The Clerk in the Country

Thursday 9th April 2020
A crisis from the past

For farmers not so very far from here the problem of waterlogged ground was to become much worse when the River Aire overtopped defence banks in late February, causing serious flooding to homes, businesses and farmland and, only a few weeks later, leaving residents facing the challenge of complying with current restrictions while living in caravans and temporary accommodation.

It’s not the first time that floods and disease have coincided in this area. In the autumn of 1918 among the cheery reports of soldiers returning home and increasing mention of flu in lengthening columns of death notices, the Selby Times carried the story of extensive floods near the town.

“Not for a long period … has there been such a devastating time for the district as that which overtook it during the past week-end when, owing to the bursting of the bank of the river Aire, many hundreds of acres have been inundated … the rushing water … sweeping on madly all before it, made rapid headway into the fields and pastures and roads and bye-ways, so that within a short time the outlook began to assume an aspect as menacing as it was devastating.”

As we do today, the community pulled together : “It was only through the kindness of those who had carts that people could be got away from village to village”, in one case “the water reaching in parts up to the horse’s stomach and the cart shafts”. “Farmers drove their flocks and herds away to any safe spot which outside neighbours gave them for a shelter.”

Then as now the latest technology was brought into use: “The N.E. Railway Superintendent was with his staff early on the scene and travelled up by means of the petrol car to ascertain the nature of the damage” and of course the press was on hand: “When our representative cycled to the scene of the flood he had to beat a hasty retreat.”