LEAMINGTON UNDER WATER
GOOD FRIDAY, 1998
In the early hours of Good Friday, April 10th, 1998, the River Leam
burst its banks and flooded the centre of Leamington Spa, effectively
cutting the town in half. This picture shows The Parade, Leamington's main
street, with the river flowing right across it. The current was so fast
that one woman who attempted to wade through the floods was swept off her
feet and saved herself by grabbing a lamppost. She was marooned clinging
to the lamppost for some time because the torrent was raging too fast for
Leamington's beautiful gardens disappeared under the swirling muddy water.
In the Jephson Gardens, seen on the left, the ornamental lakes and the
river merged into one mass of water which covered the lawns, paths and
flower beds, and flowed across the Parade into the Pump Room Gardens, seen
on the right, leaving the famous bandstand marooned. Miraculously the flowers
were not washed from their beds, and were soon blooming again. Within days
it was difficult to imagine that the flowers had spent a day on the bed
of the river.
The town's two largest churches had mixed fortunes. The Anglican Parish
Church of All Saints, on the left, is built on a small rise in the ground.
Although it was surrounded by water, the crypt was flooded, and the water
covered most of the steps up to the West Door, it stopped six inches short
of the interior floor level. There was no damage to the Church, and the
water drained naturally from the crypt without needing to be pumped out.
All the Good Friday services were cancelled, but the intrepid bellringers
managed to wade in and ring the traditional mourning peal of muffled bells
at 3.00pm, the hour at which Christ died on the Cross. St. Peter's Roman
Catholic Church, seen on the right, did not fare so well. It stands in
Dormer Place, at a lower level than All Saints, and the flood water entered
the Church. There are photographs of the flooding at St. Peter's on their website.
Flooding at St. Peter's
Leamington's bowling greens, the venue for national and international
tournaments, had a lucky escape, but in the children's playground, the
swings and roundabouts rose forlornly out of the water.
These two pictures give some idea of the speed and depth of the water.
The coloured blobs in the water in front of the Law Courts in the photo
on the right are the roofs of cars parked in front of the building.
This picture of Euston Place shows how short a distance it was from
the edge of the flood water to sufficient depth to half sumberge a car.
picture shows the point where The Parade, coming in from the left at the
traffic lights, joins the main routes out of the town to the south. On
the day before, this junction had been the focus of a huge evening rush
hour traffic jam, because although this was many hours before the Leam
burst its banks, flood water was blocking the two major roads to the south.
The only road in that direction still operating was the one under the bridge,
on which the group of people beside the wall in the centre of this picture
are standing. It is a residential road with traffic calming humps, which
is not intended to be a through road. The congestion at this junction,
as traffic from three directions tried to get away through this one road,
caused tailbacks which gridlocked the whole town. No-one anticipated that
this would be the scene next morning.
Many homes were damaged, and sandbags gave little protection against
the water which rose so quickly. Many people were forced to leave their
homes, and for some, where the water caused structural damage, it may be
weeks before they can return. Older Victorian properties, converted into
flats, often have basement flats, and people who lived in those have lost
everything. One of the saddest sights on Easter Day was of people bringing
their ruined possessions out of flats and houses, and putting them in skips
to be taken to the rubbish tip. Insurance can never compensate for the
family mementos and photographs - all the things which hold memories and have
sentimental value - which have been lost.
||The floods receded almost as fast as they came up. In the late afternoon the water started to return to the river, and by evening the roads were open again and mopping up began. Pumps were in action getting the water out of homes and offices as
quickly as possible, to minimize the damage to buildings.
Leamington had seen nothing like this since 1929. Floods were widespread all over the Midlands on that Good Friday, and The Times reported that 'Warwickshire is a lake'. Millions of pounds worth of damage was done, some lives were lost, and the cost in misery to the people driven out of their homes, who lost so much of what was precious in their lives, is incalculable.
The photographs on this page were taken by Malcolm Field.
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