In a few days the public questionnaire and workshops re the new flood protection project will be over. Many groups associated with the waterways and the heritage around them, both man made and natural, have voiced concern at the lack of detail on offer.Sheffield is fortunate in that there are some well supported organisations who care for our waterways. Many prepared to wade out in rivers and pull out rubbish, and tackle the invasive Japanese Knotweed, neither being pleasant work. Groups such as Friends of Porter Valley, Rivelin Valley Conservation Trust and Blue Loop. For the most part these people are volunteers. My thanks to Helen Hornby for talking about what the Riverside Steward Company/Friends of Blue Loop have been doing recently.
River Stewardship as a means of flood risk management
By Helen Hornby
Some corporate volunteers
Three years down the line and the Lower Don Valley Flood Defence Scheme is making great progress on its objectives. As part of this large scale project, The River Stewardship Company (RSC), a local social enterprise, delivers the channel maintenance programme which includes invasive species control and minor tree works and also facilitates wider community engagement through the provision of volunteer days along the River Don.
From a practical point of view there are many things that can be done to reduce flood risk as a long term management plan for a major watercourse. The RSC empowers local people to help look after their river. Its volunteers are out on the River Don every Tuesday removing large items of litter and debris from the river – items that would block bridges and culverts, creating a dam and potentially causing flooding to nearby properties. Everything from industrial wheelie bins, to commercial freezers, sofas and warehouse doors have been removed from the water.
Volunteers also help by removing Himalayan balsam whilst trained staff treat Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed with a specific herbicide tailored to use by water. These plants spread like wildfires, out-competing our native plants and reducing biodiversity but they also contribute to increased flood risk. In winter banks are destabilised due to a lack of native perennials holding the soil in place, and therefore should a flood occur these banks can be eroded away leaving property and other structures at risk.
Larger willow trees and vegetation growing out of flood walls have been removed, and where possible replanted with smaller trees and shrubs that do not easily crack and cause blockages. It is a difficult business balancing the needs of riparian landowners and that of recreational users and the River’s resurgent wildlife but one that can be achieved if all sectors work together.
By Joyce Bullivant
The lay of the land in Sheffield means that there is always a chance of a major flooding incident. Sheffield has several rivers and tributaries that come down the hills to feed the principle rivers of the Rivelin, Loxley, Porter, Don and the Sheaf. Contrary to popular opinion Sheffield does not have only 5 rivers, there are considerably more, some are hidden in the city drainage system but others are easy to find if you know where to look.
Sheffield’s Lost Rivers
The huge flood that happened recently in 2007 was not a common event for Sheffield in that the previous big flood happened in 1973 when 119 mm fell in just one day (and which incidentally led to severe flooding despite much less development on the flood plain. Present improvements in flood protection will give the city a one-in-200 years level of protection, meaning the measures will theoretically defend the city against all floods except the kind of freak floods which have a 0.5 per cent chance of happening in any given year.
That of course doesn’t mean flooding events will only happen once in 200 years. Also with the change in climate the previous measures and assessments may be insufficient, as along with climate change is the increase in severe weather conditions. New flood protection has been suggested which hopefully will mitigate any future extreme weather events that could endanger the city. Organisations such as Blue Loop can help cut down flooding from smaller events, but additional measures are needed for the more extreme events. These extreme events are beyond city drainage, or dredging measures. Previous flood reports, when there were fewer houses and more fields to soak up the water, did not prevent these 200 year floods.
In 1729 such a flood was reported in the Papers.
“On Tuesday morning between 5 and 6 it began to Thunder, Lighten, and Rain at the Town of Sheffield in Yorkshire, and continued with such Violence ’till 2 in the Afternoon , that the River Dun in a most dreadful Manner overflowed its banks, and by the torrents of water vast trees were borne down, bridges broke in pieces, part of the Duke of Norfolk’s hospital destroyed and all its furniture washed away, as was that belonging of the chapel, which was 2 yards deep in water, and the pulpit filled with Mud and sand; Tis computed that the waters must have risen near the Hospital (where the River Sheaf, and Sheffield Brook , empty themselves into the River Dun), 4 yard perpendicular in half an hour’s time; a team and 4 horses were carried down by the stream many people had much ado to escape with their lives, however only one man and one woman were drowned and some children were washed away in their cradles.”
Throughout the 19th century many floods were reported especially in the area where the Sheaf joins the Don and in Brightside. The floods caused major disruption to the Railway at Bridgehouse and to the forges and wheels along the Don. The worst flood however would seem to have been in 1875 some 11 years after the infamous flood caused by the breach of the Dale Dyke reservoir. The flood in 1875 covered the whole of Sheffield city.
“In the vale of the Porter a great amount of damage was done by the flooding of the low-lying lands. This stream has a large gathering ground on the moors above Ringinglowe, and the incessant rain of 48 hours duration could not do less than cause a great volume of water to descend the stream. The first effect of the inundation were felt at Whiteley Wood, where at an early hour yesterday morning the stream was swollen to a considerable extent, and swept through the dams and over the weirs in an increasing volume. Gathering force as it entered Endcliffe Wood the river now increased to a torrent, and in spite of the use of shuttles filled the dams to the bank edge and overflowed so as to cause them considerable damage to the earthworks and apprehensions in the minds of those who were in charge of the grinding wheels. The fields on the borders of Endcliffe wood were completely flooded at an early hour yesterday morning and as the water kept rising considerable damage was, especially in the fields where Autumn wheats had been sown. At the grinding wheels the men were prevented from working owing to the accumulation of back waters, and the result was a large loss in the matter of wages alone. At one time it was feared that some of the embankments of the Endcliffe dams would give way, as the water was overflowing them and it was currently reported in the district yesterday that such had been the case. On an enquiry at a late hour last night we found that such a casualty had not taken place although there were apprehensions of such a disaster of that description owing to vast amount of water that was coming down the river. In the lower portion of Endcliffe Wood the water assumed the proportions of a torrent, and at Hunter’s Bar, where the stream divides itself the roadway was more like a large brook than a thoroughfare. About this particular district there were many cottage gardens and the occupiers must have sustained much damage on account on the weight of the water which was passing. The produce of these gardens intended for winter gatherings was swept away for the most part and last night when our reporter left the stream had in no way diminished, it was rather increasing. The water was diverted by means of shuttles from entering the dam-in an undue quantity belonging to the Hardy Patent Pick and Engineering Company, Limited. but the force of the current was so great that it forced itself through these barriers in more than the usual quantities, and it was feared that the embankment supporting the lower snuff mill would be endangered. Several Homes near Hunters Bar had the cellars flooded to the depth of a yard or more. Last evening the pathway both in Ecclesall Road and that leading from the Cemetery-road to the bar were almost impassable, the water draining down and running across the highway to such a depth to render it almost impassable. Passing from Hunters Bar towards Sheffield Ecclesall Road became a deeper in water and at the bottom of Broomgrove a singular sight presented itself. The water here draws itself from Broomhill and the upper part of Glossop- Road into Ecclesall Road, where it accumulated in a field which we believe had been rented by a butcher. This field is surrounded by a wall, which served the purpose of stemming the water, and made a temporary reservoir. The water poured through these walls and bursting through the interstices in a series of jets, completely covered Ecclesall- Road. At the lower entrance to the Cemetery the waters appeared to have gathered in an extraordinary degree, accumulating throughout the day to a depth of over a foot and a half. From this point, down Ecclesall road, the highway bore more the appearance of a canal than anything else. The ordinary channels which convey the water were completely choked up, and the stream washed down both sides of the street in a current of almost a foot and a half deep. In the centre “
The flood filled many of the rivers and spread throughout the city putting out forges and steam mills, but miraculously no one seems to have been hurt.
“As is corroborated by most of the people who have lived for many years past in the the locality, we can have no hesitation to saying that the flood is the most formidable one which has been seen in Sheffield for the last few ten years; and the scene as viewed from one of these cellar windows of the Tower Wheel, with the lamplights from the Blonk Street Bridge and from the Station road, high up above, casting their vague shadows upon the black stream, had in it something of the picturesque.”
The wheels on the rivers have left Sheffield with a number of Dams on the River, made to control the flow of the water into the wheels. Rivers were harnessed from an early date, possibly introduced by the monks who came with the Normans and brought with them new technologies. Early wheels were used for corn milling and treating woolen cloth. In the 16th century water power was used for powering the furnaces and hammering the iron and steel, as well as powering the grinding wheels. It has been estimated by 1637 there were around fifty water powered industrial sites. By the 18th century there were an estimated to be 130 such sites. Wheels can be seen still in Sheffield, at Abbeydale Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and Mallin Bridge. Many old mills and remnants exist throughout the city. Some has been left untouched for years and are overgrown and already are cause for concern as potential important archaeology may be lost.
Along with the obvious industrial remnants along the rivers are the ancient woodlands, managed since medieval times to supply charcoal and wood for the metalworking industries and house building. Many have been found to have traces of earlier times and indeed within Ecclesall woods lies stones with neolithic cup and ring markings. Because the woodland was necessary for Sheffield’s industry the city has a large area of ancient woodland though some pieces are quite small and divided by later roads nevertheless Sheffield’s ancient woodlands are unique and of international value.
Many of our rivers pass through our woodlands. This was a great advantage to those who ran smithies and forges as the raw material was to hand. Early steel and iron workers needed charcoal as coal has too much sulphur to produce good steel. Later coal was processed to become coke. Also in woods like Ecclesall woods clay called Gannister was mined to make the crucible pots. So our woodlands have indications of mining and charcoal making along with the earlier signs of human activity.
Lastly because of the age of the woods and the now cleaner waterways and visible rock forms from quarrying and the power of the rivers there is within the rivers and river areas many rare plants and wildlife that are rare or unique. Flood control therefore is a complex matter.
The ideal of flood control is to slow the water coming into the city and speed it leaving the built up areas. It is about controlling the flow of water. The Flood protection scheme has suggested containing flood water in some areas, but it cannot be purely letting certain lands flood. Even though it could be 100 years before the flood protection actually came into use, it could also be next year or even next week. We do also have to live with those measures, and protect the sensitive areas from damage.There will have to be all these factors taken into consideration, preserving precious ecology and heritage and leisure facilities , but keeping our city safe. There is no simple answer to this.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph October 21st 1875 courtesy of British Newspaper Archives
Newcastle Courant 21st June 1729 courtesy of British Newspaper Archives.