The Great Flood of 1947

by Catherine Round

Reports From 'Tewkesbury Register' March 8 - 29 and 'Gloucestershire Echo' March 19 - 29

In the winter of 1946/47 heavy snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures, combined with a serious fuel shortage, caused chaos and brought Britain to its knees. Because of 20ft snowdrifts, coal trains failed to get through to power stations. These appalling conditions continued well into March.

On Saturday 8 March the householders had unwittingly complicated snow clearance operations. In clearing the pavements, they had piled up huge heaps of snow in the gutters which impeded the flow of water into the drains. A rapid thaw often brings floods of some magnitude, followed by rain and gales.

Saturday March 8-15: 'Tewkesbury Register' Headlines

THE WORK OF SNOW CLEARANCE

Under the direction of Mr. R. F. Caple, the Borough Engineer, the roads and footways in Tewkesbury have been cleared of snow in a way that is deserving of commendation, for he and those who were employed in the work completed a heavy task in the interests of the comfort and safety of the public as quickly as conditions permitted.

The Corporation workmen were reinforced by forty men from the Hadsphaltic Construction Co. and twenty prisoners of war, and eight lorries were in use. It is estimated that three hundred tons of snow have been moved, whilst one hundred and fifty tons of grit and sand were scattered frost made necessary.

This unexpected necessary work prevented the collection of house refuse, and Mr. Caple asks us to express to housewives his regret at this delay and says that this collection is now being proceeded with as expeditiously as possible.

This week there has been a welcome thaw of such a gradual nature that it is hoped the feared heavy flooding will not materialise.

In the early days of the week the Severn rose to about seven feet above its normal level, and the Rivers Avon and Swilgate overflowed their banks, but on Wednesday the heavy flow ceased and water steadily receded from flooded meadows. The rivers rose rapidly from noon on Thursday with the result that the water on Friday morning encroached on the Mythe and Ashchurch roads, and there is the prospect of further considerable flooding.

Black & White bus on Worcester Road with Mythe Hill in background.
This is the only road that has been completely lifted.
Black & White bus on Worcester Road with Mythe Hill in background.
This is the only road that has been completely lifted.Click Image
 to Expand

Saturday March 15-22: 'Tewkesbury Register' Headlines

GALE AND FLOOD HAVOC

This week Tewkesbury and district has had an experience unequalled in living memory a terrific gale followed immediately by abnormal floods.

Great gales and deep floods will doubtless be recollected by some of our older readers, but such a quick succession of gale and flood cannot be recalled.

On Saturday afternoon there was a heavy snowfall driven by a strong easterly wind which again covered the countryside with a white pall. A bright sunny Sunday morning dispersed the snow and the natural colouring of the land returned. In the afternoon rainfall was succeeded by a terrible gale which continued with extraordinary ferocity until past midnight.

The flood already lay three feet deep on the Mythe road, whilst the Ashchurch and Bredon roads were impassable except by heavy lorries and these experienced considerable difficulty in traversing these approaches to the town, the Gloucester road entrance being the only accessible point.

This was the condition on Saturday and Sunday, and Sunday's gale gave the floodwater the appearance of an angry sea, water splashing to the height often feet or more at places where obstruction was met.

DAMAGE

There is an unfortunate record of damage by wind and water, such a catalogue of destruction that has never been equalled in seriousness of variety though happily no tale of personal injury has to be told.

At the Grammar School a chimney crashed through the roof of part of the old Abbey House School building into a classroom used by the School Certificate form, demolishing the roof and damaging the ceiling of the old dining room below. The back premises of the Ancient Grudge Restaurant were damaged by a chimney which fell from the nextdoor property. It was an alarming experience to the occupants, but fortunately no-one was hurt.

Messrs. Collins & Godfrey's works suffered severely from both gale and floods, the water penetrating offices and boiler-house, and roofing was displaced. At the Bell Hotel damage was done by a falling chimney and debris fell through the roof of a garage. At the Borough Flour Mills the advancing water made it necessary to draw the boilers. Damage was done at Barretts Restaurant and at the Cross, amongst other places a chimney fell in Chance Street. Tiles flew in all directions in the height of the storm and minor damage was caused everywhere. The N.F.S. (National Fire Service) were busy pumping water from flooded cellars.

The countryside was littered with falling trees and there was considerable obstruction of traffic from this cause. Farm buildings were in places uprooted and sheds and outhouses blown over. The full toll of damage is not yet known.

Bathurst steamers, most likely the 'King' and 'Queen,
' with lock-keeper's bungalow and a hut on 'The Hangings',
possibly the kennels mentioned
Bathurst steamers, most likely the 'King' and 'Queen,
' with lock-keeper's bungalow and a hut on 'The Hangings',
possibly the kennels mentioned Click Image
 to Expand

AN ALARMING EXPERIENCE

Sunday's gale whipped the flooded Severn at Severn Locks, Tewkesbury, into waves stated to be nine feet high.

Mr. and Mrs. A. Collins, who had been marooned at their home at Avon Locks for several days, had an alarming experience on Sunday night when waves were beating against their bungalow and threatened to dash the building to pieces. Although the Police and others were standing by to assist if necessary, no boat available could have lived in such rough water. Five St. Bernard dogs, which had been moved from their kennels into the bungalow as the floods rose, shared Mr. and Mrs. Collins' unenviable experience. Next day Mr. and Mrs. Collins went 'ashore' taking the St. Bernards with them.

The gale did considerable damage to the bungalow as well as smashing down most of the panels of the large kennels which had housed the dogs.

Mrs. Collins told a 'Register ' reporter that she wished to thank Police Inspector Ward and Mr. L. A. Robinson for standing by to assist them.

On Sunday night during the gale, electric power failed for a time from 8.30 onwards. The Postmaster (Mr. Harris) informs us that the telephone service has been thrown into a state of chaos, and here 150 connections have been disrupted. This has thrown a great burden upon the telegraph service which, although disturbed, has not suffered so severely as the telephone.

Church Street/St. Mary 's Lane.
Cyclist is Mr. Sprackling, with fire engine near
the Crescent, pumping water from cellars.
Church Street/St. Mary 's Lane.
Cyclist is Mr. Sprackling, with fire engine near
the Crescent, pumping water from cellars. Click Image
 to Expand

CHURCH STREET FLOODED

On Thursday morning a rise of one and a half inches in the water brought the flood up St. Mary's Lane into Church Street, and from near the 'Echo ' Office to the Royal Hop Pole Hotel the roadway pavements were covered from side to side. Water also came up Gander Lane and formed pools in the Crescent. These inroads presented a picture never before seen in Tewkesbury streets since 1852, not even in the great flood of 1886. 

Saturday March 22 - 29: 'Tewkesbury Register' Headlines

DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES

The turning point in the great flood, which caused the most extensive and severe inundation the district has suffered since the year 1852, was reached on Thursday night in last week, when the River Severn stood at a level of 21 feet 11 inches (registered at the Mythe Water Works), as compared with a normal summer level of 6 feet 6 inches.

Then the waters commenced to slowly subside; the fall was gradual but continuous and the first flooded roadway to clear was the Gloucester road, which became passable on Monday evening. On the Ashchurch, Bredon and, Mythe roads, the water also steadily receded and on

Thursday, Tewkesbury had emerged from its insular position. Rain has fallen throughout the week and on Friday hundreds of acres of meadow land were still under water. 

Amphibious vehicle known as a 'Duck', manned by Royal Marines on
Gloucester Road (which is at same level as in 1947).
Amphibious vehicle known as a 'Duck', manned by Royal Marines on
Gloucester Road (which is at same level as in 1947). Click Image
 to Expand

HOW DIFFICULTIES WERE DEALT WITH 

The most serious obstacle presenting itself was the flooding of Tewkesbury's approach roads. These could only be negotiated by diesel-oil driven vehicles owing to depth of the water and such vehicles are not so numerous in Tewkesbury as to be easily obtained. The Borough Surveyor early got into touch with the military authorities at Ashchurch and made preliminary arrangements. 

At a meeting of traders and other bodies called by the Mayor, Mr. John Moulder was appointed Honorary Transport Officer and he at once succeeded in securing the services of three Army lorries from the R.A.O.C. Depot at Ashchurch and three R.A.F. lorries from Innsworth. The Mayor rang up Mr. W. S. Morrison, M.P. for the Division, and though the message could not get to Mr. Morrison until late at night, he at once got into contact with the War Office, and the next day one of the Service amphibious vehicles known as 'Ducks' manned by Royal Marines arrived in Tewkesbury from Barnstaple, and under Mr. Moulder's direction the trans- port of foodstuffs and passengers was co-ordinated.

The Service personnel did some wonderful work, much appreciated by those who had to climb to a lofty perch that could only be reached with difficulty. Soldiers and Marines worked splendidly from 7.30 in the morning until 10.30 at night. The 'Duck' was used in the deep water of the Myrthe road, and made the journey to marooned houses on the Severn side near the claypits.

In the work of transport, Mr. P. Johnson and Mr. J. Chambers gave the most valuable assistance. They did yeoman work in feeding the people of Gander Lane, Mill Street and back of Swilgate and other places. 

Tewkesbury folks being ferried in and out, near Gloucester Road carpark.
On the horse and dray, the lad wearing a flat cap is Ray Wheeler.
Tewkesbury folks being ferried in and out, near Gloucester Road carpark.
On the horse and dray, the lad wearing a flat cap is Ray Wheeler.Click Image
 to Expand

FOOD SUPPLIES

The difficult task of supplying food to the villages and to those in Tewkesbury who were waterbound, was dealt with in a most satisfactory fashion. Traders made a combined effort and essential supplies were satisfactorily conveyed to the country districts.

Here a word of praise must be given to the employees who performed the exacting duty of delivering household needs. To them no trouble was too much and no hours too long to quench the spirit of goodwill with which they went about their job.

In the town the Education Authority Cooking Depot continued serving breakfast, dinner, tea and supper to people marooned. In addition, from the same source, similar meals were sent to the Abbey Hall for those who were able to leave their flooded homes. Mr. and Mrs. H. Chandler of Church Street kindly took charge of this service and they were assisted by the Mayoress, Councillor Mrs. Wyatt, Mr. Michael Shephard and other helpers.

Mr. Boyle, the manager of the Cooking Depot, informs us that something like 2,000 meals were served. Our representative visited the Depot when a mid-day meal was being prepared, and there saw a most succulent stew with potatoes, and puddings of an appetising look and savour, ready for distribution hot in burnished metal containers.

Gloucester Road, looking towards Abbey Terrace:
Ferrying in the bread van belonging to
Willis & Son, Bakers, of 102 Church Street
Gloucester Road, looking towards Abbey Terrace:
Ferrying in the bread van belonging to
Willis & Son, Bakers, of 102 Church StreetClick Image
 to Expand

Mr. T. A. Goodchild, the Food Executive Officer, is worthy of praise for the efficient manner in which he co-operated with the traders in getting the food supplies through.

ENQUIRY BUREAU

Miss K. G. John, the Housing Manager, was in charge of an enquiry bureau and gave advice upon salvaging personal effects and other matters, maintaining contact with other departments concerned in the general relief scheme.

IN ABBEY TERRACE

With the flood subsidence Abbey Terrace presents a picture of desolation with front walls and garden walls at rear demolished or damaged. The destruction in this way was extra- ordinary; the dividing wall between numbers 9 and 10 was breached and water spread through the aperture from one house to the other. On the first evening of misfortune the management of the Bell Hotel very kindly supplied the residents of the Terrace with sandwiches and coffee. Some of the older people were evacuated.

J. Goodlock did some very fine work in assisting his neighbours and others, busying himself all day during the time of the flooding in their interests. Messrs. H. Sutherland and J. Clements Senr., two other occupants of houses in the Terrace, also gave much appreciated service of a similar character.

Mr. Robinson, of Bathurst's boat building establishment, and Mr. Walker, of the Lower Lode Boathouse, lent boats and these were of the utmost value in the distribution of food.

FLOODED CELLARS

In few houses in Church Street could there be complaints of empty cellars. Unhappily these were not full of that precious commodity coal, but were occupied, some of them to near the ceiling, with floodwater.

See text*
See text*Click Image
 to Expand

HEALTH PRECAUTIONS

The distribution of disinfectant material for use in flooded houses has proceeded during the week and Mr. Stirling, the Sanitary Inspector, informs us that visits will be made to all premises known or believed to have been flooded and advice given where required.

Soap is available at the Health Office, Oldbury Road, for householders who have suffered damage from floodwater in their homes. Permits for extra allocation of coal can be obtained at the Fuel Office and this will be paid for by the relief fund.

Treatment of rooms and cellars by the combined service of the Health Office and the Borough Engineer's Office will be by means of chloride of lime, disinfectants and insecticides, according to the type of premises and the nature and extent of the flooding. Business premises are included in the service. Occupiers should notify the Health Office if their premises have not been already visited. Applications for pumping water from cellars should be made to the N.FS. Station in Mill Street.

The Sanitary Inspector has inspected 62 accessible houses and 50 cellars which have been flooded. S.

Picture:* Top end of Lower Lode Lane: Flat-bottomed punt being used to deliver hot meals in metal containers and hot drinks to Abbey Terrace residents On left is Jack Goodlock, with his son John in the punt.

HELP FROM OUTSIDE

On Wednesday two Women's Voluntary Service helpers were sent from the Bristol centre, and arrived fully equipped with van and cleaning apparatus to assist in the cleansing of houses affected occupied by old and inform people. The Mayor received from the Mayor Cheltenham (Councillor H. T. Bush) a message offering help, and the Red Cross of Gloucester also gave assistance. This outside practical sympathy is much appreciated.

GIFTS TO SERVICE PERSONNEL

The admirable work of the Service personnel in charge of transport vehicles has already been mentioned and at the Municipal Offices on Tuesday the Mayor presented to each of their number — about 20 -- a cash gift with a letter of commendation signed by himself as Mayor of the town.

The presentation was subscribed by the traders of the town as a token of their appreciation of valuable service. The Mayor spoke a few words of warm commendation on behalf of the traders and for the people of Tewkesbury. Alderman Crouch, also in appreciative words, mentioned the great assistance that had been given to traders.

Abbey Terrace. See Text*
Abbey Terrace. See Text*Click Image
 to Expand

FLOODED WORKS

By precautionary measures and the vigilance of night and day shifts tending the mooring lines of their numerous craft, Messrs. Bathursts kept damage during the gale and the record-breaking flood down to a minimum. There was some damage through chafing and several small boats were temporarily sunk, but the firm was fortunate in coming out of the emergency so well. Mr L. A. Robinson, the proprietor, told a 'Register' reporter: "Floods entered the work- shops and the offices and did some damage, but all movable articles of value had been taken out of harm's way."

The flood also did damage and caused much inconvenience at the offices and other premises at Messrs. Collins & Godfrey's works. At the Mill the boiler-house was flooded and some damage was done. It is satisfactory to note that no material effect upon employment results.

Picture:* Abbey Terrace: Bert Sutherland at left-hand window, Mrs Simms next-door, and Mrs. Chandler at right-hand window. Hot meals being delivered by Jack Goodlock and son John in punt, with ropes held by John Clements Senior.

POSTAL AND TELEPHONE SERVICES

Under conditions of considerable difficulty mails were brought through the flooded roadways into the town and there was little delay in deliveries. By the action of the gale, telephonic communication so badly interrupted, has not yet been fully restored, the damage being so general Mr. Harris, the Postmaster, and his staff have been very helpful to the Local Authority by their assiduous attention to the needs of the moment.

MAYOR'S FLOOD RELIEF FUND

The Mayor (Mr. John O. Martin), deeply conscious of the unhappy situation of very many of the inhabitants of the town who have suffered seriously, has opened a Fund to relieve those who have sustained loss of goods and effects, and makes an appeal for support to this worthy object. It is estimated that the sum of £1,000 is needed, and up to noon on Thursday £244.4s.6d. had already been subscribed, including one hundred guineas from Messrs. S. Healing & Sons. Donations will be gratefully received by the Mayor at the two local banks or the Municipal Offices, and every gift he will personally acknowledge.

A list of subscribers will be advertised in our next issue. Mr. Young, of the Y.M.C.A., has arranged a Whist Drive to aid the Fund and this will be held at the Y.M.C.A. on Monday, as advertised.

The Mayor's Relief Fund had reached £350 at the time of going to press.

Wednesday March 19: 'Gloucestershire Echo' Headlines

LORRY SERVICE TO SHOPS

The Tewkesbury Borough Surveyor (Mr. R. F. Caple) has obtained the services of drivers and Army vehicles from Ashchurch Camp and, with loudspeakers supplied by Mr. T. Treen, they are conveying the inhabitants of Priors Park and Newtown for shopping purposes.

Furniture is floating on top of feet of water at Deerhurst Post Office. Tewkesbury houses at the Avon Back, Abbey Terrace, Mythe road cottages, and the junction of the main Ashchurch and Walton Cardiff roads are also seriously flooded.

Friday March 21: 'Gloucestershire Echo' Headlines

SIGNS THAT SEVERN FLOODS ARE ON THE WANE

  • One Inch Fall at Tewkesbury 
  • River Remains Steady at Gloucester

Today there is a gleam of hope that Sevem floodwaters are now on the tum.

At Tewkesbury the flood has gone down one inch from yesterday's level, although during the night it rose to 21 feet 10 inches, At Worcester the Sevem was stationary today but there was a slight fall a mile below the city.

Concern has been felt at Tewkesbury over rumours that the town's water supply has been contaminated, and a strong denial has been officially made that the quality of the water has been affected in any way.

At Gloucester, the height of the Severn at 10 a.m. remained steady since yesterday afternoon at 25 feet 4 inches — 3 inches above the 1852 record.

The flood at Tewkesbury has gone down one inch since last night. The water level at the Mythe is now 21 feet 8 inches against 21 feet 9 inches yesterday morning. During the night it reached a peak of 21 feet 10 inches.

The Transport Officer, Mr. John Moulder, informs the Echo ' that four more large Army- type diesel-engined lorries have been obtained from the R.A.F. Station, Innsworth, and they are helping to convey people and goods on the flooded roadways. A full ferry service is being used today to bring people into the town, and to meet the bus service on the Bredon road.

The ferry service is assisting this afternoon in taking two funerals to Tewkesbury Cemetery.

An Army 'Duck' is taking bread and meat to the surrounding parishes. The first load left soon after nine this morning for Twyning and Corse Lawn, and another load left at mid-day for other parishes.

The Cheltenham-Tewkesbury Waterworks are working under great difficulties, being flooded out, but still maintain their efficiency.

The Tewkesbury Health Department has made arrangements for the free distribution of disinfectant to occupants of houses which have been flooded.

Films for the Sabrina Cinema at Tewkesbury were taken by a policeman in a boat to the cinema at two o'clock this morning, when the film distributors' van found that it could not get through the floods into the town.

Saturday March 29: 'Gloucestershire Echo' Headlines

PAY-OUT BY BOAT FOR FLOOD VICTIMS

Saturday was pay-out day for flood victims in the Cheltenham Rural District Council area, and those who were unable to collect the money had it delivered to them by boat.

Cheltenham Rural District Council's relief fund had reached just over £2,300 today. A contribution of £25 was received from Mr. Ralph Juckes, of Fiddington Manor, near Ashchurch. The Mayor Tewkesbury's Flood Relief Fund has now reached £550. The Mayor stated today that on examination of the houses which have been flooded, the damage now appears to be far more than was at first anticipated, and he is now making an appeal for an additional £l ,000, making an appeal of 2,000 in all.

Nearly £200 has been subscribed in answer to the Mayor of Cheltenham's appeal for monetary help for Gloucester and Tewkesbury and at the rate the money is arriving this total should be exceeded by tomorrow morning.

Nearly £500 was paid to residents in Deerhurst, Apperley, Coombe Hill, Walton Cardiff and Leigh on Saturday. Victims in the Deerhurst and Apperley districts received their 'pay-out' on Saturday at the hands of two officers of Cheltenham R.D.C., Mr. W. Bevan, the Rehousing Officer, and Mr. A. G. Wakeman, the Deputy Clerk.

The two officers visited the home of Councillor Chris Smith of the R.D.C., at Apperley, where all those who found it possible to get through the floods received their money. Each person whose house was inundated was paid £5 and other members of the family £l each in addition. Those who had sheltered victims of the flood were paid 7s.6d. a week each, irrespective of what they had received from their guests.

HELPED OUT OF WINDOW

Seventy-seven years old Mr. Chris Willis, of the Almshouses, Deerhurst, who could not come downstairs because of the inundation, was helped out of an upper window after Coun. Smith had sawn through the framework to permit of the egress of his portly figure. There are 12 steps up to his bedroom, and the flood was lapping at the eighth. He was carefully lowered into the boat used by the relief party.

Mr. Smith's brother, Mr. A. Smith, who lives on the Sevem bank near the White Lion at Apperley, had had previous experience of flooding and had made preparation with special planks and boxes on which he placed the family furniture. This flood, however, was worse than any previous one and the furniture was found floating. Drinking water was obtained from a pump in the garden.

FLOOD LEVEL UP

The flood level at Tewkesbury, which was 17 feet 3 inches on Saturday, was 16 feet 6 inches on Sunday, and has risen to 17 feet 2 inches today because of the rainfall. A committee has been formed at Ashchurch to assist Major W. Shakespeare's flood relief fund and the members of the committee are prepared to collect and receive any contributions, when it is found at all inconvenient to pay them directly to R.D.C.

References

  • Tewkesbury Register' — Tewkesbury Library 
  • 'Gloucestershire Echo' Cheltenham Library 
  • James Bennett, 'Tewkesbury', 1830

Acknowledgements

Roger Butwell, Tom Wilkins, Aardvark, Dave Poultney 

Photo Credits 

Vern Clements, David Beal, Derek Round, 'Gloucestershire Echo', Cheltenham Newspaper Co. Ltd.

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