100 YEARS ON: Remembering the victims and survivors of the Louth Flood

The Louth Flood of May 29, 1920, was the worst peacetime tragedy that the town has ever seen, with 23 people losing their lives and many more left homeless.

A funeral service was held for the many victims of the Louth Flood. (Photo: Louth Museum)

In last week’s paper, we recounted the heartbreaking tale of how a freak ‘cloud burst’ caused unforeseen death and destruction - with flood waters of up to 14 feet high - which would have such a huge impact on the townsfolk who were going about their normal, everyday lives.

But who were the people who suffered those dramatic consequences?

This week, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the Louth Flood today (May 29), we will take a look at the lives of some of those who sadly perished - and, in some cases, miraculously survived.

The front page of a national newspaper shortly after the disaster.

One of the special guests who had been due to attend the opening of the exhibition at Louth Museum last month - before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic - was Betty Jamieson, whose grandmother and auntie, Margaret and Clara Bromfield, both died after being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time on that fateful day.

Margaret (née Chapman) was married in 1901 to Samuel Bromfield from Ings Lane Farm in South Somercotes.

Sam was the son of farmer George Bromfield and he worked as an assistant on the farm near the village.

Samuel and Margaret had five children: Clara in 1906, Henry in 1907, Samuel in 1909, Florence (Betty’s mother) in 1911, and Mary in 1916.

Margaret Bromfield (left) and her eldest daughter Clara both passed away. Pictured with their family in 1911.

The family lived with their grandfather George in the farmhouse, where Margaret was in charge of the housekeeping.

Sadly, Samuel passed away in 1918, most likely during the Spanish Flu epidemic. However, Margaret and the family still stayed at Ings Farm looking after George.

In 1920, the eldest child Clara had started her first job as a domestic servant at Louth Park on the eastern edge of the town. On this Saturday in May, Margaret and Clara decided to cycle into Louth to do some shopping. Margaret rode from South Somercotes and met Clara on Eastfield Road. They then continued into town.

Unfortunately, they decided to turn into Ramsgate Road and then into James Street, instead of continuing into town on the higher road.

John Herbert Borman (‘Jack’) saved several lives at the age of 19.

As the pair cycled down James Street, the torrent of water reached them and swept them away.

They did not stand a chance of survival. Both of their bodies were recovered later, Clara’s from Ramsgate and Margaret’s from the Priory gardens.

Their deaths left two young boys and two little girls as orphans, and an old man unable to look after them.

Florence was taken to Mablethorpe where she was brought up by a couple who were not relatives, while Mary went to Stockport to be brought up by her aunt.

Fifteen-month old Patricia Russell was saved from the flood.

Henry and Sam were sent to Canada in October 1920, to be raised by relatives of their mother. It is not known what happened to George.

Alongside the tragedies that struck so many families on that day, there were also acts of great heroism.

John Herbert Borman known as Jack, was a 19-year-old assistant scout master with the 2nd Louth Troop at the time of the flood. On that Saturday afternoon, he and the troop leader Roy Jordan managed to save eight lives.

For his bravery in saving many lives, Jack was awarded a silver medal and certificate signed by the Chief Scout, Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

Several residents came very close to being swept away, but were able to survive.

In James Street, widow Betsy Kelly (55) was sitting having tea in her employer’s kitchen when, with no warning, water poured into the room. First, she stood on the table but it started to float. Betsy then grabbed the top of the window frame and hung on tight.

Down the road, at 75 James Street, builder and undertaker Frederick Ingram and his teenage daughter Phyllis heard a creaking noise followed by the door bursting open and water pouring in.

They both jumped up onto the top of the piano, but the water lifted the instrument off the ground and tipped them off. Fred managed to clutch at the picture rail and, when the water was just below the ceiling, managed to tear away some of the ceiling plaster and hold onto the beam.

Phyllis was able to hold on tight to the top of the door and pulled her head just above the water to keep breathing. Both of them were lucky to survive.

THE DRAMATIC RESCUE OF A BABY

Fifteen-month old Patricia Russell was strapped into her highchair in the basement nursery of 52 Westgate when the floodwater arrived.

The rest of the family were on the third floor, watching the raging water sweeping through the gardens towards Bridge Street.

Suddenly, they remembered about Patricia, and her father John raced down the stairs to find that the cellar was already starting to fill with water.

As he waded across to rescue her, the door to the side passage burst from its hinges and the muddy torrent poured inside.

Fortunately John was able to swim, and he managed to get to the stairs where he passed Patricia into the arms of her grandfather Charles Carter - who was the curator of Louth Museum from 1901 to 1933.

FOR MORE INFORMATION...

• Visit the Louth Museum website and the Louth Town Council website for more information about the flood, including the names of all those who died, and the heart-warming tale of how the local community - and beyond - rallied around to help and rehouse those affected.

There is also a ‘Virtual Louth Flood Walk’ video, available via our website and the town council’s website.

• Our thanks goes to the museum and town council for providing the background information and photographs.