Martinstown's sympathy for Cockermouth

Richard King looks at his mother’s scrapbook on the floods at Martinstown in 1955 with historian Margaret Hearing

Richard King looks at his mother’s scrapbook on the floods at Martinstown in 1955 with historian Margaret Hearing

First published in News by

VILLAGERS in Martinstown have told of the ‘great flood’ that struck 54 years ago as residents of Cumbria face a similar plight.

They sent their sympathies to people in Cockermouth reeling from a level of rainfall that is thought only to occur once in 1,000 years.

Nearby Seathwaite recorded 314mm (12.3 inches) of rainfall in 24 hours last week – the heaviest ever recorded in Britain.

The downpour swamped towns with devastating floods, made hundreds homeless and killed policeman PC Bill Barker.

Martinstown previously held the UK weather records for the highest daily recorded rainfall of 279.4mm (11 inches) on July 18, 1955.

Resident Oliver Duke, 89, was camping in Holworth, near Ringstead, when the excessive rain fell 54 years ago.

He said: “The Winterbourne stream hadn’t been cleaned out. It wasn’t the day of the rain that the floods came but two days later when the water ran down from the hills.

“The village itself was cut off at both ends. I don’t think anybody suffered any injury, although the road was under water.”

He added: “It’s terrible what they’re facing in Cumbria. I really hope the weather’s not going to get worse.”

Richard King, 66, of Higher Park Farm, had to be brought home from Thornlow School in Weymouth by cattle lorry because cars could not get through.

He said: “I remember walking about on scaffolding and breeze blocks downstairs.

“A spring came up in our dining room and we had to have a pump drawing water out of the house and into the street.

“Father and mother managed to get all the furniture upstairs or out in the farm store.”

Gordon Legg, 78, of Grove Barn Cottages, was working on a farm in the village ‘when it started to rain at midday and did not stop.’ Dorset Echo reports from the time said ‘almost the entire male population of village banded together making sandbag barricades and digging trenches in an effort to ease the flooding.’ Riverbanks burst when the spring at Winterbourne Abbas broke and turned the river ‘20ft-wide’ in places.

Local historian Margaret Hearing said Martinstown was completely cut off for several days and ‘everyone pulled together and helped everyone else.’ Mrs Hearing gathered many experiences of the great flood for The Book Of Martinstown and confirmed there were no fatalities.

She said: “I heard of someone swimming through the village from the pub, it was that deep.

“Everyone was using tractors and there were no deliveries.”

She added: “That was in the summer, I imagine it’s a lot worse for Cumbria to have a flood in the middle of winter.”

District councillor Stephen Slade warned that ‘unless the river was cleaned out it could happen again.’ Councillor Slade, who was a schoolboy at the time of the Martinstown deluge, said he sympathised with the residents in Cumbria.

He said: “Certainly when anyone gets flooded it’s not very nice.”

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