Banks & Drainage
From very early times one of the conditions of the leases of land given by the Dean and Chapter of Wells was that, among other service, the tenant should "also do and perform their work towards digging and cleansing and scouring the Lord's rivers, according to the rate of the premises, and when and as often as need shall require." Each tenant had a certain specified portion of 'walling' on the river to take care of. In the Stoke St Gregory accounts are charges for doing the the portion of river and wall belonging to the Church House, which was held by the parish under a copy of the court roll. An entry for 1775 reads: "for righting ye wall at Stanmoor belonging to ye Church House - 6d; for doing ye wall and rhine belonging to ye Church House - 1s 6d"
Both of Stoke's rivers have always been prone to flooding. In 1819 James Dugdale referred to nearly 30,000 acres being regularly under water. There was a particularly severe flood in 1860 and this co-incided with the Land Drainage Act of 1861. Apart from improving the river banks the drainage boards were able to start using pumps to drain the moors, enabling a longer growing season. The steam powered boilers used about four tons of coal a day. This was brought up river and unloaded in wicker baskets. However, this did not prevent the dangers of annual flooding, even though the steam engines were replaced by more powerful diesel powered pumps.
Floods have always been with us
Although the floods of 2013/2014 will be remembered both locally and nationally, the worst local flooding in recent times was, perhaps, in December 1929, when the Tone burst the bank that protects Stanmoor and Athelney. Although numbers of farm stock and family pets perished, no human lives were lost, but the last of the resulting evacuees did not return home until the following March. The summer of 1929 had been unusually dry, but October and November were much wetter than usual. In late November the Drainage Board convened a meeting and urgent efforts were made to strengthen the banks of the Tone. Many locals helped to fill thousands of sandbags to be placed at the worst danger points along the bank. On the night of 6th/7th December the bank was breached. the water sweeping away a cottage garden and rushing across the road. Minutes later a greater gap appeared, millions of gallons of water pouring across the road to the withy beds and grazing lands of Stanmoor.
The Refugees Return Home
Some of the Photos Taken at the Time
The First Breach of the Bank
The Three Heroines of Athelney
(From the Evening World, 11th December 1929) "When the rain falls these days I think of three women: Mrs Hill, Mrs Champion and Mrs Dare. These women did not awake suddenly one night to find their homes in danger. For a week before I stumbled across those sad villages of Athelney, Stanmoor and Stathe, they had been fighting silently. Their eyes showed it. The despair with which they watched the waters, that morning at three o'clock, showed me their fatigue, though their lips were shut. They had struggled with the heavy sandbags, straining their backs with the mud they had shovelled desperately against the rising floods.
"Mrs Champion stood in her cottage, her feet in inches of water. Tall, strong built, fresh faced in spite of the tiredness under her eyes. I saw Mrs Hill in the bar parlour of the Athelney Inn. She looked as if she had just risen on a sunny summer day. She stood straight, and apologised for the water on the floor. Then she laughed. We both laughed, because it is said that King Alfred burnt the cakes at Athelney. "He wouldn't burn them now," said Mrs Hill.
"Mrs Dare was the third of the heroines. She had left her home, and before she went to the glimmering fire of a neighbour, had forced her way through that windy, uncertain night across a road that was now a torrent, her baby in her arms. That was after midnight. Water trickled thrpough the rifts in the sandbags. The macadam of the road already shook with the power thrusting against it and under it. Lit by a single lantern,the small figure with the babe in arms had struggled across the hundred yards of rain swept road. An hour later none could pass.
"Walter Bell, the baker, worked in his flooded bakehouse. The fire glimmered and spurted. Grey faced and grimy, he still worked. After all, a baker was there to bake bread. Out on the country roads the postmen and carters were saying that Stan Moor was out of reach. All the more reason, therefore, for a baker to bake."