The Society's seal and three photographs

Introduction to the 1771 Tyne Flood Papers


The 1771 Flood Papers

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The Flood Papers are a bound volume of documents from the relief committee for Northumberland set up after the calamitous floods in North-East England in November 1771, which brought down Newcastle’s medieval bridge and every other bridge on the Tyne except that at Corbridge. For a summary of the event and its consequences, see William Garrett’s 1818 pamphlet wrote An account of the great floods in the rivers Tyne, Tees, Wear, Eden, &c. in 1771 and 1815 (reprinted in 2010 by Kessenger Publishing and also available online at which drew on this volume, newspaper reports, and memories of the time. In addition, see the blog by Emily Needle on our library website (November 2015) about the flood and its relevance today. The minutes of the first committee meeting of the Committee for Providing Relief, dated 23 Dec 1771 were missed by mistake when the imaging was done, and this was not realised until too late; however, they are included in Garrett's pamphlet.

Our archives include a fair copy of the reports of the similar committee for County Durham, which have also been transcribed as part of our Unlocking the Archives project, but we do not have any of the supporting papers in this case.

The volume and the transcription

The volume covers the subscriptions paid in, claims for damages, and the compensation paid out. It is essentially the office file of the Secretary to the Fund, solicitor Lancelot Heron from Hexham. It was bequeathed to SANT by one of its founder members, John Adamson, who died in 1855, and is now in Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, reference number SANT/Beq/1/1/4.

The digitised copy was made by Dr Ria Snowdon for Professor Helen Berry of Newcastle University, and put onto the Antiquaries’ website after a lecture by Professor Berry in February 2015. (Her lecture has now been published, and is available on-line)

A joint venture between the Explore Lifelong Learning programme in Newcastle and the Antiquaries was then set up, with volunteers transcribing it all so that an easily readable version can be seen alongside the digital images on the website. You can also trace particular areas and individuals through the Contents page, which includes a Search function. (If looking for individuals, you may want to try variants of the name, since eighteenth-century spellings were often uncertain – see, for example, page 5 where the spelling of Committee names and signatures differ in several cases).

What now appears as a neat volume was originally a collection of papers of different sizes and shapes, probably kept in a deed box. Follow this link for an example. They have now been photographed sheet by sheet.  Many of the letters have Mr Heron’s address on the back, because envelopes did not exist in the eighteenth-century; you folded your letter up, tucked the sides in, and wrote the address on that side. Attorney, Hexham was enough to find Mr Heron. He seems to have filed his papers by gathering them together into bundles and writing the subject on the outside of the bundle.

Often the spelling is eccentric, and one can hear the Northumberland accents. Some words can’t be deciphered, and there are also many dialect words. Many of these are explained in a nineteenth-century book, Northumberland Words, by the Reverend Oliver Heslop, available from e-publishers flatcapsandbonnets.  Some of his definitions are listed on the Glossary page. Strangely, some meanings varied between Newcastle and Hexham; a beatment, a quantity of flour, was twice as much in Hexham as in Newcastle – which must have caused some confusion when the claim was from Bywell, half-way between the two.

What the papers show







In the future, don’t forget your past