“Awful Harvest Week of Rain and Flood’

“Streams became raging torrents, Roads became rivers and the sheaves of corn were washed from the fields.”
By Julie Nicholson

The evening of Thursday 9th May was a fine and dry one. Indeed, as the fifty-one members and guests of Peterborough Local History Society left St Andrew’s Church, Netherton, at the end of the meeting, their journey home was illuminated by a beautiful sunset.


This was all in stark contrast to the speaker’s subject matter for the evening. Society secretary, Julie Nicholson, gave a presentation entitled “Awful Harvest Week of Rain and Flood!”.


Heavy rain and flooding caused devastation to the harvest in August 1912, wrecking crops and leaving them submerged in fields. Homes, too, were damaged by floodwater, with many occupants living in upstairs rooms, being rescued by boat or having food delivered to them. There was a similar picture across East Anglia, with bridges collapsing and transport links affected. 

Postcards of the day were used to tell this sorry tale, the messages written on the backs giving a real insight into the impact on ordinary people of the devastation caused by the flood.

First-hand reports from the newspapers provided glimpses of the social history of the time. The language of 1912 was different to today, with newspapers carrying headlines like “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Agriculturalists”. 

No loss of life was reported in Peterborough but, sadly, this was not the case across the region, with Norwich reporting tragic loss, both from those needing rescuing and those attempting to rescue others.

Harvest festivals were considered, with the Peterborough Advertiser of Saturday 7th September 1912 running the headline “Are Harvest Festivals a Mockery in a Season Like the Present?”. The clergy of the area were quoted as having differing opinions, with one asking if the words “Lord of the harvest once again we thank thee for the ripened grain” could really be sung, with crops ruined in the waterlogged fields.

On a lighter note, it was considered as to whether the big store on the corner of Midgate and Long Causeway in Peterborough, T L Barrett, had either received a prophetic word and stocked up in well in advance, or they’d studied the long-range weather forecast, as in the Peterborough Advertiser on Saturday 3rd August they were advertising having a large delivery of mackintoshes and rainproofs available ion the last week of their Great Summer Sale! 

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