Here Came the Floods, Once Again, by Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson takes a look at Leeds’ historic floods and instances of extreme weather. You can still donate to the Leeds Flood Appeal. There are full details at the end of this article.

The devastation that hit West Yorkshire and York at the close of 2015 made a tragic end to the year and an awful start to 2016 for thousands of families and businesses. But in the time since records have been kept – going back to the late 1600s – Leeds has been damaged by floods on quite a few occasions. Sadly, it’s nothing that new.

Photo by Raj Passy

Photo by Raj Passy

The first real mention is from 1775, when Water Lane, just south of the Aire was inundated, and reportedly Leeds was so waterlogged that the streets of the town centre were only navigable by boat. Given the way Briggate rises from the water, that must have been a huge flood. 20 years later Leeds Bridge (a stone edifice, not today’s iron) came under threat because the water coming downstream was so high; three men were listed as drowned, with carts and horses swept away. 1807 brought the so-called Milton Flood, named for Lord Milton who’d been a winner in the Yorkshire Election of that year.
1822 saw what were termed the worst floods for 30 years in the town (ironically followed by a drought). More floods three years later, then the next major incident came in 1837 as floods destroyed what we know as the Victoria Bridge, which had only been built eight years before. It was immediately rebuilt and given its present name to commemorate the young Queen.
Thunderstorms in 1859 were so heavy that the drainage systems were unable to cope with the amount of rainfall. That brought flooding in the Kirkgate and Marsh Lane areas, with water rising in businesses, warehouses, and homes – and plenty of desperately poor people lived around there then, many of them in cellar rooms.
All the damage at Kirkstall is an echo of times past, too. In November 1866, people claimed that the water on Kirkstall Road was knee-deep, as part of the worst flooding Leeds had ever endured, leaving in its wake 20 people dead . In 1892 Kirkstall was badly hit once more when the Aire burst its banks.

Kirkstall - Boxing Day 2015. Photo by Ian Wray of the Leeds Photographic Society

Kirkstall – Boxing Day 2015. Photo by Ian Wray of the Leeds Photographic Society

Of course, there have been several other instances of  extreme weather in Leeds; it’s not all water. The hurricane of 1839 did so much damage to the spire of Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane that it had to be removed. There was a tornado in 1817. Winters so hard in 1684, 1715, and 1739 that ice was thick enough on the Aire to have a Frost Fair, including an ox roast. In April 1908 we had snow every day for seven days. There was ice and huge snows in 1947 and 1962/3.

If there’s something positive in this list of misery, it’s in the fact that Leeds has always come back and been stronger. Doubtless there were plenty of earlier incidents that weren’t recorded, too, and others since that didn’t do as much damage. But we’re still here, still fighting, still Leeds, in 2016 and beyond.

Leeds Flood Appeal

Photo by Raj Passy

Photo by Raj Passy

You can still donate to the Leeds Flood Appeal. Visit the donation page at JustGiving or send a cheque made out to “Leeds Community Foundation Flood Appeal”  posted to Leeds Flood Appeal, Leeds Community Foundation, First Floor, 51a St Paul’s Street, Leeds, LS1 TE.

Details of how to apply to the fund are on the Leeds Community Foundation website.




Book Launch

9780750966986Chris Nickson’s The New Eastgate Swing, his second book set in 1950s Leeds and featuring Dan Markham (Dark Briggate Blues), is due to hit the bookshops in early February. 

There’s jazz, the lingering strands of the Second World War, the growing threat of the Cold War, spies, assassins, and, yes, a touch of 1950s romance! 

You are all cordially invited to the launch for The New Eastgate Swing at 7pm on Thursday 11 February at Waterstone’s on Albion Street, Leeds.

It’s free, Chris promises fun and FREE WINE!  If any of you fancy dressing up in 1950s clothes, there might even be a prize.






Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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