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Floods in Oxford: 1852

Floods of 1852

Above: From the Illustrated London News, 4 December 1852, with three details below




The picture below, entitled “The inundation of Christchurch Meadows, Oxford”
was also published in the Illustrated London News of 4 December 1852:

Christ Church Meadow in 1852

The above picture was accompanied by the following text:

The neighbourhood of the city of Oxford has suffered greatly from the recent floods; and the large Illustration engraved upon page 497, and that upon the present page, fully attest the state of the inundation at the close of last week. The Oxford Chronicle of Saturday last states the floods to have undergone but little abatement within the last eight days; and in the districts to the south and west of the suburbs large breadths of meadow land are still submerged, and boats are seen rowing where the eye was accustomed to recognise tracts of fine pasturage. The height of the water has fluctuated considerably in accordance with the unsettled state of the weather, some heavy showers having fallen at intervals in the early part of the week, by which the floods, as soon as they began to subside, were temporarily replenished.

After a temporary interruption on the Great Western line, a mile or more from the Oxford station in the direction of Abingdon, arising from the action of the water in shifting the ballast, the rails were last week again rendered steadfast, and the direct communication resumed. The line, however, continued partially under water at the above spot referred to; and a further interruption, resulted from the same cause, took place at this very part of the line, on Wednesday last (the 24th). These casualties on the Great Western are not attended with any risk to passengers; on the contrary, the caution which has been observed in passing along the portion of the line referred to, and the promptitude with which the convenience of the passengers has been provided for, so as to occasion the least possible delay, deserve to be acknowledge. Thus, on Wednesday, the down-train from London, due at 3.58 p.m., not having arrived within ten minutes of its appointed time, by which the starting of the up-train from Oxford was correspondingly delayed, Mr. Larkman, the station-master, set out with the latter train to explore the way, taking every precaution to avert accident. On reaching the Abingdon-road bridge, at Cold-harbour, the down train was found at a stand-still a few yards beyond that bridge, having been unable to proceed, owing to the operation of the water in unsteadying the rails.

Further accounts state that the Cherwell and Isis are, in extent, more like seas than rivers. All descriptions of property were to be seen floating down the waters, and carcases of sheep, pigs, and horses, were seen lying in many parts of the country where the water has been drained off. On Thursday, the 25th, a boatman found the body of a woman, and in inquest was held on the deceased: she had been overtaken by a sudden rush of water while walking in the meadows, and was too old and infirm to gain the high ground. In the course of the inquiry, the coroner said this was the third inquest he had held during that day alone, on the bodies of persons who had been drowned; and three other bodies were then awaiting inquests. On Friday, the driver of a waggon was jerked from his seat into the road, owing to the vehicle dropping into a deep pool: the poor man was killed upon the spot. No fewer than seven boats, rowed by University men, had been upset, and several of the occupants escaped with the greatest difficulty. The railway passengers have for several days been rowed to and from the station to the city in boats.

Cuthbert Bede, in The Further Adventures of Mr Verdant Green (published in 1854) must have been remembering these floods when he wrote as follows:

In the first week in December [Verdant Green] had an opportunity of pulling over a fresh piece of water. One of those inundations occurred to which Oxford is so liable, and the meadow-land to the south and west of the city was covered by the flood. Boats plied to and from the railway station in place of omnibuses; the Great Western was not to be seen for water; and, at the Abingdon-road bridge, at Cold-harbour, the rails were washed away, and the trains brought to a stand-still. The Isis was amplified to the width of the Christchurch meadows; the Broad Walk had a peep of itself upside down in the glassy mirror; the windings of the Cherwell could only be traced by the trees on its banks. There was “Water, water everywhere”; and a disagreeable quantity of it too, as those Christchurch men whose ground-floor rooms were towards the meadows soon discovered…. Posts and rails, and hay, and a miscellaneous collection of articles, were swept along by the current, together with the bodies of hapless sheep and pigs. But, in spite of these incumbrances, boats of all descriptions were to be seen sailing, pulling, skiffing, and punting, over the flooded meadows. Numerous were the disasters, and many were the boats that were upset.

Drawing by Cuthbert Bede, presumably dating from 1852
Above: drawing by Cuthbert Bede showing the great Oxford flood of 1852