Great Flood anniversary: Memories of devastation in Creekmouth, Barking
- Credit: Archant
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the 1953 flood – one of the worst natural disasters to befall Britain during the 20th century. The Post has spoken to three people whose families lived in one of the affected areas, the isolated hamlet of Creekmouth in Barking.
Thirteen-year-old Charlie Hussey and his family were in bed on the fateful night of January 31, 1953, when they heard stones being thrown at the upstairs window of their Creekmouth cottage.
Peering out they saw the local policeman, Pc Turner, standing in around 4ft of water that was gushing down River Road.
Harry Stone, a night watchman at Lawes Chemical Company, which owned 50 cottages in the area and employed many of their inhabitants, had alerted the bobby after noticing the river had breached a jetty.
“Pc Turner told us that the river was overflowing and that we should stay upstairs,” recalls Charlie, who now lives in Ford Road, Dagenham.
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“I remember we took some of the furniture to the first floor so it wouldn’t get ruined, then we stayed there for the rest of the night.
“I didn’t get much sleep that night, though I wasn’t really scared – it was an adventure for me.
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“However, I was worried about our animals. We had a tortoise that was hibernating in a box full of straw in a shed and also some pigeons and chickens.
“We later found the box floating around on the water, but the tortoise survived unscathed.
“And all the birds had jumped on to the roof of one of the sheds, so they were fine too.”
Although there were no fatalities in Barking, a total of 63 houses in the area were flooded as a result of the Great Flood.
Most were in the small community of Creekmouth, but other areas, including Abbey Road and Highbridge Road, were also affected.
When the Hussey family came downstairs on the morning of February 1 they found a living room and kitchen with around three foot of water mixed with sewage and other debris.
“We and the rest of the people in the cottages were told to evacuate in case it got worse,” Charlie, 73, explains.
“We went to stay with relations in East Ham and came back the next day to clean it up.
“The water had gone and a black sludge had been left behind. It had ruined a lot of our stuff. All the rugs had to be thrown out and burnt for example.
“The council gave everyone bags of limes, which were buried in the garden and put under the floorboards to kill off germs.”
Maria Williams, whose family also lived in one of the cottages, was just three-months-old when the flood hit.
“I don’t remember it obviously, but my parents and older sisters Dilys and Avril have told me about what happened,” she says.
“We were in the back row of houses, closest to the river, so we got hit first.
“My mum told me she had bought a bag of wool to knit me a matinee jacket and she had just got my sisters upstairs when she remembered the wool.
“As she went to get it, it fell into the horrible water and was ruined, which upset her.”
Maria, 60, says the flood damage was devastating for Creekmouth residents.
“It was horrendous. No-one had house insurance then, so if your belongings were destroyed you didn’t get any compensation.
“And the houses never properly dried out. They were always damp after that, and were all knocked down around three years later.”
Joyce Webster’s parents and her youngest sister lived in one of the cottages at the time.
“I was 22 and was living with my husband and children in a pre-fab in another part of Barking so wasn’t affected,” 82-year-old Joyce, of Sutton Road, Barking tells the Post.
“But my mum, dad and sister Sylvia were there. Apparently my dad was shouting out of the window, ‘Don’t panic!’ to everyone who was running up and down.
“Many of their things were ruined, including mum’s piano. They had tried to save it but the water got to the keys.”
Among the devastation there was one reason to celebrate, explains Maria, who now lives in Billericay, Essex.
“A baby was born in one of the cottages that night,” she tells the Post.
“The mother and child were taken to hospital and thankfully were fine.”