Water, water everywhere

By David Newble

Friday, January 10, 2014


Water, water everywhere

Looking out at the flooded Caesars Road in 1960 are, in the downstairs’ window, Jack Carter and his son, Barry, and in the upstairs’ window, Molly Carter.

WIGHT LIVING AT times, over the past few weeks, it has felt as if the Island has been under siege.

With relentless gale-force winds, driving rain and floods, younger residents could be forgiven for thinking one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse had decided to pay a visit.

Yet for older Islanders, the recent floods have brought back memories of a time when large sections of Newport were underwater in the great flood of October 1960, described in the County Press at the time as 'the worst floods in living memory’.

The flooding was not just confined to Newport, where both the River Medina and Lukely Brook burst their banks.

In Cowes and East Cowes, nearly 100 houses suffered damage from the flooding and in Wroxall, torrents of water poured off the downs, flooding the railway tunnel in a 1960s’ echo of the recent flooding of Ryde’s railway tunnel.

In Shanklin, an 84-year-old woman, Nellie Colenutt, had a miraculous escape as torrents of water cascaded down Shanklin Chine to her cottage on the beach.

Miss Colenutt was trapped in a neck-high flood but was saved from drowning when she alerted emergency services by ringing a hand bell.

Other towns and villages affected by the great flood of 1960 included Godshill, Totland and Carisbrooke.

In Godshill, many vehicles were trapped and had to be rescued by breakdown lorries. Flood waters in Totland formed a lake at the foot of Church Hill and in Carisbrooke a resident and his family were amazed to see a pig swimming in the torrent.

In Newport, Coppins Bridge, the bottom of Hunnyhill and Caesars Road were among the areas that were badly affected by the 1960s flooding.

Then, as now, particularly badly hit was Caesars Road, with the entire street underwater.

Richard Apsley, now 81, and a former resident of Caesars Road, recalled how he, his wife and his one year-old son were flooded out of their terraced home.

Richard, now of Trevor Road, Newport, said: "We had a week of incessant rain. Things were a bit hairy in that respect. Nigel, my son, woke-up at around 2am. I wanted to see what was going on and looked into the garden and it had a peculiar, icy sheen about it.

"I had to step down into the kitchen from the living room and I stepped straight into six inches of water."

He added: "The kitchen was flooded and the garden was covered with water which was still rising. We were stuck upstairs.

"There was considerable damage. The place was saturated.

"We got no insurance. They said it was an act of god."

Three doors down from the Apsley home, Jan Cooper, 58, then a young girl of just five years old, recalled how her older brother, Jack Carter, carried her out of the family home on his shoulders as the flood waters rose.

The house is still owned by Jan’s mother, who rents it out. Ironically, it suffered flooding in the latest deluge.

Jan, now of College Road, Newport, said: "It was the early hours of the morning. I remember someone shouting 'flood’. We went downstairs and the water level was up to the window sill. We lost all our furniture.

"I was just a small child. I can remember my brother taking me on his shoulders down the road."

She added: "I can also remember toys floating through the gardens — everything was just floating through the garden."

Local historian Brian Greening, who supplied pictures of the 1960s’ flood to the County Press, also has vivid memories of the deluge from more than five decades ago.

He said there were reports of flooding going back at least as far as 1936 in Newport, and always at the same places, including the Barley Mow pub at Shide, Coppins Bridge, Pan Bridge and Caesars Road.

He said: "I lived in Fairlee Road at the time. I went out to catch the bus to East Cowes but it did not turn up because it could not get up through Coppins Bridge.

"The stream had come over the railway into our garden."

The flooding was so acute in the 1960 torrent that flood prevention works, still visible today, were made a priority by the authorities.

The River Medina was encased in concrete through much of its route through the town. The trackbed of the former railway line from Sandown to Newport, which had lain derelict since its closure in the 1950s, was dug up from Shide and the Medina diverted along much of its route.

One thing is almost certain. If the authorities had not acted in the 1960s and invested in flood prevention works, the damage from this year’s floods would have been even greater.

• More pictures in the Friday, January 10, County Press.

Reporter: davidn@iwcpmail.co.uk

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