Town was port of two storms
Twice, 50 years apart, Fleetwood was ravaged by fierce storms which caused the worst flooding in its history. KENNETH SHENTON looks back at the 1927 floods.
Forty years ago, at the end of October 1977, as gale force winds reached 80mph and the tide was seven feet higher than predicted, anxious council officials throughout the Fylde Coast were on high alert.
To the north, one third of Fleetwood was badly affected. Further south, Anchorsholme was awash, the residents of Napier Avenue close to the Pleasure Beach had been deluged, and the River Ribble burst its banks, forcing people in Clifton to be rescued.
Acres of Over Wyre farmland and countless homes were flooded, while other parts of South Fylde were similarly under water.
However, this was nothing compared to events 50 years earlier, when six people died in what was then the worst storm in the history of the Fylde Coast.
Although Blackpool itself was spared any loss of life, extensive damage was done to Thomas Mawson’s new South Shore Promenade, opened barely 12 months earlier by Lord Derby. Further north on the cliffs at Queen’s Drive and King Edward Avenue, numerous hotels suffered extensive damage.
By far the worst damage to life and limb occurred in Fleetwood with most of the town submerged under water.
A force 12 gale combined with a 32ft tide, far higher than expected, created a mammoth 2,000-acre lake in and around Fleetwood. Only the high ground around The Mount escaped the devastation. More than 1,200 homes were wrecked and all roads between Lord Street and Harris Street were totally submerged. Dead pigs, sheep and dogs littered tram tracks, while the vacant ground off Styan Street and Dock Street, near the Wyre Dock crossing, became a huge timber pond, full of pitch-pine logs – the remnants of Alex Keay’s once thriving box-making business.
With the electricity works out of action, the town was left in darkness. Streets normally thronged with pedestrians were submerged under 15ft of water. Four hundred people were made homeless, with nine people badly injured. As one young woman was being rescued, she gave birth in a small boat.
Some 1,200 homes were uninhabitable and with roads blocked and the tramway shut, 70 small rowing boats, many from Stanley Park lake, were initially used to get about, taking food to the 600 or so houses in which the occupants were marooned. Those rescued were housed in the empty large Gibraltar Barracks and Military Hospital, which the War Office placed at the disposal of the local authority. Out of a total population of 22,000, 10,000 were severely affected by the flood, which for three days stubbornly refused to subside.
Among the survivors was Captain James Calvert who lived in Wellow Street. He had gone down stairs to check on his prize Pekingese dogs, when a strong wave burst through the door – carrying him 150 yards into Poulton Road where he managed to hang on to the sill of a bay window. Frantically knocking on the glass, those inside dragged him in and looked after him. He later returned to help with the rescue operations.
Later that evening, attending a social function in Cleveleys, manager of the Fleetwood branch of the Westminster Bank, Mr P Stedman, with his wife, had left their son in the care of the maid at their Lord Street home. Still dressed in his dinner jacket, he walked home before swimming to the engine sheds at Wyre Dock. The staff, marooned on the top storey, threw him a rope and hauled him inside before plying him with hot tea. After a rest, he fought his way down the railway embankment to the top of Lord Street and home, finding his child perfectly safe in one of the top rooms of their flooded home. The journey had taken him nine hours.
By the third day, no train, tram nor bus had left or entered the town. With everything in complete darkness and supplies of candles, oil and lamps exhausted, some looting occurred. Because of the flooding, all underground telephone and telegraphic communications were severely disabled. When 200 tons of fish were brought into the port by steamers, their crews were totally unaware of the town’s plight.
Among the six victims of the tragedy were four from one family. They included Mary Chard, 36, James Edward, 11, Frederick, seven and Ellen Chard aged 3. Charles Chard, a trawler deck hand, who identified the bodies of his wife and three children, said when he and the family got out of their upturned caravan, they tried to reach the safety of Gorton Road but as the water rose rapidly, the family got separated.
He swam about for over an hour with the youngest child, Ellen, in his arms, but eventually became exhausted and, losing consciousness, could hold the child no longer.
At inquests at Fleetwood Town Hall, in all six cases the Coroner, Lieut Col Parker recorded a verdict of “drowned in the Fleetwood flood”.
Bringing the dire situation to a national audience was The Times Newspaper, which reported on November 5: “While there was practically no water left on the roads, the desolation is almost indescribable.
“Nothing that has been reported about in the Times has been exaggerated, and there is not a doubt the country will have to rescue these poor folk and give them a new start. I do so hope the people of England will realize what an awful calamity this has been, and send help.”
Money and support quickly poured in.
A convoy of 50 lorries, buses and other vehicles from Leeds brought furniture, clothing and foodstuffs for Fleetwood residents, and 70 tons of coal were dispatched to the town by railway. On November 23 at Bloomfield Road, in front of 7,000 spectators, Blackpool took on a Football League XI to raise money for the Fleetwood Disaster Fund.
The fund was opened jointly by the Chairman of Fleetwood Council, Charles Saer, and the local member of Parliament, Lord Stanley, who began it by making a personal donation of £200. Within six weeks, a remarkable £92,382 had been raised, including a contribution from Buckingham Palace:
“Dear Sir. The King has heard with deep regret of the disaster to the town of Fleetwood by the recent gale and tidal wave which has swept the district, entailing loss of life and serious damage to property. His Majesty is grieved to think of the many homes destroyed and the consequent suffering upon those least able to bare the loss.
“In conveying an expression of his Majesty’s sympathy to the people of Fleetwood, I am commanded to forward to the people of Fleetwood the enclosed cheque for £100 as a contribution to the fund that has been opened for the relief of the sufferers. (Signed) STAMFORDHAM”
Wet, wet, wet in the port 40 years ago
EMMA HARRIS takes a look at the second flood which devastated the port 50 years later
This Saturday will mark 40 years since Fleetwood experienced one of its worst floods.
Across the North West, more than 5,000 properties and 7,900 acres of agricultural land were flooded.
During the tidal flooding events – which continued on November 12 – there were approximately 60 breaches of flood embankments.
The worst affected towns were Fleetwood, Knott End, Pilling, Blackpool and Morecambe.
Unlike the devastating floods which had hit Fleetwood 50 years earlier, killing six, no loss of human life was reported in 1977, but the flooding of agricultural areas resulted in the loss of hundreds of cattle, sheep and pigs .
Sea levels reached 6.2m in the port, after a Force 10 storm – gusting to Force 12 – over the Irish Sea hit the area.
The flooding – which was extensive, with homes, businesses, public buildings, roads and electricity all affected – was sudden and unexpected, there were no arrangements of giving advanced warnings to the public in place at that time.
The sea had crumbled parts of the sea wall in Fleetwood and swamped around a third of the town.
The area where roads and houses were flooded stretched from Rossall School to the Fleetwood Sea Cadet Corps base, a distance of two miles.
Water had also flowed on to the Flakefleet estate.
All emergency services, including Wyre Borough Council, combined, as people fled their homes carrying children and possessions.
Broadway was blocked and only juggernaut lorries were able to reach stranded people.
Even when the tide turned the following night, the water did not disappear because of drains blocked by debris and the next morning, much of the town was still under water.