Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Great Flood

I love digging through archives. But there's no denying that some days are a little dull: after several unproductive hours you have to force your eyes to focus on the paperwork. And then occasionally, you turn up a document of real significance, one that wakes you up and transports you to another time and place.  I became very excited when I found this telegram in the County Record Office. It was sent by the owner of Leighton Hall -- Mr Charles Gillow -- to his land agent in Lancaster. It is dated and timed:  July 25th 1918 at 10.21 am -- three and a half months before the end of the First World War.  In 28 pencil-written words the message records with shock and anger the moment when Leighton Moss re-flooded.  For 80 years the Moss had been drained to grow arable crops and fodder. Now, Charles Gillow complained in the staccato tones of  the telegram: "Grisedale hay on moss under water. Pump not going. I consider Dawsons are responsible." For the landlord and his tenants it was a moment  of catastrophe. Within months a lengthy legal battle was underway between Mr Gillow and the trustees of the neighbouring Dawson land who looked after the pump. The telegram is part of the jigsaw of evidence which explains why the Moss flooded again, and why the pump was never restarted. If it had been, there would be no Leighton Moss nature reserve today.  The full story is in Chapter 6 of my book 'Leighton Moss from Ice Age to Present Day', due to be launched on September 13. 

Bad News.  The July 1918 Telegram from Charles Gillow to his land agent Ernest Harrison in Lancaster. Note that the telegram was sent from the Post Office in Yealand Conyers: none of the Yealands now has a Post Office. Today the grim tidings would be conveyed by email. Not the same at all. And how will the historians of the future access them? (Courtesy Lancashire County Records)

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