The flood occurred in January 1841 and was triggered by an extremely wet autumn followed by a period of heavy snow across Salisbury Plain. Snow which fell onto solidly frozen ground. On the 13th January the snow covering the plain began to melt and because the ground remained frozen the water could not soak into the ground. This melt water began to flow down the valleys and eventually found its way into the various local watercourses. On the 16th January the River Till at Shrewton suddenly rose by an astonishing seven and a half feet. Similarly, small streams such as the Chitterne Brook became a raging torrent that burst their banks and had enough power to sweep away bridges.
Most of the properties in the area at the time were built from clay or cob (a mixture of soil and straw) and their foundations were no match for the force of water that assailed them.
The low-lying villages of Shrewton, Orcheston, Tilshead and Chitterne bore the brunt of the flooding and all told around 72 houses were destroyed, leaving around 200 to 300 people homeless and at least three people dead. Had the flooding occurred in the dead of night the death toll would have been much higher.
In the wake of the flooding a relief appeal was organised that raised enough money to rehouse all of those that had lost their homes and even had a surplus that enabled the construction of 14 “Flood” Cottages across the local villages. The rents from these properties provided money to buy fuel, groceries and clothing for local poor people. Examples of these Flood Cottages can be found in Shrewton, Orcheston and Tilshead, and each bears a plaque which reads:
Builded in the Year of Our Lord
From a portion of the fund subscribed by the public
to repair the losses sustained by the poor
of this and five neighbouring parishes in
The Great Flood of
Are vested in the names of
Who shall let them to the best advantage
and after reserving out of the rents
a sum sufficient to maintain the premises
in good repair
shall expend the remainder in
Fuel and Clothing
and distribute the same amongst the poor of the
On the 16th day of January for ever
being the anniversary of that awful visitation.
|The Tilshead "Flood" Cottages.|
|The Orcheston "Flood" Cottages.|
Pictures: Wiltshire (October 2015).
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