In 1968, severe flooding brought death and disaster to Blackford village..

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The date, Wednesday July 10th, 1968, will live on forever in the minds of all those residents of Blackford who were living in the village at the time. On that day the village suffered severe, devastating floods which resulted in the death of one of its residents as well as widespread damage to property. It's fitting that this article appears on the website now (July,2008) as it is fast approaching the 40th anniversary of that terrible event.

Apparently, the storm that caused the flooding all over the west of the country had begun over Northern France, which then made its way to Britain. On that day it had rained solidly throughout our region and  five inches of rain was recorded in some districts, in less than 24 hours!

Throughout the day the West's rivers, streams and brooks were unable to cope with the torrential rainfall and began to burst their banks and flood the valleys around them and still the rain kept falling. The sheer quantity of rain that fell that day, meant that normally quiet, tranquil streams and rivers were transformed into raging torrents of incredible force and destructive power.

In many areas of the West, roads were washed away, buildings were destroyed and lives were lost. In Blackford, laying at the foot of the rising ground around it, water simply poured in to the village like a bowl being filled under a tap, flooding the village to a depth of around 12-13 feet, in places.

In the village, the flooding was to cause loss of life and major damage to roads and property that hadn't been seen in living memory. It was an event that changed the lives of many that day and remains etched in the minds of those old enough to remember it.

 Part of the devastation left by the floods.It's amazing to think that the water was halfway up the bedroom windows of the houses on the right!

At the time of the flooding, I (Martyn James) was a fifteen year old pupil at Sexey's and I can remember Mr Ravenscroft, the headmaster, telling us, in the days that followed, about what had happened and organising parties of some of the older pupils to go down into the village to help the residents with the clearing up.
(As far as I can remember, the school building, being on higher ground than the village itself, remained largely unaffected although there was some quite extensive flooding to the playing field)

I recall that a number of us went to quite a large house on the left hand side of the road  as you faced the village from the school where, I believe, an elderly lady lived on her own.

The lower floor of the house was totally ruined with a tide mark around the walls about five feet high. There was a terrible stench everywhere and everything was covered in mud, silt and dust. We dragged carpets and furniture out onto the lawn for cleaning and generally mopped up where we could.

For most of us youngsters, It was the very first time that we'd seen the effects of what severe flooding could do and we were amazed by the damage. (My memories are still quite vague about the details of the clean-up, does anyone else remember what they did to help on that day? - MJ)

Of course, the events of Wednesday, July 10th were heavily reported in the local newspapers of the time.The Weston-Super-Mare Gazette ran the story of the efforts of three men who tried to save an elderly Blackford resident, Earnest Duckett.

The brave trio (Jeremy Maud, Godfrey Maud and Michael Collins) had already carried out a dangerous, night-time rescue of Mrs Duckett but despite brave efforts, were unable to help Mr Duckett, who had been trapped in his home, Ivy Cottage, by the rising water. His body was to be found later in the churchyard behind his home.

That night, a number of the villagers made their way through the flood water and were given refuge at the Old Vicarage, home to Jeremy Maude and his wife, where they were comforted and given food and drinks.

Later, Jeremy Maude wrote a formal report of the dramatic events that unfolded that evening -  

'On the night of July 10th 1968 at about 9.30 - 10.00 p.m., Mrs Collins called at the Old Vicarage and asked for someone to go down to Ivy Cottage as her son was there and the position regarding Mr and Mrs Duckett was not clear. My son and I with steelcord ropes and torches approached the cottage from Reckitt and Coleman's yard.'
 
'Michael Collins was at the first floor window and after asking him how he crossed, I climbed over the outbuilding roofs with one end of the rope while Godfrey paid out the other end. This was then secured to the window mullion as a lifeline. Michael Collins was cold and wet from the thighs down. Mrs Duckett was sitting on the bed in the front first floor room and in a state of shock. Michael said he had had a quick look downstairs but had not seen Mr Duckett. All the lights were on. I took Michael downstairs; the water was 5' - 6' deep and into the rear room.'
 
'I was told that Mr Duckett may be in the front room. I waded to the door and cleared away the debris; one pane of glass only was broken in the door and I was able to force it open. I then told Michael to come across and hold the door to prevent it shutting and carried out a search of the whole room. I was unable to find any sign of Mr Duckett and as the window was open, decided he was no longer in the house. My primary responsibility then was to ensure the safe evacuation of Michael and Mrs  Duckett.'
 
'We returned upstairs and I instructed Godfrey to go and get hot coffee. I also removed Mrs Duckett to the rear bedroom as I considered the risk of collapse of the property real, due to the speed and depth of the water in Church Street. I returned to the front of the house and with my torch attracted the attention of Mr and Mrs Larder (in the house opposite) who by signs indicated that they were alright. Godfrey returned with the coffee and I swam across the yard and returned to the cottage with it, and the cigarettes.'
 
'We all had coffee. Michael then helped Mrs Duckett pack her bag and get her into a warm coat. She said that all her personal papers were in a wooden box downstairs so Michael and I went down and found this box floating in the water in the rear room, and we returned it to Mrs Duckett. I then called Godfrey across and he swam to the cottage.'
 
'As Mrs Duckett was in a shocked condition, I considered it was essential to get her out without getting her wet. I went upstairs to help get Mrs Duckett down. I instructed Godfrey to search the passage and rooms downstairs to make quite sure that Mr Duckett's body was not in the house and he did this alone and when Mrs Duckett came downstairs reported a negative result.'
 
'Godfrey and Michael then carried Mrs Duckett on their shoulders across the yard where she was helped up the bank by Mrs Collins and Mr Lockyer. I switched off all the lights, released the safety line and returned to the Reckitt and Coleman's yard. Mrs Collins took Mrs Duckett to her house and Godfrey and I returned with all our ropes to the Old Vicarage.'
 
'I telephoned the police at Wedmore and informed Mrs Sheldon that Mr Duckett was missing. I also telephoned Dr Hodge and suggested that he visit Mrs Duckett as soon as practical. Later that night I met P.C.Sheldon and Dr Hodge outside the Old Vicarage and they informed me that they had found Mr Duckett's body in the churchyard.'
 
'I formed the opinion whilst in the house, and confirmed it by visiting it the next day, that the flood water forced the door to the ground floor front room closed  and debris against this door prevented it from being opened. This exit being blocked, I assumed Mr Duckett crossed the room and opened the window leaving the property by this means. At the time there was sufficient air space on the ground floor and the current of water through the cottage was not of sufficient speed, due to the construction of the building, to sweep anyone away unless they suffered a heart attack etc.'
 
'This was confirmed by hearsay next day by Mr and Mrs Larder who said they had seen Mr Duckett leave the cottage by the window.'
 
'I consider it an error of judgement by Michael Collins to enter the cottage alone under the prevailing conditions with no rescue or safety equipment at all, nevertheless, I feel that both Godfrey and Michael behaved with great courage under conditions of considerable danger and the way they carried out all the instructions I gave them without hesitation is to be highly commended.'
 
'Prior to my arrival, I cannot state what happened but to my knowledge (of the actions I took), the foregoing statement is correct.'
12th July 1968.
 
( This report appears with the kind permission of Mrs Maude).
 

Even the next day, part of  the Blackford to Mark road was still a river!

 

The Gazette also carried a 'Thank you' to the pupils of Sexey's, from the villagers, for the help that had been given - and I quote:

'They helped scrub cottages and clean mud and silt
from the walls and floors and with a schoolmaster's
van, took furniture and carpets to their school where
they washed and cleaned them.'
'They were really wonderful' said Mrs A Duckett....
'They came out of the blue and were a real tonic to us all.'

( WSM Gazette, July 19th, 1968)

The same newspaper also mentioned that apprentices from RAF Locking also came to the village to help with the clean-up. (For more information about the flooding and Blackford generally, there is an excellent book called 'Blackford and Round About', compiled by the 'Blackford History Group' in 2004.  ISBN 1 901324 03 6).

Looking back, Betty Fulbrook who had been born in the village in 1927, tells me that she will never forget that terrible day.She remembers that one of the village's farmers (Percy Ham?) had moved a number of young calves to an orchard to try to give them some shelter. Unfortunately, the orchard must have been on fairly low ground because when the brook overflowed all the calves were washed away - luckily for them, to safe dry ground!

Betty and her daughter, Pat 'couldn't believe their eyes' at the mess that had been left in the village when the flooding had receded. Betty particularly remembers the large chunks of tarmac that had been ripped up by the force of the flood and deposited close to the entrance of the village church. 

The ford at Blackford, the day after the flooding. 

  
The 'ford', exactly 40 years later! I took the photo below on 10/7/08. As you can see the ford has been completely covered over- what a shame! (Presumably the ford had originally given Blackford its name.)

 

Fortunately for Hubert Fisher and his wife,Sue, on the day of the flooding they were living in part of the school hostel, which was on relatively high ground. At the time they were totally unaware of the serious problems that were unfolding in Blackford village, just a few hundred yards 'below' them.

The first point at which Hubert and Sue realised that something was wrong was when a visitor that had been with them for the evening tried to go home but was unable to cross Wells Way (the road to Heath House) because so much water was running down it towards Blackford. Hubert had to take their friend home by crossing the nearby fields and even then they found themselves in water up to a foot deep.

Although some flooding had obviously taken place, Hubert tells me that even then it wasn't immediately apparent how bad things were in the village.The area around Blackford had always been very prone to flooding and he was used to it happening on regular occasions at his father's farm at nearby West Ham.

Due to the small number of of telephones in those days it wasn't until the morning after the event that Hubert and Sue realised how destructive the floods had been. Hubert tells me-

'Oddly enough It was a beautifull, sunny day and I cycled down to the village but I had to dismount on the corner by the church because the road had been ripped up and washed away in places - all the flood water had gone.'

Here's the scene, at the corner of the churchyard, that confronted Hubert as he cycled down to Blackford that morning. The floods haven't totally receded and the two cyclists are rather gingerly keeping to the edge of the road where the tarmac is still in place. Huge slabs of tarmac have been lifted up and moved elsewhere by the force of the water.

The bright, sunny weather, which is already drying out parts of the road, must have made the terrible events of the night before seem like a bad dream.

One of the houses, just to the right of where the photographer stood, was so badly damaged by the force of the water that, later, it had to be demolished.

In the days that followed , Hubert and Sue can remember that they were kept very busy with the cleaning up of flood damaged items from peoples' homes. A large number of household items like carpets, fridges etc were brought up to the school to be dried out and cleaned and, if possible, made serviceable again.

Peter Jones has sent in some additional information - 'One of the teachers (Jack Dunne (?) - English & Physics) told me that he was at home when the floods struck. He saw the flood water build up against the outside of a set of french windows in his house. The water reached half-way up the windows before they gave way, allowing the waters to flood through his house.

Jack was a keen collector of books, & much of his valued collection was washed away. I remember he was particularly sorry to have lost something called 'The Golden Bough' - although given the sad loss of life in Blackford, I think he considered himself fortunate in many ways.' (Thanks, Pete - MJ)

Some time after the floods, the drainage of the area around the village was much  improved and a culvert was fitted.  Very recently (April 2008) work has been carried out on this culvert, which is under the corner of the road close to the church. It appears that modern, heavy lorries had caused cracking of the road's surface and the culvert itself. Needless to say, this caused a fair  amount of disruption and holdups but will mean, hopefully, that the night of July 10th, 1968 will never be repeated. 

This section of the website serves as a reminder of the terrible events that happened on that day, July 10th,1968, and outlines the small but important part played by the staff and children of Sexey's Grammar school in helping the residents of Blackford who were affected by the worst flooding in the village in living memory.

(All photos were taken by Blackford's residents at the time. I would like to thank Blackford resident,  Liz Merryfield for her assistance in producing this article. - MJ)


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Needless to say, if you have any memories to add about the floods in Blackford, please send them in to

oldsexonians@hotmail.co.uk