‘Great flood’ of Barnoldswick recalled

The aftermath of the "Great Flood" at Bancroft Mill which struck a large part of Barnoldswick in July 1932 was stold in vivid detail by a visitor and former weaver at the weekend.
The aftermath of the "Great Flood" at Bancroft Mill which struck a large part of Barnoldswick in July 1932 was stold in vivid detail by a visitor and former weaver at the weekend.

A Barnoldswick heritage site welcomed back a special visitor on Sunday when a former employee took centre stage.

Bancroft Mill’s latest steaming day saw ex-weaver Hilda Elsworth (90) walk through the Gillians Lane gates again.

Mrs Elsworth, who worked at Bancroft for 44 years, returned and recounted stories of life at the mill and also remembered the Barnoldswick flood of July 1932, giving a lucid account of how the rushing waters 81 years earlier left half the town flooded when she was just nine.

This description was brought to life with help from Barnoldswick History Society’s photographs and artefacts from the cotton industry with a particular section devoted to the “Great Flood”.

Bancroft Mill was particularly badly hit after Gillians Beck burst its banks and Mrs Elsworth recalls leaving school at 4pm and not getting home until 7-30pm.

She said: “It was lucky that no one lost their life that day, as it was July and had been such a nice day, no one would have expected it to happen.”

Mrs Elsworth made several attempts to get to her house in Cavendish Street before heading up and out of the town to try a different route, bumping into two ladies.

She said: “By this time I must have been getting quite upset because I could see the roof of my home. The ladies were very kind and said they would take me down to Clough Mill and they would see that I got through to the bottom of Wapping (now Westgate).

“When we got to the Greyhound Inn I remembered that I had an Aunt who lived at 49 Cobden Street and so I said that I would go there.

“There were no telephones in those days so they were not able to let my parents know where I was. I went there and had my tea, at 7pm who should come walking up the back yard but my Dad! What a relief for him and myself, my mother would also be relieved later when she saw us.

“The Aunt who lived in Cobden Street was only a friend of my mother’s who we called Auntie but straight across from the school gates was a real Aunt, my brother and sister just went there. I never even thought about her.”

The water pressure caused the retaining wall at Bancroft’s mill dam to collapse as water cascaded down to Forty Steps and Ouzeldale. Weft boxes and baskets were floating about alongside chairs and settees and fruit and vegetables from a nearby furniture store and greengrocer.

Between Manchester Road and Cavendish Street was Clough Mill, also completely flooded, and people were being taken to safety through the mill yard water on the backs of lorries in the same way workers at Bancroft Mill were.

Harry Moore, fund-raiser and Bancroft Mill Trustee, said: “I can only say that Hilda’s ability to remember fine detail from eight decades ago never ceases to amaze me.

“Names, not my strong point, seem to come back to her with ease. Her amazing abilities stretched to weaving too, there have been very few who could handle ten Lancashire looms and never turn a hair.”