Floods – 1939

Stan Herbert, Doreen Findull and Margaret Scott share their memories of the floods in Far Cotton in 1939.

1939 Floods

Stan Herbert was 14 years old and remembers having to navigate through the floodwater.

"I was fourteen years old at the time and in my first job at Singer Sewing Machine Co. of 43, Gold Street, a shop still in existence. I was training to be a mechanic, a profession which lasted a lifetime for me.

"On the day of the floods I had gone to work on my bicycle from Eastfield Road, Far Cotton, but by lunchtime the flooding was heard to be so very bad that my foreman said I should go home whilst I had the chance. The water was pretty bad at the bottom of Bridge Street and Cattle Market, plus the Promenade and the market itself were all under water.

"A row of stone cottages in Navigation Row plus the Malt Shovel Tavern and some of Northampton Brewery were all under water. I rode my bike to the edge of the rising waters and then managed to cling to the back of a lorry. The only way that this vehicle could get through the water on the south side of the river was to turn into and through the old LMS goods yard and then come out onto the road at the side of the Old White Hart Hotel. I finally made it, still clinging to this lorry and with the water covering my knees.

"We had a house-keeper at that time, my mum having died two years previously, who came from "Jimmy's End", and of course she wanted to get home if she possibly could. As the waters had subsided a little I remember getting her up onto the back of a lorry with quite a few others and journeying through to St James. Mrs Butcher lived in what was "Facer's Yard" - this was situated opposite the pub which was, I believe,"The Tramcar", then "The Green Man" and now "The Thomas a Becket". Also Church's shoe factory, then Padmore and Barnes. Mrs Butcher was so very relieved to find that her cottage had not been touched by the water, and so, apart from getting her feet and legs wet as she got down from the lorry and waded up the yard, she escaped all the trauma that most neighbours had to suffer. Then, to get home to Far Cotton, I managed a ride on a horse and dray through both lots of flooding.

"The marks are still there, I believe, on both Ashford's Corner Pharmacy and on the "Pomfret" pub, to show folks just how deep the water was. I know that we all did what we could to alleviate the suffering as people have done this time. Surprising how love and heroism show up in a practical way when in a time of adversity."

Doreen Findull was only six and a half years old and remembers being stranded in Euston Road.

"My family moved to 95 Euston Road in 1934 and I was six and a half when our home was flooded to about 3 feet in early October 1939.

"I still have very vivid memories of it and in my mind's eye I can see my mother standing at the front door with a broom, trying to keep the water out whilst everyone else was rushing around picking up rugs etc to take upstairs. We were stranded upstairs for several hours.

"The dampness affected some of the walls quite badly for many years, and our wooden framed piano was never the same. In those days we had coal fires which could be lit to help dry out the house. I lived in that house until 1969 so, as an adult, I understood the damage the floods did and vowed that if ever I had a bungalow it would not be on low ground - no upstairs to escape to!"

Margaret Scott remembers staff at Far Cotton Infants School saving the children's work.

"I recall being a 5 year-old pupil at Main Road School then. A vivid memory for me is of the teachers hastily packing our needlework (mostly pin cushions in little holders embroidered in wool on canvas - the wool in beautiful bright colours in green and orange and mauve!) into a large (to a 5 year old ) wooden chest. This chest was then somehow lifted onto the top of one of the high storage cupboards in the classroom. Our band instruments (triangle, tambourine, a drum etc.) were similarly packed away against the expected flood damage. I do not remember how realistic a defence these measures were, but I think we continued our sewing and percussion skills later!"

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