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Feather's Miscellany: SEVENTYFIVE

Emma Cookson rounds off in fine style her gripping novel set in the 19th Century in a Yorkshire mill valley.


The marriage took place between Robert Dyce and Beth Pallister in Helston Parish Church. Cosmo Pinkerton was best man and the bridesmaids were Gertie Pallister and three little girls called Hannah, Amelia and Ann, who continued to call Cosmo uncle.

The small American resigned from the Pinkerton Detective Agency and became agent for Robert, helping with social reform in the valley as well as managing his American business interests.

Robert invested successfully in the textile industry and he and Beth had four children: Frederick went into his father’s business, Arnold joined the Yeomanry, Zacharia became a photographer and Mary Elizabeth helped her mother when Beth eventually opened her own theatre.

Gertie eventually married a cabinet maker called Ashley Marshall and made sure they were both successful in business. They also had four children: Arthur, a natural shopkeeper, Florence, a natural troublemaker, Ben, an innovative stage set designer, and Ashley, a natural soldier.

Their lives were rich, turbulent, tragic and triumphant. But that is another story ...



At about one o'cock in the morning of Thursday, February 5, 1852, the Bilberry reservoir, in the Pennines of West Yorkshire, burst and released 86 million gallons of water, weighing 300,000 tons, down a narrow valley dotted with mills, hamlets and sleeping people. Eighty one men, women and children died.

Holmfirth, the town now famous as the home of the television series Last Of The Summer Wine, was devastated. Property was damaged all the way to Huddersfield. Such was the strength of the flood that the body of one victim was not found until five months later on the river bank at Castleford, 30 miles away.

Bilberry reservoir was built on an underground spring that had not been properly sealed. Repairs were not carried out and the middle of the embankment sagged until it was below the height of the waste pit. An engineer reported that if the waste pit had been lowered, the waters would have drained away, the embankment would have held and the flood would not have happened. The cost, he said, would have been £12 10s.
The inquest jury declared the commissioners, engineer and overlooker to be greatly culpable in not ensuring the reservoir had been built correctly in the first place.

"We also find that the commissioners, in permitting the Bilberry reservoir to remain for several years in a dangerous state, with a full knowledge thereof, and not lowering the waste pit, have been guilty of great and culpable negligence; and we regret that, the reservoir being under the management of a corporation, prevents us bringing in a verdict of manslaughter, as we are convinced that the gross and culpable negligence of the commissioners would have subjected them to such a verdict had they been in the position of an individual or firm."

A national subscription for the relief of those affected raised £69,422 8s 4d. The commissioners of the Bilberry reservoir asked for - and were granted - £7,000 for its repair. No one was prosecuted.

The reservoir, in an enlarged and safe condition, is still there, in the hills above Holmfirth.


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