"The Day Mum Cooked in Wellies" by Margarett Emery

Night Warning of the Flood!

I was seven years old at the time of the flood and my family lived in Bexley Street. I don’t remember anything much about the time leading up to the storm - other than going to bed as usual and the wind really blowing, howling and making the windows (and anything that was loose outside) rattle terribly.

Flood of 1953: Bexley Street (Whitsable)

Flooding in Bexley Street

Unbeknown to Margarett, the sea had breached the harbour quays and was pouring down the steep hill into Bexley Street from the elevated Harbour Street roadway. This surge was supplemented by water descending Ludgate Hill into Woodlawn Street from the harbour's west gate and by flooding from the backwater at the eastern end of  Fountain Street.

Finally, I fell asleep and, some time during the night, I was woken by the sound of my Dad coming into my bedroom and puffing slightly. He was carrying something which normally lived downstairs.

I looked over to see my Mum’s kitchen scales sitting on the top of the chest of drawers. As I looked around, I could see a range of things that wouldn’t normally be there. I asked what my Dad was doing.

"Trying to get as much upstairs as I can", came the reply.
"Why", I asked.
"Because the water is coming in", he replied.
"What water?"
"The sea", he replied and disappeared downstairs telling me not to get out of bed. What a time to be an inquisitive youngster!

I could hear Mum rushing around downstairs too but I stayed where I was for fear of getting in the way. After a while, Mum arrived and told me to get dressed in case we had to get out during the night.

Morning Experiences

The next morning, I woke and couldn’t think what I was doing in bed with my clothes on! I got out and looked from my bedroom window to see water everywhere. Dirty filthy water with debris floating in it.

My Mum was paddling down the garden in her wellies to the coal shed to fetch some coal. We were lucky that Mum and Dad’s bedroom had the old original fireplace which, thankfully, Dad hadn’t got rid of during one of his decorating stints. At least, we were able to keep warm.

I decided to have a look downstairs and, as I got down the first flight and round the corner (our stairs had a middle landing), I could see the sea swirling round at the bottom. Our two cats were sitting on the third stair and stretching out to reach their food bowls as they floated past on the way to the front room.

Living with the Flood

We were also lucky that our gas cooker had quite tall legs .... and so we were able to get some hot food. It was an odd memory..... Mum standing at the cooker.... cooking chips in her wellies. Thank goodness for wellies!!

We sat on Mum and Dad’s bed to eat. I had one worry on my mind - remember I was only seven - I had left my plimsolls in my plimsoll bag hanging on my coat peg at school - the Endowed. I was worried whether they would still be there when I went back to school!

That night I had to sleep in Mum and Dad’s bed and my brother slept in mine as Mum and Dad were still worried that we would have to be rescued. She felt that we were that bit closer together if need be.

As I fell asleep, I remember Mum looking out of the window and saying to my Dad that the wind had died down and the water had gone too. What a mess it had left.... trapped in the triangular shape of garage/garden opposite.

Lucky... by Comparison!

We were very lucky compared to a lot of people. Apparently, the police came knocking at the door to warn people that the sea was coming over the Harbour as high tide was approaching. Dad went out to see it pouring down Bexley Street Hill. What a nightmare!

An Experience Never Forgotten

We had several scares during my childhood with the ‘backwater’ (as it was called) flooding but, as Fountain Street had a bit of a gradient, it only ever got as far as the bottom part of our back garden. I don’t think that I will ever forget the experience of the flood of '53 as long as I live.

Margarett Emery

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