Extracts taken from Spalding Guardian 21st March 1997 (click on images to enlarge)

 FRIDAY. 21 March1947 – and news breaks that the unthinkable. The unhoped for had happened.

The latest in a series of floods was by far the worst to hit the area as the North Level barrier bank of the River Welland. north of Crowland, broke. Fifty years on and the Spalding Guardian looks back on events the people of South Holland will never forget.

Some were made homeless temporarily, others found their home flooded. Farmers found thousands of acres under water. The timing could not have been worse – food was still rationed and crops were in desperate supply,

Still recovering from the most severe of waters. the people of South Holland – helped by the armed Forces and others – rallied to fight the Battle of the Banks.

They lost individual combats, but the war was won.

Calendar of events 

March to May I947


Heavy snow during the winter of 1947 was one of the causes of the March flood. These men are pictured shovelling snow at Cowbit. (Picture borrowed from Ayscoughfee Hall Museum, from the collection of Mr Tom Barker

Monday. March 10 –  a sudden rapid thaw sets in with heavy rain sweeping the area the next day. The combination of melting snow and rain amounted to 4.5 inches in some places. That’s the equivalent of a heavy thunderstorm continuing unabated for 24 hours.

Tuesday. March 11 – South Holland‘s first breach – at the River Glen near the old Counter Drain station is recorded. Tongue End washes are flooded and the breach is sealed by 10am Thursday.

Friday, March 14 – flood patrols were on full alert and sandbagging work was well under way.

Cowbit Road, Spalding, was one of the town’s roads heavily sandbagged to try to preventine flooding. (Picture borrowed from Ayscoughfee Hall Museum, from the collection of Mr John Honnor)

Cowbit Road, Spalding, was one of the town’s roads heavily sandbagged to try to preventine flooding. (Picture borrowed from Ayscoughfee Hall Museum, from the collection of Mr John Honnor)

Sunday, March 16 — preparing for the floods as best residents could, was hampered by the arrival of hurricane-force winds. These, together with driving rain and the bitter cold, made working conditions appalling. Trees were uprooted. Telephone lines were broken and more than 30 telephone exchanges in The Fens put out of action.


Flooding under High Bridge 1947

Monday, March 17 – The Lincolnshire Free Press of Monday, March 17 reports how Spalding townspeople were able to estimate the danger from the water level at High Bridge. “Until Friday afternoon the archway was almost covered. but following the breach at Crowland. the level immediately dropped,” it reported.

Thursday, March 20 – The waters of Cowbit Wash are calm. Police Sergeant Albert Starr tells a Lincolnshire Free Press reporter: “With a bit of luck we shall win.” Luck was not with them.

Friday, March 21 – At about midday. North Level barrier bank breaks on the south side of Cowbit Wash. between Brotherhouse Bar and Crowland.

Saturday, March 22 – The floods reach Postland station to the east. A wall of sandbags. put up under the direction of Capt. AH Clark, on the Crowland side of the railway, stops the spread any further east.

Sunday, March 23 – Crowland (on higher land) is almost cut off from all directions when the water surges over Peterborough road to the south of the town. Even today – two days later – water was still pouring out of the breach. Work starts on mending the breach. Hundreds of tons of materials arrive and a light railway is built from North Bank as far as the breach.

Wednesday, March 26 – Work starts on placing 16 Buffalo amphibious tanks in the breach.AOS P 1536 some of the amphibious tanks used to fill the breach , 1947 crowland

Saturday, March 29 – Placing of the Buffalo tanks into the breach is completed this morning.Thorney Road remains the only access to Crowland. Work on filling earth bags to help fill the breach continues at Snowden Field. Crowland.

Monday, April 7 – The Lincolnshire Free Press reports that the “sealing off is now complete” and up to 100 pumps will be used to transfer water from the flooded area back to Cowbit Wash.

Friday, April 11– About 30,000 acres of partly-drained farm land are reflooded after peat under the tank wall gives way.

Monday, April 28 – The last troops and the last amphibious “duck” leave the area.

By the middle of May some sowing had started on the previously flooded land.

Crowland almost cut off by floods

(Information from the Lincolnshir’e, Boston and Spalding Free Press – Monday, March 24, 1947). 

A light railway was set up near the broken bank north of Crowland to get it filling in materials to the site as quickly as possible

A light railway was set up near the broken bank north of Crowland to get it filling in materials to the site as quickly as possible

Imagine life with no electricity and no gas and with floodwater only yards from your home.Imagine your town almost cut off by water all around.

That was Crowland – Friday, March 21. 1947.

Picture the scene.

The town is almost encircled by water but life goes on. RAF searchlights have been set up near French Drove station and there are wireless transmitters at Mason’s Bridge, Forester’s Hall, Dowsdale Bank and Spalding all connected to each other. At the police station, Police Sergeant Albert Starr is talking to a Lincolnshire Free Press reporter. “Morale is high,” he says. “There is no panic. We have the situation well in hand. There is no fear of the water getting into the town. but arrangements are such that the whole of Crowland could be evacuated in four hours.” Someone else is talking about the good news and reports that fewer animals have been lost than previously thought. But everyone else is still talking about how the floods started. Someone in the town said “The water piled up like a whirlpool, roaring and swirling, literally sucking it to this point from all directions. It swept through in a raging torrent, rushing onwards and outwards madly.” Hundreds of men have been in the area, rushing in sandbags to help stem the floods.”They‘ve been doing that for the last couple of days. Most of the town’s men have answered the calls from the town crier for volunteers to help with defending the banks. And on Wednesday night, prayers were said, calling for Divine providence, in Crowland Abbey – and one of the hymns was Fierce Raged the Tempest.

(Information from the Lincolnshir’e, Boston and Spalding Free Press – Monday, March 24, 1947).


Crowland Wash Flooded in 1947

Sheelagh Elphee knew the weather was bad when a message on the cinema Screen she was watching flashed up a message on the screen telling all Crowland people to go home immediately. The management of the Peterborough picture house had been warned that unless residents of the town returned home, they may be stranded. said Sheelagh, of North Street. Her memories of the the of the breach itself are just vivid. Sheelagh said: “When the bank broke we were then inundated with Army cadets and Air Force cadets who were sent in to help with sandbagglng. At 16 we girls thought it was wonderful. “They were only here for a short while’ and we had all sorts of people in to help. We soldiered on through the floods and people just had to do the best they could. “The men had more sandbags to put on the banks while the Abbey Institute was used as a field hospital.” She paid tribute to all the volunteers in Crowland who kept the workers fed during the hours they worked on fighting the breach. The Abbey institute was used as emergency accommodation and support for the flooded area also came from across the country. Sheelagh was a pupil at Spalding High School and remembers taking home a food parcel. And she explained how the older residents of Crowland knew most of the town would escape the floods because there homes were on higher ground than that which surrounded them. But as soon as l heard the news I started to take the carpets up in the sitting room. only to be told if the waters reached our house then the water at the house in Thorney Road and Postland Road would be above their rooftops. The water was visibly moving forward. We could see the water moving across the fens as it found its own level. “It was a job to co-ordinate it well – we were short of food and short of fuel ,” she added. Fellow Crowland resident Son Smedley remembers “that it was pretty obvious it was going to happen – there was just too much water there“. “I remember the danger bell at the Abbey tolled for the first time since 1880

Winds were so strong

Flooding at base of Herring Lane

Flooding at base of Herring Lane

Pensioner Herbert Chapman remembers that the winds in the week leading up to the floods were so bad that he was forced to walk with his cycle from Spalding to Postland to get home. He even remembers the film – Bells of St ‘Trininans‘ – he saw with his’ girlfriend on the Sunday night before the break. Herbert, now of Alexandra Road, Spalding, was one of the workers who spent the days before the break sandbagging the banks. “I shall never forget that year. I can still remember that film we were watching. “Afterwards you couldn’t really get on the land at all. When the floods started to go down my father used to go down to the land and used to walk along in his bare feet because it was a job to walk and boots got stuck.”

Walter warned town as flood water burst through the bank.

Stories of the breach of North Level barrier bank talk of a Crowland man who ran from the bank to the town to try to warn residents of the impending flood. That man was Walter Lyon, now living at Postland Road, Crowland. He told the Spalding Guardian: “We were putting sandbags on the top of the bank and there was water seeping from the bottom of it. “We were three or four sandbags high on the bank but then I felt the bank moving.” There was a shout of “She is going”and there was a “terrific rush of water”.  added Walter. “I ran back to Dr Drake’s house with Bob Pepper – where the nearest telephone was – and phoned the Welland Catchment Board. Running back was no picnic the conditions were appalling and it would have taken half an hour. The smallholdings were all under water and even a few days later the water was not going down.”

George unable to get to hospital for treatment

So extensive were the floods that when George Richardson at Nene Terrace, east of Crowland, became ill he could not be transferred to hospital. Instead his son moved back to their flooded home with George living upstairs – to care for him. George’s daughter Ivy Leak, of Grove Close, Pinchbeck takes up the story.

“My father was ill and could not be moved from upstairs so my brother went home and managed to look after him. Mum and Dad had a foot and a half to two feet of water in the house and even years later it had never dried out. You could see the water for miles in each direction and getting supplies was really difficult. Then the water got down to Mason’s Bridge, my sister and brother in law were there. They could see the water coming and were able to get a lot of the cattle on to higher ground”

At the height of the floods, their home was engulfed by four feet of water and the family was transferred to a temporary shelter at Newborough school.

“They did what they could but they lost practically everything. It really was terrible then. It really  was terrible then. As the water went down we were left with all this sludge that we had to get rid of, and that took a long, long time”

Flood defence engineer dismisses claim over weir

Fears that a flood control weir in Spalding failed to operate correctly have been dismissed.

Birdseye view of the River Welland flooding into farmland at Crowland

Birdseye view of the River Welland flooding into farmland at Crowland

Homeowners in Deeping High Bank watched in horror as the level of the water in the River Welland rose above the level of the roofs of their houses. When the automatic siphonic weir did not open, residents began to panic as they worried their houses would be flooded and some have claimed the weir was not working correctly. Although Environment Agency officers declared the road along Deeping High Bank unsafe, they assure there was no chance of people ‘s homes being flooded. And the claims about the weir have been dismissed by flood defence engineer Jim Marshall who said if the water had risen just one more inch the weir would have automatically opened allowing water to flood into The Wash. He said: “The siphonic weir was working. It opens automatically when the water reaches a certain height. The reason it did not open was because the water level did not rise high enough. It was only an inch from the required height. “Only the Cowbit and Crowland washlands suffered flooding and some crops will be affected but the fields are being drained. “There was never any chance of any homes being flooded and the high bank is there to prevent flooding.” But Deeping High Bank resident Allison Gray, of Country Kennels and Cattery, said people should have been warned earlier about the impending danger of the water rising up against the bank. She began to panic as the water level continued to rise and had to rescue 30 cats from her cattery and take them inside the house. She said: “I don’t think the weir was working correctly because it should have opened sooner. “The water img_0350was just five inches away from overspilling and it should never have got to that level. “We were very disappointed with the lack of information we were given from the Environment Agency and better evacuation preparations should have been made.“ Deeping High Bank farmer David Atkinson said: “I was very worried the water was going to overspill the bank. “If the water had run over the bank I don’t want to think what would have ‘ happened”


Visitors wore their wellies

Staff at Long Sutton’s Butterfly and Falconry Park had to clean up flooding In’ the car park and children’s playground. Owner Peter Worth said: “We had a very hectic weekend. Nearly the whole car park was underwater and, in between keeping the park open for Visitors, we were trying to dram’ the water.

“But the flooding didn’t seem to keep Visitors away and they came in wearing their wellies.”

It was business as usual at Catours Travel in New Road, Spalding’, after the cellar was flooded on Saturday. Firefighters were called to pump out the water only to be called back hours later after the cellar flooded for a second time.

Operations director for Catours Travel Demse’ Olive said: “We did have a lot of problems with the flooding and the water still keeps seeping back into the cellar but we’re battling on.”

About four metres of water flooded Donington Road, Horbling, after a dyke burst its banks.

Water had to be pumped away from the porch and back of a house at Northons Lane, Holbeach.

At Janfield Nurseries, Dog Drove, Holbeach Drove, a portable pump was used to pump water into fields.

At the car park of St John’s Residential Home, Hawthorn Bank, Spalding’ 12 inches of water had to be pumped into a roadside gully.

Water had to be pumped from a bungalow on Fleet Street, Holbeach.

A cellar at a house in Station Street, Donington, had to be pumped out after the water level reached one metre.