Great flood in Preston claims life of mill worker
Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at the inquest of a tragic good Samaritan...
The great flood of mid-November 1866 that saw the River Ribble burst its banks from Penwortham Bridge to the bridge at Walton-le-Dale and beyond was talked about for decades after.
Embankments were swept away, fields and parks appeared as bathing pools, many had to abandon their flooded homes and the heroic rescue of people and livestock took place.
Unfortunately, one incident at Walton-le-Dale, where the overflow from the River Darwen added to the problems, highlighted the perils of the deluge.
A freezing cold Thursday night added to the problems and on the Friday morning a number of locals took to boats to rescue some of those marooned in flooded premises to the relative safety of Messrs. W. Calverts mill, where nourishment and comfort was available on the upper floors.
Early that evening a four-wheeled wagon being driven towards the mill got into difficulties and the four occupants had to be rescued by boat. One man who attempted to get to the wagon once he saw it in difficulty was John Whittaker, aged 37, whose failed attempt saw him swept towards the mill on a fast current. Nothing more was seen of John Whittaker until the following morning when his dead body was discovered in the card room.
An inquest later in the day at the Yew Tree Inn, before deputy coroner Joseph Walker, was opened with evidence from William Walmsley, an overlooker, employed at the mill.
He stated that the deceased had been temporarily employed at the mill as a tinner and brazier. He explained that, seeing the wagon in difficulty, the deceased had volunteered to go and assist its rescue.
He said: “I advised him not to go as the stream was strong. I saw him later under the hedge outside the mill where the water was about two feet deep and I assumed he was safe. This morning I found the deceased in the card room, where the water had been about three feet deep, laying their quite dead.
“I assume it would have been dark when he entered the card room. He appeared to have had some liquor that day, but was not drunk.”
Another witness, greengrocer John Livesey, who had been on the ill-fated wagon testified that he had seen the deceased stood on a window sill outside the card room.
Police Sergeant Hall of the village deposed that he had seen the body of Whittaker and there were no signs of violence except some cuts and scratches on his hands and arms which appeared to be from broken glass from the window through which he had apparently entered the mill.
The deputy corner then went over the evidence before asking the jury to retire and deliver their verdict over the death of Whittaker who had left a widow and five children to mourn his loss.
They returned with a verdict of ‘Accidentally Drowned’ to conclude the hearing.
It was certainly not the last flooding of Walton-le-Dale, as many later generations will testify.