IS now satisfactorily established that this generation can hold its head high
on the subject of floods. We can now no longer have the " Wellington
" flood, as that of 1852 is called, cast in our teeth. We have seen with
our own eyes the highest of the century; in fact it is even probable that this
has been higher than the historic flood of 1774, recorded in the buttery of
College Hall, the measurement of which is reckoned from the floor of the
cellar,— and since that time it is believed that the floor has been raised. It
is a remarkable coincidence that the last three high floods—those of 1852,
1875, 1894—have all been at their highest on November 17th. On that day, in
1852, the great Duke of Wellington was buried, and it is recorded that rain
had then fallen every day since his death. On a previous occasion, the exact
date of which we cannot determine, he was returning to the Queen in a coach
and four, and his horses were carried off their legs between Fifteen Arch Bridge
and Beggar's Bridge. In those days sanitary matters were of little account, and
the outside world did not, on the news of the rising water, at once jump at the
conclusion that the boys would either be drowned or die of a pestilence; and in
1852, with the exception of a few houses, the School placidly pursued. its
usual course, though with limited amusements.
year on Thursday evening, the 15th Nov., the water was half-way up Brocas Lane,
and the lane between Winter's and South Meadow could only be reached in a punt
; moreover telegrams from Oxford and Reading made it clear that there was the
certainty of a heavier flood impending, although the result must have exceeded
all calculation: at the same time, had this only been fully realised on Thursday,
or even Friday morning, much confusion and want of organization might have
been avoided. On Friday morning the water was slowly finding its way into the
street down the Vicarage Lane, and rose rapidly all day, soon sweeping away
planks which had been placed for pedestrian traffic. By the time it was dark,
the street from Halliday's shop to the Local Board offices was only passable in
carts, and in Eton we were practically on an island.
was a very brilliant moon,-and the present writer, making his rounds at io
o'clock, found the road dry as far as Barnes' Pool; the water, which was coming
down Mr. Hale's passage, satisfied as it seemed with the wreck of Mr. Benson's
house ran steadily away down the drain. The stream was running very strong down
Baldwin's Shore. Mr. Vaughan's house we believe had gone home. Mr. Luxmoore's
only means of communication with the world was by a ladder into the Chapel
yard. How the hinges of those gates leading into that solitary wilderness must
have creaked and groaned when their rest was disturbed.
house on which we once read in gigantic letters of Eton blue "50 not
out" is now a stronghold of wet-bobs, and the famous blues who inhabit it
were certainly in their element; the water must have been over a foot in the
pupil-rooms and was just running into the rest of the house. At the end of
Keate's lane a powerful man was making great efforts to keep the drains clear,
which, on the authority of one who saw them working, were eventually the means
of arresting the entire inundation of the College. Rumour says that all night
long did this undaunted spirit work, defending his position with a broom
against an incessant fire of Euclids and small books, intended to prevent the
escape of the water and so precipitate the breaking up of the School. We could
only get as far as the corner of Judy's passage when the water was pouring
through the gate into Mr. Donaldson's garden. Mr. Durnford was working hard
getting up carpets, and none too soon, for on the next day the water was four inches
over the whole of his ground floor. There was a punt stationed for the night at
the end of Mr. Mitchell's passage, and the last thing we saw was a little knot
of Masters gazing at the water on the Slough Road, which prevented them going
further than the stile into the Field. The moon made the scenes very vivid.
There was no wind, but a low roar coming from the river by the weir, and from
the water rushing over the Slough Road and through Fifteen-arch Bridge.
is necessary to realise that at Upper Hope the river divided, the mass of the
water keeping its usual course, but a great stream poured through Cuckoo-weir,
thence through the arches along the bottom of Warre's field over the Eton Wick
Road, which formed the first cataract. All across the Slads and Babylon the
water was deep and broken but ran on steadily across Mesopotamia and Jordan to
the second cataract on the Slough Road. It carried away the palings of Upper
Club, two being taken right across the Playing Fields, knocking down the iron
rails of Ward's cottage. Old Ward slept that night with the water pouring
through the house deep enough to actually wet the mattress. The flood went on
its course through Datchet, to lose itself on the great stretch of low-lying
land between Datchet and Wraysbury.
shall most of us remember the morning of Saturday. All those who were in early
school heard the notice which came round, but the first sign that the school
had broken up was the headmaster in cap and gown escorted by a figure in
complete armour of waterproof. From a very early hour, in fact as soon as it
was light, we had been watching the proceedings, and had observed the masterly
preparations for immediate evacuation, conducted by adjacent householders. An
eminent exponent of natural science had been heard to express his opinion that
Barnes Pool Bridge was bound to be blown up, and it was very reassuring to find
him at the post of danger watching the wonderful scene of confusion which
began about 9 o'clock.
had to send a telegram and get an answer, and not even the urgent demand for
journey money could make the bank open before lo. The South-Western line was
blocked, the train having had to come through Datchet on Friday night with the
water a few inches from the level of the top of the platform. The Slough road
was unsafe, so the stream of cabs, carts and punts up the street to get to
Windsor Station lasted the whole morning, and the cabmen must have voted that
the flood should become an annual institution.
the school had gone, we, who were left, settled down to three days steady work
of relief in the town, distributing coals, soup and bread, which everyone was
most generous in providing.
enterprise was first in the field, but the local authorities soon came to the
front, and a great effect was produced by a large cart full of supplies, hauled
up the street with the Chairman of the Local Board and one of his colleagues,
borne as it were in triumph, like the gods of Peace and Plenty. Drinking water
was also a serious difficulty and had to be taken in barrels from the College
the afternoon the Queen drove as far as the bridge and offered to send carts
from the farms to carry people, and to deliver supplies. This was an admirable
thought, and indeed no better suggestion could have been made.
poor people were all most patient, spending their-- days looking out of their
upper windows, and thankful and grateful for anything that was brought them.
The Spectator was right in saying that one of the best effects of this great
flood was in bringing all classes together.
weather throughout was beautiful and the strange effects of the water,
especially as seen from Boveney and Dorney, were very memorable. The nights
were gloomy and made more so by the failure of the gas, which gave out in Eton
on Sunday night.
most successful light we saw was a flaming torch, a relic of the jubilee
procession; these in any number would have been most useful.
are the deeds of heroism, real and imaginary, recorded in the few days when the
water was at its highest, and though we have not space for them individually,
we feel we cannot conclude without venturing to sincerely congratulate those
who had so narrow an escape under Fifteen arch bridge, on Saturday, November
article was published in The Eton College Chronicle 6th, December 1894.