Flooding 1999

From Clifford Chambers
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Friday – Good Friday in fact and therefore Lawrence was able to come home early. We were going, later on to the Jewish Passover at Welford village hall and wanted to have chance to get ready for it well in time, so we decided then and there to do the Tesco shopping.

The rain all day had been quite heavy, but in the afternoon, I noticed one of the windows was allowing the rain to come in. This had never happened before, and I thought a leak had started due to the old age of the window. I had no idea that the fierce strength of the rain hammering against the windows was causing this.

As our car reached the end of the village street, and we paused to make sure the coast was clear for us to cross, I noticed muddy water pouring, in quite a volume, between the roots of the hedge bordering Rectory Farm. And I had never noticed that before either in all the rain storms we had had.! It poured across the Campden Road, and our car splashed its way through it.

There was another surprise at Tesco car park, water was bubbling out of a soak-away cover as if it was a small fountain. It must be blocked with something” I remarked to Lawrence. “And the rain water can't soak away.”

Our shopping I suppose took just over half-an-hour, and we carried our bags out to the car park, stopping in amazement to find all the parked cars (including ours) were in a large pond which was getting deeper and deeper every minute. I just had ordinary shoes on, though Lawrence had tough steel tapped shoes. But our feet were soaked by the time we reached the car. We were now realising that something was really wrong.

Back at the village, we saw the village street was turning into a river, the water coming, not from the River Stour, but from Martins Hill where there is a reservoir (possibly built by the Romans) fed by an underground stream. Water was pouring down the hillside and straight into the houses along The Nashes. Then into the Campden Road, and then along our village street.

Running into our house and looking out of our back window, I realised that the River was nowhere near our back garden – yet. So we were safe from that side of our house.

We still had the sandpit that my children had used for many years, mainly because I was still entertaining small children in my house, and on summer days, these little ones loved to play in the sand. But that sand was quickly shovelled into some old potato sacking, packed solidly and dumped onto our front door step.

Then feeling we were safe, we put on our wellington boots and went out and inspected the situation all the way along the village street. From the main road down to The Close the village street was completely covered by a fast flow of water, and as we watched the next area of the village street to Forge Cottage was soon covered.

“It will reach our cottage and beyond.” muttered Lawrence, “As long as it doesn't come above the pavement!”

But it did! Not straight away, but as soon as the water lapped over the pavement outside our house (and our house was a step-down from the pavement), we knew we were in trouble. Tom, due to start University in September, and Henry still at High School were both at home for the Easter Holidays. They had spent most of the morning and afternoon busy on computers and guitar upstairs, unaware of what was happening outside. At our shout, they came running down.

We managed to drag our piano out of the dining room, into the hall, and then with some manoeuvring, into our kitchen which was slightly higher than the hall. But to make sure, Lawrence insisted the whole piano had to be lifted onto the kitchen bench. And that was an effort, with me desperately anxious in case they dropped it and it would crash onto the kitchen floor. (It was bought with money my father left me in his will – so it was precious to me.)

It was useless rolling up our carpets. They were pretty-well worn in any case. But the chairs we piled onto our dining room table, with the assurance from Lawrence that the table wouldn't suffer too much with its legs in water! The two cosy armchairs in the living room, were piled onto the sofa – and after that there was little we could do apart from wait to see if the water would come over the sandbags and into the house.

The water never did enter that way. Instead it soaked through our ancient brickwork, and it was the dining room (being a little lower than our living room) that suffered the worst damage.

James being still at University was spending the Easter holidays working at a garage, and by the time I had collected all the towels I could find as well as some buckets, James had come home with tales of everything he had seen.

He soon joined Tom, Lawrence and Henry on their knees on a wet carpet laying out the towels to soak up as much water as they could; then wring the towels into the buckets – and these filled faster than I thought they would.

I got cups of tea and coffee going and soup to give the men some energy, but they worked hard all that evening to try and keep the rest of the house reasonably dry. The front part of the hall suffered with wet carpet, but as the carpet was very worn, I rolled it up and dumped it out into the soggy back garden, and used a mop continually to soak up some of the water and pour it into another bucket. The carpet in the living room squelched as we walked into it, but in the dining room, as I walked over the carpet, water came out of it and almost over my shoes. All the men were soaked up to their waists, and their shirts were getting so spattered with water as they rung out the towels, there didn't seem to be any dry parts on them at all.

Ivy Radbourne was suffering far more than we were – not in her house (which probably by now was in a bad way) but in her car. She was driving Vic home from a visit to the hospital and Vic was on crutches!

Their car stalled in flood water, and Ivy and Vic felt helpless, feeling the flood would take their lives away. In spite of the fact that cars are supposed to keep on moving in situations like this, one driver stopped and helped them. He had a larger car, and helped them to get out and into his vehicle. Then he took them to his house which wasn't touched at all by floods, being on a hill.

Ivy was almost in tears when, eventually she and Vic came home and told us about their journey.. Tears, not from their near-death experience, but the extreme kindness of this couple, who fed them, run them baths, made up beds for them in their spare bedroom and looked after and cared for them as if they were their parents. And this kindness extended until they were eventually able to get back to Clifford..

By 10.00pm, I was tired and decided to go to bed, and leave the men to it. I had to be fresh the next morning to look after them when they needed to eat and rest. James, having to work the next morning, also went to bed. All through the night, those 3 men worked hard. By the morning the rain had stopped, but their hands – especially Henry's were covered in blisters, wrinkled and were so white, there seemed to be no blood in their flesh..

While they eat breakfast, I tried to mop up a bit more water from the dining room carpet. Then tackled the living room carpet. Before having a much-needed sleep, Lawrence and Henry helped roll back the sodden carpet in the dining room while Tom attempted to lift the furniture so they could remove the carpet underneath. Then Lawrence, Henry and Tom carried it out to the back garden and that finished up with the hall carpet.

While they slept, I mopped over the tiles in the dining room and hall until they were dry. The water had receded off the pavement and was now moving sluggishly just along the village street. By afternoon, the tarmac of the road was showing until eventually the whole village street was revealed – with only the road near the Council Houses still being covered with water.

But even the oldies in our village had no memory throughout their years living in this village, of a flood quite like this. It was History!