pen later the height of the 1947 flood. (Round Collection)

(In ‘Tewkesbury’ by Dr. Anthea Jones, page 162 she records that only the top rail was visible at Mythe Road in 1947. See also Kathleen Ross, ‘The Book of Tewkesbury’, (Barracuda Books, 1986) p113.)

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Taken from the railway embankment, on the left-hand side is Bathurst’s Boatyard, which today is ‘King John’s Tavern’. As seen, Mr. Bathurst’s steamers are moored up in alongside Breakingstone Meadow, off the Mythe Road. Owing to the flood Mr. Bathurst’s steamers could not unload passengers to the Mythe Dock. In the background, there is a small mill, on the right: ‘Rice’s Flourmill’. The close-up of the photo shows the horses after rescue. (Round Collection)

Photo: Breakingstone Meadow’, the gateway where the horses went into the flood; in the background can be seen faintly the three boatmen in their boats that rescued the horses.  (Round Collection)

A drama developed at about 2.30pm on Tuesday, when:-

 “Mr. Unwin of Longdon Court, and two others, were bringing to Tewkesbury, seven valuable horses, when five thoroughbreds, wading through the water, by some means got through the gate of ‘Breakingstone Meadow’. Boatmen headed them from the Avon stream, and they swam all the way to Tewkesbury Waterworks, where they landed, and were put in Mr. Bishop’s field for a while. It was due to the prompt action of the boatmen, that these five horses were not lost, and the men were liberally rewarded by Mr Unwin.”

I learned more about the rescue of the horses when, in 1990, I spoke to a Tewkesbury lad, called Lou Hawker.[3]

He said that owing to the flood the watermen could not carry on with their day’s work. The watermen used to sign on for work at the Quay wall; they would load and unload boats, such as sand, brick, grain barges etc.. With no work to do, they are seen ferrying people in and out of the Town. In the foreground there is a three-wheeler ‘Morgan’ car pulled by horse and dray.4 Cecil Hewett told me that, later on, this red Morgan car was sold at Tewkesbury Garage (now Somerfields). Terry Debonis told me that the man in the car is Mr. Jones, of Long Green Court.

The owner of the horses, Mr. Unwin, went up to Jim Green and said, “You have done a wonderful job of rescuing my horses, would you accept a cheque for the three of you, as a reward for rescuing my horses?” Jim Green looked at the cheque and said, “this is not enough money for rescuing your horses”. Mr. Unwin replied, “I’m in a hurry to get my horses settled to get them to Tewkesbury Railway Station. Come up to my house at Longdon Court, and I will make it up to you all.” 

George Hawker pointed out that was not five pounds but FIFTY pounds! One day they all went to Mr Unwin’s, where he rewarded them with one dozen duck eggs, one dozen hen’s eggs each, and £15 EACH! They had rescued five thoroughbred horses and they were the talk of Tewkesbury Town. This was a lot of money to be split between three in 1924 (about £410 in today’s values, Editor).

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This photo of the horses rescued was taken at the Mythe Waterworks,  then under construction; this part was opened in 1924. Also seen, are the boatmen that rescued the horses: far left George Hawker, on the far right Jack Francis, and Jim Green in the middle.
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Lou Hawker (1908-93) lived in Oldbury Road and he told me that one of the boatmen who rescued the horses was his father. As a young lad, Lou learned his trade at “Bishop’s”, the butchers of 16 High Street. The photo was given to me by Beryl Hodges, daughter of Lou Hawker. George Hawker,  his father, was born in 1878; in 1891 census, he was living in 7 Bishops Court . However, the 1901 census tells us he was a waterman.[5] George Hawker died in 1949. From Lou, I learned that there were three boatmen that rescued the horses, George Hawker, Jack Francis, and Jim Green 


Derek wishes to thank the following for their invaluable assistance: the late Louis John Hawker, the late Cecil Hewett, Mr. and Mrs. Norman, Beryl Hodges, John Dixon, Charles Morgan & Terry Debonis; all the Staff at Tewkesbury Library.

Derek Round, a Collector of Historical Memorabilia, undertakes the research, after which Cath Round and Walter Halford write up his history. (Editor)


  1. This is a summary of a long account that can be read in the Tewkesbury Register, 7 June 1924.
  2. Now Wynyards Close and the former Turnpike House, at the corner of Walton Cardiff Lane.
  3. Interview with Lou Hawker, 6 October 1990; the tape recording is in the Round Collection.
  4. C. Morgan, Morgan: The First and Last of the Real Sports Cars, 1994, p33.
  5. The 1891 and 1901 censuses which can be consulted on the ‘Woodard Database’ at the Library. The 1891 census data is here
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