Rare photographs of the 1944 Holmfirth flood have resurfaced – after 74 years filed away in the offices of an insurance firm.
Holmfirth photographer Harry Bray took the only images of the devastating flood which happened on May 29 – just days before the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day June 6. Due to wartime reporting restrictions the disaster was not widely known.
Insurance company Griffiths & Armour, which was handling claims following the flood, had contacted Harry for photos showing the damage. Harry sent six pictures to the firm in Liverpool. Later, he wrote asking for the photos to be returned to him – but for some reason that never happened.
Now the company has returned the photos – 74 years after the flood.
The set of six photos and correspondence between Harry and the firm were presented to Harry’s granddaughter, photographer Helen Bray, at her studio in Dunford Road by insurance company employee Dave Darke, who found them and decided to see if the Bray business was still going.
Dave’s visit to the studio was sprung on him as a surprise as part of his retirement present. He was accompanied by colleague Martin Fanegan. Helen showed her visitors some of the locations depicted in the photos. She said her granddad had kept the negatives of the pictures sent to the firm, but added: “They had got one picture that was new to us showing Hollowgate from a different angle to the ones we’ve already got.”
Helen added: “It was an absolute surprise to be contacted out of the blue. We were fascinated to see which of the photographs were seen as the most important for the flood claim and also to see what was written at the time about the disaster. It is another little piece of the story that will come to light as a result of this find.
“It will go into our archives – it won’t be lost, it will be looked after.”
More than 1.5 million tonnes of water had battered the Holme Valley on what became known as “Black Whit Monday” after a massive downpour made the river Holme burst its banks.
The day saw the premises of the Huddersfield Building Society collapse into the river while a number of shops and other buildings also collapsed. Roads were washed away and cars destroyed as the mass of water rushed through the Holme Valley.
Helen said the return of the pictures was well-timed. “We still have our 100 years exhibition hanging which includes some of the original flood photographs,” she said. “The find in Liverpool couldn’t have come at a more opportune time!”
The 1944 flood was the fifth to hit Holmfirth. It followed earlier floods in 1738 and in 1777 when three people died and another flood in 1821. The worst was in 1852 when Bilberry reservoir burst its banks and 81 people lost their lives.