After the Deluge: The Bellingham Flood of 1911 remembered at Bellingham Heritage Centre

By Nick Owen | 16 August 2011
Bridge End Cottage after the flood
Exhibition: Bellingham, The Great Flood of 1911, Bellingham Heritage Centre, Bellingham, until September 15 2011

On the afternoon of May 14, 1911, a violent cloudburst  over a remote corner of Northumberland transformed a village forever.

Within three hours of a prodigious hailstorm, the Hareshaw Burn running through the village of Bellingham rose 15 feet, destroying everything in its path.

The fronts of flooded homes were ripped off, buildings and gardens were washed away and roads and footbridges were left impassable.

To mark the centenary of this folkloric event, a selection of carefully preserved black and white photographs form the centre of a special exhibition focussing on photographs captured on an old box camera by village teenager Roddy Thompson.

“Roddy was 19 years old at the time and thanks to him and his box camera we have an exceptional archive of images of the flood and the damage it inflicted”, says Freddie Everatt, curator of the exhibition.

Ironically, 1911 was a notorious year for its summer drought, causing crop failures in many parts of the country.

However, the startling pictures show waterlogged fields and farmland and torrents so violent that pieces of coal weighing 300 pounds were brought to the surface.

All of Bellingham’s residents managed to survive the flooding, taking refuge on roofs and in the Town Hall on higher ground. However, had the villagers been asleep when the deluge came it would have been a far less fortunate story.

The fact that nobody was injured is even more remarkable considering the extensive damage to the village’s gas pipes, with residents noting a pervasive,  toxic smell throughout the village.  

As insurance was not commonly organised at the time, the flood destroyed the lives of many in the village. Both of the village grocery firms were ruined after the floodwaters carried away their goods, as was the village blacksmith after the loss of his tools and equipment.

The pictures bring to mind the destruction witnessed during the Boscastle flooding of 2004 and, more recently, the flooding across the UK in 2007 and 2009.

As with these floods, the sense of community instilled after the flooding is evident, with everyone pulling together until normal life resumed.

More pictures from the exhibition:

The Flood 1911
Bellingham after the storm
Bellingham after the storm
  • All photographs courtesy Bellingham Heritage Centre
  • See the for this exhibition
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