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The Wray Flood of 1967

Memories of a Lune Valley Community

The long-term impact of the flood on the village has been to help create a body of shared experience that has played an important part in strengthening the community spirit of the village. A notable illustration of this strong sense of identity and community is Wray's; renowned annual Scarecrow Festival and Fair, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. The continuing significance of the Flood of 1967 is demonstrated in the Millennium Mosaic, completed in September 2000, which represents the wind and storm spewing out a great tide of water. The Mosaic is sited in the 'Flood Garden' on the site of houses demolished as a result of the flood.

The legacy of the extraordinary flood of 1967 is enshrined in the folk history of the village of Wray in the Lune Valley, near Lancaster.  A flash flood of incredible speed and ferocity in the river Roeburn left a trail of destruction that resulted in the loss of houses, bridges, livestock, vehicles, furniture and personal possessions. Remarkably, despite the scale of the devastation caused by the flood, no serious harm was done to the people of the village and surrounding area.

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Emmeline Garnett has used her skills as historian and author to piece together the remarkable events of 8 August 1967. The story of the Flood and its aftermath is drawn partly from documentary sources, but most importantly, it is a people's history, relying on the vivid memories of local people caught up in the event.  The book is lavishly illustrated and contains a number of contemporary photographs showing the sheer scale of the devastation caused by the flood.

About the Author
Emmeline Garnett is a retired schoolteacher for whom local history has become an absorbing interest. Her published work includes Dated Buildings of South Lonsdale (CNWRS, 1994) and John Marsden's Will: the Hornby estate case, 1780-1840 (Hambledon Press, 1998). She has lived in Wray since 1981.

Extract from the Introduction

In 1998 Wray, like thousands of other villages, set up a committee to decide how it would like to mark the millennium.  A spirited open-ended discussion followed, but with hindsight there was a kind of inevitability about the scheme which was finally adopted - the handsome cobblestone mosaic in the garden at Bridge End, completed in September 2000.

The inevitability was because Wray holds one important event in its folk memory - the flood of 1967.  The ensuing years have seen a turnover of about four-fifths of the population, but no newcomer has ever been left uninstructed about the event of 8 August 1967, when a flash flood of extraordinary speed and ferocity in the River Roeburn resulted in the loss of houses, bridges, livestock, vehicles, furniture and personal possessions.  The stories of escape and rescue are dramatic, sometimes comic, and amazingly unmarred by any human casualty more severe than a cut thumb, and the result has been a body of shared experience which has played a significant part in building the community spirit of Wray. Community spirit is a difficult thing to pin down, but everyone agrees that Wray has it more than most villages, and that it has grown over the years in a spiral of cause and effect.  Not many places with 500 inhabitants could have generated the Scarecrow Festival and Fair which in a warm May can bring somewhere in the region of 30,000 visitors; and not many could have supported the building, in the year 2001, of two extra classrooms on to a school with fewer than fifty children.

These two last events, the annual and one-off, provided the original impetus  for this book.  The flood was clearly a fascinating story worth rescuing from the past and preserving for the future. Starting very modestly with the idea of a pamphlet which might add something to the Wray School Extension Fund, the plan for the publication soon expanded. There were so many memories still vividly retained which would scatter and vanish if not collected in a durable form.

Collecting the stories has been a memorable experience. Some have been taped, some taken down in note form.  What soon became apparent was that these memories were still extraordinarily vivid. Occasionally during an interview someone would dredge up a fact or an impression that they had not thought of for over 30 years, but not often.

On the whole the stories were cast in the form they had first taken, almost a literary form, with few fumbles or hesitations. It is notable that some experiences had been taped very soon after the event, and were then retold for the purpose of this book with no reference to the earlier narrative, and there is no significant variation between the two. There are some people who, perhaps because of advancing years, have lost certain details, but the overwhelming impression has been that the memories were very clear, that they had been fixed in narrative form very soon after the event, and have remained in this form, typically a powerful and compelling one. It was very noticeable that when asked to go further, and provide information about what happened later, when the village was slowly returning to normal, people’s memories blurred. Sentences became fragmented as they did their best to grope for details, and they often had to admit defeat. Some impressions of the first few days were still vivid, but the light faded quite quickly as the business of ordinary living took over.

Floods, like earthquakes and great fires, are among the most traumatic events to a human population, and in their extreme form, are things with which this country used hardly to be acquainted, though of late years our television screens have made us familiar with them in other places. We have seen the devastation of huge river inundations in Bangladesh, or mudslides in Central America, and recently, under the influence of warmer winters and deluges of unseasonable rain, various parts of the country have suffered quite severely from floods on many rivers. These have usually approached insidiously, with time to warn the population and fill the sandbags. Even if the sandbags have often proved to be not filled fast enough and not piled high enough, the resulting damage, though bad enough to the people who suffer it, is not classed as a national disaster.

Extract from the Introduction

All floods, in the end, are due to the same basic cause - too much rain falling on ground which cannot absorb it. But occasionally, owing to the lie of the land and certain other contributory causes, instead of a steady rise in the water level until a river, in the common and misleading phrase, ‘bursts its banks’ and spreads over surrounding countryside, the experience is of a headlong mounting rush of water from high grounds to low, sweeping out everything in its path.

This is what happened at Wray in 1967. It was not a totally isolated incident. Flash floods of such ferocity happen more often than one might think. Indeed, the same flood on the same day sweeping down on the opposite side of Bowland Forest caused more damage, reckoned financially, in Rossendale than in the Lune Valley. The difference was in the human interest, because at Wray a village stood in the way.

Afterwards, the comparison that sprang to many people’s minds was with the Lynmouth disaster of 1952. Another August storm, another network of small becks draining a moorland area, another fierce storm dropping vast quantities of rain on peaty ground already soaked and sponge-like, another descent of many hundreds of feet from the water-shed to the sea, another series of catastrophic surges caused by holdups in the course of the river which then burst through with greater force. The differences however were great, and they were all in Wray’s favour.

The West Lyn’s fall from source to sea was not very different from the Roeburn’s fall from source to the Lune valley, but on the West Lyn by far the greatest drop, some hundreds of feet, is achieved in the last half mile of its course, just as it runs straight down through the middle of the village. The West Lyn, and the East Lyn which joins it, end in the centre of a small gorge-like bay packed with the crowded housing of a bustling holiday resort. The Roeburn, on the other hand, emerges from the hill country to run round the edge of Wray village at the point where its course opens and flattens out. The Lynmouth flood followed a long steady downfall, culminating in a cloudburst of great intensity: it has been estimated that eleven inches of rain fell in 24 hours. The Wray flood was the result of a fierce but short-lived storm. The Lynmouth flood occurred in darkness, and continued unabated for most of the night. The Wray flood occurred at a fortunate time, in daylight, when the men of the village were just returning from work. It roared past, and subsided to a safe level, as quickly as it had risen.

After the flood: the confluence of Hindburn and Roeburn. One back wheel of Bobbie Everett’s car, the rest completely buried, can just be seen sticking out of the further sandbank. Reproduced in the book by kind permission of Lancashire Constabulary/Gerry Forrest.

Extract from the Millennium Mosaic

A village committee was set up in the winter of 1998, which behaved very properly and democratically. It started by offering a seat to every village organization, and one or two extra to accommodate the unenfranchised. Meetings and enthusiastic discussion followed, resulting in a list of ten possible projects, ranging from the statue of a scarecrow to buying a piece of rainforest for long term preservation, or putting up street lighting along the village walk known as ‘the Spout’. Gradually opinion focussed on the provision of a commemorative mosaic, partly at least because Maggy Howarth, whose cobblestone mosaics are nationally known, lives and works in Wennington, two miles from Wray.

Various sites were canvassed and various subjects, but it did not take very long to decide that the ‘Flood Garden’, the site of the demolished houses on the river side of the street, was the best place for such a mosaic, and if that were the site then the flood itself was the best subject. Money was available: Lancaster City Council’s ‘Million for the Millennium’ Fund promised £5000, the European Regional Development Fund another £5000. Various other funds for rural initiatives and the village itself, notably through the Institute Committee, added more. A private donation of £500 was gratefully received. The Committee held coffee mornings. Maggy Howarth provided a design without charge, which was displayed in the Institute for the village to consider and comment on.

It was not a cheap choice. The steeply sloping Flood Garden, with its need for excavation, drainage, and retaining walls, was an appropriate but expensive site. The first plan had to be reduced, an estimate of £20,000 whittled down to £14,000. The representation was of the wind and storm spewing out a great tide of water. Some of the materials came from the Cobblestone Designs workshop - a significant part of their work is the identification of suitable beds of pebbles in riverbeds, seashores, quarries, and the getting permission to gather and bring them home. The Wray mosaic uses mainly black pebbles from a Cumbrian seashore, white pebbles from Wales, and carved insets made from green Elterwater slate. But the brown stones representing the main flood water were gathered by a village working party, appropriately enough from the bed of the Roeburn and Hindburn.

The stone-gathering was followed by a cobblestone workshop in the Institute, where volunteers were instructed in the choosing and setting of right-shaped stones.  Then at an open day at Cobblestone Designs people could see the professional set-pieces made by Maggy Howarth herself and her three assistants.  Enthusiasm ran very high, and the mosaic was set up over a weekend by changing bands of volunteers, most of whom, especially the schoolchildren, will never forget the precise position of their contribution.  The construction work of semicircular walls and paving was done by Richard Harrision and the Kenyon brothers, local builders, who thirty years earlier had built bungalows for the Whittams and the Bastows after the flood.

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