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Taunton’s Great Flood of 1889

Tauntons Great Flood of 1889 Taunton Somerset

“The heavy rains of Thursday night and Friday had flooded the Tone, and its banks began to overflow shortly before noon. Little danger was apprehended till evening. By this time the water was rushing into the streets of North-town in two directions.
The stream leading from Kingston through Fairwater overflowed across the main Great Western Railway line, into the shunting yard and to the meadows at the end of Albemarle-road and Belvedere-road. Down both these thoroughfares it made its way into Station-road.”

So stated the Taunton Courier and other local newspapers. The 1960 floods were in fact very similar and the same parts of the town were flooded. Who says that history never repeats itself?

The image shows Bridge Street at the Telegraph Inn and the 1960 photographs replicate the scene. Wood Street was a torrent of water. There was a similar scene in Bridge Street by North Town Stores (a gas explosion here blew the window out) where a postman was clinging to a lamp post until he was rescued by the driver of a London Hotel horse bus.

Hatcher’s men rescued a man seen floating down Wood Street. To add to the confusion here a great fire took hold in Pollard’s timber yard.

As in 1960 the cause of the flooding was run off from the upper catchment of the river Tone. Such accumulations of water pour down the river to enter the town at great speed before it can be diverted out on to the moors.

In 1889 damage to the railway, then mixed gauge, meant that the town was cut off by rail for twenty four hours. Further down the line Cowley Bridge was damaged closing the line between Taunton and Exeter.

It’s possible that damage to premises was more widespread in 1889. There was damage to shops in St. James Street largely unaffected in 1960. Also damage at Brownings the butchers at the bottom of East Reach. Sale and Spiller’s ironmongers in Bridge Street were badly flooded with three feet of water inside.

Spoiled paint pots turned the flowing water lurid colours whilst the gunpowder stored in the shed was ruined. Goodland’s lost forty tons of coal and thirty tons of salt. Worse still the companies records were lost. As in 1960 great planks of timber were washed from Penny’s timber yard to lodge under the town bridge at this time a stone arch structure.

There appears to have been no loss of life in either 1889 or 1960 and its difficult to say which was most ruinous to local businesses.

In both cases the floods subsided quickly and the townsfolk were left to clear up the mess after a few days. Some of the damage reports from 1889 make interesting reading. The carpets and pianos in Flook house were damaged. The Crown and Sceptre with four feet of water in the passage lost numerous bottles of lemonade and barrels of spirits. The Royal Mail Inn had its cellar flooded. Mrs Thompson’s shop between the two inns was badly affected. The old widow spent a worrisome night watching the flood from an upstairs window.

This shop was later demolished to form Priory Bridge Road. Mr Adams the fishmonger lost forty bags of potatoes and 30 cwt of swedes and carrots.

Of course ironically all the fish stocks were lost as well.

By Nick Chipchase

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