Sixty years ago this month the safety of people living in Sutton Bridge was threatened when water swept over part of the west bank of the Nene flooding 80 houses.
On the Saturday night of January 31, 1953, gales whipped the Nene into “a raging torrent”, as reported in the following week’s Lincolnshire Free Press, on top of abnormally high tides that reached 31 feet.
The river overflowed the banks and within minutes was cascading into the low-lying streets: two feet of water swept through homes in Lime Street, and houses in Custom House Street, Wharf Street and High Street were all flooded.
Residents were caught completely unawares, with water rushing through their homes, in some cases by both back and front doors, leaving furniture partly submerged. Worst affected was Mr and Mrs W T Boothby, who lived at the corner of Lime Street and Custom House Street. Some people, fearing the worst, went to upstairs rooms while others left their homes. Pc Owen Edwards, who received the alarm at the police station in Wharf Street, went from house to house ensuring families were safe, and policemen in thigh boots carried little children through the water.
Although there was no loss of life in Sutton Bridge, Holbeach couple Charles and Dorothy Hurling died in the floods at Hunstanton, where the situation was far worse.
Albert Cooper (90 in February), of Wrights Lane, Sutton Bridge, was living in a smallholding along Tydd Bank at that time and he and his girlfriend – his late wife Deordie – were forced to make a hasty retreat as they neared King’s Lynn for a night out when they were confronted by the sight of “rubbish floating down the road like a wave”.
Albert said: “Where I lived right in the middle of fields there was no electricity and no water – our life as kids was very primitive. My first thought was if the river is over at King’s Lynn we will be at Sutton Bridge, and my mother who was partly disabled was there by herself, and so we tore back. As we turned over the bridge and along the river bank to go towards where we lived the water was just about covering the tyres of my car.”
Thankfully, the cottage was surrounded by dykes and so the water surrounded the house but didn’t enter it and Albert’s mother Florence knew nothing about it.
Once he knew his mother was safe, Albert’s concern turned to his sister Gladys, who had gone to a dance in Boston, and so he met her off the bus to see her safely home through the water.
Gladys (now Seabrook) (86), of Haverstock Road, Spalding, recalls: “As we were going along the river bank Albert said, ‘I have some bad news, the land has got flooded.’ It went all over the land but didn’t touch the house. They said the next tide it would come over and flood us and I went to bed that night and couldn’t sleep because the wind was blowing and I thought it would flood, but it didn’t. It ruined the crops because it was salt water. It was scary at the time. You remember things like that.”
At Gedney Marsh, 110 acres of arable land were submerged when the colossal tide caused a 36 feet gap in the sea bank, and at Holbeach Marsh the sea smashed through 50 yards of the bank. In Spalding, the Welland overflowed in the Commercial Road and Marsh Road area. The Pigeon Inn and a number of houses were flooded.
As Long Sutton fire brigade pumped out water throughout the night, fears rose that the following day’s high tides would cause further flooding in Sutton Bridge and the call went out for men to volunteer to build a sandbag wall for 200 yards along the bank. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded and the cleaning up process could begin, with flood victims assisted by well wishers across the district who contributed to a relief fund. Gladys remembers that the Canadian government donated a carpet to every house that was flooded.