NOTES ON OCCASIONAL FLOODS ON THE YORKSHIRE WOLDS.
By G. W. LAMPLUGH, F.R.S., F.G.S.
These notes, hurriedly put together, were found among Mr. Lamplugh's papers. They clearly were not intended for publication in their present form, and lack the care and attention invariably given to anything he printed. Therefore, though the author has not had an opportunity of revising the pages, we print them in order that they may be made available to students.--ED.
In the early summer of 1888, and again at the same season in 1892, the village of Langtoft, which lies in a streamless chalk valley of the Yorkshire Wolds, six miles north of Driffield, was devastated by sudden floods brought about by thunderstorms on the surrounding hills.
The first flood occurred on 9th June, 1888, and its most permanent effect was to cut several deep trenches in the steep hillside near the head of the valley about a mile north-west of Langtoft, which were locally sup- posed to have been gouged out instantaneously by a descending "water-spout." I visited the ground ten days after the flood and made the following entry in my note-book :--" The steep-sided narrow valley divides into three near this place. Rain seems to have fallen very heavily on a large turnip-field on the plateau-like hill top stretching to Langtoft Mill and above Langtoft village. Here the soil --a loosish clay with small chalk pebbles (no foreign stones seen)-- is padded as though swilled with heavy rain, but not torn except along certain lines that seem to have acted as water- gullies to carry away the fall. The water has gathered force in draining off, and has cut the steep hillside, mainly along three lines, where it has cut steep gullies down to the solid rock. The chief of these goes over a filled-in chalk pit. It has excavated here so as to form holes in the chalk and chalk-gravel from three to four feet deep, and has carried a mass of chalk-rubble to the foot of the hill and through a fence in a wheat-field, following the valley and covering an area measuring about 60 yards by 40 yards to about (barely) one foot in depth. A few of the chalk fragments are large-- the largest seen measured 14 inches x 8 inches x 6 inches, and several are over one foot. Above the rubble there is a thickish layer of warp where the water has stood. Water has flooded this [side-] valley bottom to its mouth --say, half a mile--to a depth of over one foot, as shown by the vegetation. There seems to be no boulder-clay on the hill--only a clayey soil with small chalk pebbles, about two feet thick, then broken chalk, then solid chalk-with-flints, apparently with high dip. The hill-side is so steep that the water from the plateau has no doubt cascaded down, cutting groves and streaking the whole hill side."
I also particularly noticed that the water which had rushed down the hill-side into the valley had drained mainly from the bare surface of the recently planted turnip-field, while an adjacent cornfield on the upland, upon which, from the appearance of the crop, there had probably been an equally heavy downpour, showed no sign of having contributed to the flood, and I attributed this difference to the fact that the latter field was covered thickly by the growing corn-crop, so that the surface flow of the water was impeded, and time was thus given for its absorption by the porous subsoil.
Having left the district shortly before the occurrence of the second and more destructive flood, which swept down the same valley in 1892, I was unable to obtain personal knowledge of its effects, but gathered the details from an interesting little book which was published locally soon after the event. This book, which is illustrated by several good photographic plates, is entitled "Waterspouts on the Yorkshire Wolds: Cataclysm at Langtoft and Driffield," by J. Dennis Hood (Driffield: F. Fawcett, 1892, 8vo, 66 pp., and 9 illustrations). Besides containing a somewhat lurid account: of the catastrophe of that year, it embodies useful note of some earlier floods. The following passages from this book may be worth reprinting.
"The 3rd of July, 1892, was a Sunday distinctly to be remembered in Buckrose. More especially was it a black-letter day in the history of Langtoft on the Wolds.
“On the morning of this memorable Sabbath the weather was golden in its promise, and the winding reaches of the valleys along the bases of the wood hills were sheeny in the sunshine that brings out in vivid colours the beautiful fullness of the midsummer foliage " … and so on, to the effect that the morning was very fine. " But as the day wore on, there was a dreamy and oppressive stillness in the air, the sun withdrew his shining, and towards evening it seemed as if some mysterious power " etc. .... in short, a storm gathered.
"Just as the Church bells rang out the vesper call, the Storm King was to be seen emerging from the west on a dark cloud of ominous portent en route for the hill district of the East Riding."
“Several dense, pendulous, cylindrical columns were observable in connection with the cloud as it crossed the lower range of the Wood hills, from which point it began literally to disembogue its contents, the downpour of water increasing in vehemence, as with tremendous velocity, it was carried across Cowlam and Cottam by the force of the convexion current.
“The principle of universal gravitation that controls atoms as well as worlds, suddenly produces a climax. As the cloud nears the hill-locked little valley of Langtoft --it hovers for a moment--then with a percussive shock, to the accompaniment of peal upon peal of thunder, and continuous lightning, the aerial reservoir is rent, and with terrific might, and a swoop sudden as a bird of prey, it descends the hill flanking the west of the village. Several columns .of water, almost in juxtaposition and. apparently of cuneiform shape, rent the slope of the hill; the vast body of water speedily forms a torrent, and rushing along the valley, quickly floods the village to the mean depth of nearly six feet."
And from this we may gather that, as in the case of the earlier flood, torrential rain fell on the broad upland at the head of the valley at a rate that overtaxed the absorpting capacity of the ground, and the excess revived ancient conditions and set the dry valley humming with water again for a brief space. As on the former occasion, the gullies cut by the surface-drainage in descending the hill-slope were supposed to denote some peculiar concentration of the storm cloud upon this particular place.