Horncastle UK Flooding 1960


So ran the headlines of the Horncastle & Woodhall Spa News (14/10/60) after the Great flood of Friday 7th October. This coming after "rainfall in the gathering-ground of the rivers Waring & Bain at the rate of nearly an inch an hour" and "dark clouds, lightening and thunder flashes in the hills from mid-day" with eventually "a wall of water from the East and the North, the hillside slopes becoming a deadly funnel" into the town.
The Horncastle News turned to Mr R Scarborough at Revesby reservoir for statistical confirmation, his figures showing 6.4ins for Friday, most of it falling in a 2.5hr period, with the comment "It has never rained as fast at Revesby before". (Mr F J Harvey, manager of Boots Chemist and collater for for Official Air Ministry figures, measured the rain in the town at 7.24in. in the 6hrs 11am-5pm). The Great Revesby Reservoir went from 8ft2ins to 11ft recieving 25 million gallons by 6pm, and Wainfleet Fire Engine attempted to pump water away.

The News reporter watched "swirling light brown mud approximately 10ft deep, containing increasing numbers of battering rams - planks, chairs, a car, caravan, 30ft tree trunks from the builders yard". At 3.15pm the Waring, smaller of the two rivers, was estimated to be around 50yds wide. All over the town dramas were being played out. "It was not just rain, but more like a solid sheet of water falling from the sky, to the accompaniement of blinding flashes of lightening and terrific cracks of thunder".

commemoration stone set at around head height, showing the level of the 1960 floodThe flood level stone in Robert Bell's wall on Wharf Road

The Manager of the TSB, councillor Holmes and his asst. Tom Greenfield were trying to save ledgers on Banks St., but the flood waters rose and rose until they had to swim for it. Smashing a side window, they bobbed into view, Tom with extensive arm lacerations from the escape, and were thrown a rope by a Mr R Harness (!) which allowed them to climb onto a low roof.
Later the next week, pound notes were being dried on radiators in the bank. The Barclays Bank faired similarly. By 4pm the town was one large insurance write off, with a mess of abandoned cars, smashed shop fronts, ruined walls and a desolation of business stock.

  Sunbeam Talbot in river, and shop devastation

Unique Event

   Bain & Waring Depth Meters 
 (Horncastle Area) 

This was one of the worst storms in living memory - and therein most of the hand wringing and reasoning about Horncastle floods should end. With most of the catchment of Lincolnshire flowing through the town, there's nothing that can change, short of boring a hydroelectric pipeline overflow under Baumber and down to the Witham Valley.
From 11am when the deluge started, Noon saw wet pedestrian ankles; by 1pm water was pouring into the streets; 2.30pm and it was 4ft and still rising. 3.30pm and it was a full scale emergency with water 7ft deep on the lower wharves. Lincoln, Skegness, Louth and even Cleethorpes fire crews and Police were attending, with the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, J E Barnett, making an emergency HQ in the town. He was marshalling fourteen fire appliances, 2 raft units each carrying 9 pumps, a radios vehicle, a mobile workshop, a breakdown vehicle and several fire cars. Almost immediately, they lost two fire engines and a car, nearly totally submerged, that had been pumping the Bull Hotel cellar. By the time the Metheringham Firecrew had been seconded, the Fire Officer found that "The whole water table in the Horncastle Area has risen to a degree that pumping operations are impossible - there is nowhere to pump the water to". In addition to Coningsby, Haltham, Revesby, Mareham LeFen and Kirkby On Bain roads and fields were all under impassable amounts of water.

The town bridge on the Waring was under water and it's parapets were quickly demolished, 3 cars being lifted into the swirl, tons of timber from a wood yard and a caravan all further damming the Town Bridge. Water was rushing down the roads too, and Lincoln Road and Langton Hill flooded the West of the Town. The sluice gates on the River gave way and the deluge rushed down the abandoned canal causing havoc in the valley. Ten square miles of farmland being immediately innundated and the Coningsby A153 Bridge being washed away entirely.
In the Bull Ring, a man swept of his feet had to be rescued by fireboat. Many of the residents rescued were OAPs and babies, and it's surprising there wasn't more nasty injuries, as every shop window in the town had shattered.

man in waders struggling with large hose and reedsOngoing Flood Prevention 2011
Hoovering The Bain River!

The telephones in the town failed early in the catastrophe, and Police radios proved invaluable. As it unfolded Army signals corps and the RAF played their parts. Amazingly the electricity supply never failed and later the street lights were lit even as their standards were submerged. Even in the houses where their meters were under water, the lights kept on! This may have had something to do with positive and negative load balancing employed at the time - but a transformer substation out on the Spilsby Road blew up under the strain, further diverting firecrews.
Evacuation centres were set up at Holmleigh on Spilsby Rd and The Drill Hall on Boston Road, whilst Bowl Alley Lane school became a feeding centre staffed by the W.V.S. and Civil Defence Welfare, for the army of volunteers that descended to help the town. As night fell, the waters started to recede back to the wharf areas, with the outfall of the Bain at Dogdyke commensurate with the River Thames at Dartford. Firecrews started pumping the many cellars in the town, and the big clean up began.

'Evening All'

   Police Cars  were touring the streets warning people to boil their drinking water. By the Sunday, roadblocks had to be set up to stop sightseers - the Police asking motorists if their journey was essential, and turning those back that had no business. Later in the week, they were stretched further still when jetsam started being hauled to the local tip, and marauders were threatened with larceny laws - which only made them try their hand at nights in taking away sodden bargains. In all the various fire crews pulled forty or fifty people to safety. This was in addition to the usual daily calls coming in - a chimney fire at Thimbleby, a lightning bolt exploding a tree and setting it alight...(one extinguished by the rain, the second left to smoulder).

In the preceding week the Civil Defence Force had paraded a convoy of 40 vehicles through the town on a recruitment drive. These lorries were back loaded with donations of fresh bedding and food. The Saturday market managed a showing after extensive cleaning - the AA recovering 30 abandoned vehicles, but by the rivers the shops and stock were all but obliterated. Even in the Bull Ring, the mud line was 4ft up the wallpaper, and the carpets looked and smelled like they were from another planet.
  Bain & Waring River Album
Lindsey Caravans Ltd sign still upside down in the river Waring 50 years later shoring the bank
Sir John Maitland, MP for Horncastle inspected the town and put forward the idea of a relief fund, which UDC Councillor W Hodson set up the same afternoon - the account reaching £1700 within a week (the equivalent of the cost price of several houses). The Earl of Ancaster, Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire and, later, HRH The Duchess of Gloucester visited, in her capacity as head of the Midlands W.V.S. . The Bishop of Lincoln, Rt Rev Kenneth Riches paid a surprise visit and took the sunday service at St Marys. Vicar ACF Davies found it a 'great encouragement'; the second sunday in October traditionally being Harvest Thanksgiving.
More rain had fallen over the weekend and on the Monday, with the Tumby - Horncastle Rd washed away and blocked with a lorry ditched, the Gainsborough and Skegness Police drafted in on floodwatch. Schools remain closed in the area, their re-opening on Thurs 13th coinciding with the County Health Authority declaring water free from contamination.

Taking Stock

The power and speed of the water surprised everyone. Mr George Allinson, proprietor of Lindsey Caravans went to fetch his Land Rover to move some vans as the waters reached ankle height. When he returned minutes later the vans were already floating and bumping into one another, and he was quickly up to his chest and swimming, trying to save them.
A man and wife sitting in a car on Bridge St as the waters came up just had time to get clear as the car floated off. It was later found in a car park 60yds away as if it had been parked there.
Danby's decorators 'losing' a heavy 12ft counter, tins and tins of paint, and a shopwindow, their antique oak furniture in the living quarters all but ruined, as were 60 bottles of home made wine. Mr French, the barber, lost £400 of cigarette stock (cost of 2 houses), and the heavy barber's chair tossed away like a toy.
The wool and drapers faired little better, but they managed a flood-sale in the following week that drew queues. Sketchley cleaners on Bridge St was deluged and lost it's window, but still offered Free carpet and soft furnishing cleaning in the weeks that followed. The pet shop rescued it's budgies, but the goldfish made a break for it as their tanks overtopped from outside.
A saucy photo in the Standard showed the lady shop assisstants in Woolworths standing in the window with their skirts held bunched around their thighs, imploring a rescue. At Kenneth Taylor's shop on South St water first just started trickling through the door to his shop - "All of a sudden it was bursting through the front door and then the backdoor too". Mermaid Fisheries lost alot of stock, as did Baker's Furnishers, who only managed to get the parrot and the Tv to safety. Mrs J Clark at Cagthorpe school shepherded all the children through waist deep water early in the rising to high ground at Mareham Rd, probably saving a potentially deadly operation later. Mr NR Vardy at Homleigh had 3 d.i.y prize winning yachts the residents had made as activity work, and these rescued 10's of people as they were pressed into service.

Unfortunately a fatality was found as the water receded, a Mr Frederick Holmes (70) found drowned, being hit by a large shed and trapped near Stonewell Row. Many walls fell under the weight of water, with devastation at the rear of the Ship and Bull Hotels. All in all, it was a similar event to that of May 29th 1920, when water filled and 'divided' the town, roads were torn up, again, with remarkable rapidity.

The rushing white water weir where the Bain and Wearing meet with yellow football trappedThe Weir at the Bain / Waring Confluence

And what of the future? De-silting this year lasted all of a month before the duck Islands re-appeared at Bridge St. The fact is, with most of Lincolnshire's catchment running through the town, there's not alot that can ameliorate the bottleneck. Most heavy storms find the height of the Wolds an anathema, and prefer to slide down to Boston along the Witham, or down to Grimsby on the Humber. It must be a rare set of circumstances that boil up the 'perfect storm' for the Bain, Waring and Thunker Drain (Scrafield / Winceby Beck). As can be seen from the   Met Office, Horncastle still holds the UK record for a 3hr total at 178mm.
This explanation of the   2004 Boscastle Flood highlights the short steep sided valleys that make for a 'flashy catchment'.

Many inundated vehicles were wound out by their starter handles - not an option today in the car parks next to the river.. . . Friday morning had been bright and sunny and many houses lost their family's clothing as washing lines had been full about the town.. . .

  animation of river change height and breadth  Some Flood Photos

Early major contributors to the Councils' Relief Fund: Earl of Ancaster £50, Countess of Ancaster £50, FW Woolworth & Co. Ltd. £105, Mr JEH Cox £10, Boston Rotary Club £51, Mr G Waymouth £10.10s, Cleethorpes Baptists £9, Mablethorpe UDC £100, Mr & Mrs WE Lane £10, H Shaw £20, Mr WB Stevenson £10, Lincolnshire Standard Ltd. £52.10s, Grimsby CoOp Soc. Ltd. £10.10s, East Retford RDC £21, Mr JE Fisher £10, Dean & Chapter of Lincoln £20, Rev JH Blades £10, Cherry Willingham PCC £11.5s.9d, Dr & Mrs EC Cordeaux £50, Mr Maslen £10, K Littleworth & Sons £10, Rt Hon Viscount Crookshank £25, Miss M Hookham £10, Carres Grammar School Sleaford £16, Lincoln Cathedral Alms £12.7s.6d, Mr HR Tweed £20, Messrs Crowders & Sons £50, Mr GO Mawer £10.10s, Ross Group Ltd. £52.10s, Wragby Plastics Ltd. £52.10s, R Chatterton £105, Miss FE Messiter £10, G Bateman & Sons Ltd. £100 . . ., + many smaller donations.

From accounts given in Horncastle & Woodhall Spa News & Wolds Advertiser 14/10/60
and Lincolnshire Standard / Boston Guardian 14/10/60
Thanks to Horncastle Library

A letter to the   Horncastle Newspaper hi-liting what's changed in the 50 years since.
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