‘I have a haunting memory of the stench caused by the putrid water’

Flooding in Gas House Lane.
Flooding in Gas House Lane.

The following are the accounts of the 2008 Morpeth flood and its aftermath from two people who had to leave their homes and a town resident who saw the river levels rise on the day.

Jan Clarke: By the afternoon of September 6, 2008, Goosehill was badly affected by surface water flooding.

I work at the nursery there and was very worried that, with its proximity to the river, it might flood.

I stood in the nursery courtyard, reached over the wall and my hand was in the water. Even then, I did not believe my house would flood.

Although there is a direct cut between my street and Bennett’s Walk, which runs alongside the river, the lane rises and drops again and I had always naively believed this offered adequate protection.

Then people started to leave. People from Crawford Terrace, Reid Street, Watson Terrace in an ant-like column, with disbelieving faces. “It’s in,” they’d say, as the column wound off to who knows where.

At this point, I realised that the river had come over the flood wall, at the bottom of Bennett’s Walk.

Of course, I took precautions: I stuffed a Jay cloth into the air brick, and rolled up quilts and towels and laid them inside my front and back doors.

Looking out of my living room window, I then saw a river of water moving up the front street. Then, suddenly, the water reached my house.

Both doors, front and back, at the same time. It surged under my wooden doors, carrying my makeshift defences with it.

And that’s how come, a short while later, I found myself, with my partner and my teenage son, heading up the hill at the bottom of Alexandra Road, up towards Allery Banks each with a carrier bag, containing essentials such as phone, charger, toothbrush and fresh underwear.

Halfway between the Cenotaph and the Sun Inn, my legs were seized up with painful cramps (an unexpected effect of having been wading through deep water for hours), so I was relieved when some friends stopped in their car and offered us a lift to County Hall.

I will never forget walking up the path to County Hall and being greeted by Joan Tebbutt, who welcomed us in.

I remember being driven back to Morpeth on the Sunday. Driving into Middle Greens, my neighbourhood was unrecognisable. Piled outside house after house were the accumulations of a lifetime – dirty, saturated, covered in silt.

It was now that I discovered that an insurance claim was something you had to fight for. I have paid all my adult life, but quickly learned that insurance companies employ ‘loss adjusters’ for a reason.

I ended up speaking to a very senior person in my insurance company, shrieking that I had had a kitchen that matched before the flood, and I was not going to settle for any less afterwards either!

After six months I did return home, although it took a year for the nursery to move back. In many ways, though, I was lucky. Lucky because I live in a country where we have support structures. If my experience of flooding had been in a third-world country, I am aware that the outcome could have been very different.

Susan Sanderson: When I got home from shopping earlier on the Saturday, I told my husband and daughter that I was concerned the river level was so high as they left to go to work in Morpeth town centre.

I stayed at home to take care of my eight-year-old granddaughter and my two dogs, as well as my daughter’s two dogs.

Steady rain persisted and I became more and more anxious about the rising river level. A friend told me by early afternoon the water was becoming dangerously high and people were concerned that the flood wall was not strong enough to stand the strain of the extra water.

At this point, I was extremely anxious and I climbed out of the fire escape bedroom window on the first floor onto the flat roof outside.

The water was coming up the back lane from both directions very quickly and meeting in the middle of the street.

I decided it was time to escape to higher ground. A friend helped me to get my granddaughter and the four dogs to safety up the path at Allery Banks.

We headed up the hill, through the industrial estate to Green Lane and the safety of my son’s house. We were soaked to the skin and were so glad for the loan of some clean clothes, a hot shower and a comfortable bed for the night.

We could hear the constant whirring of the rescue helicopter making its way to and from Morpeth town whilst sat in my son’s living room.

My husband and daughter were both stranded in the town overnight and had to shelter in a local club until it was safe to make their way home.

I went back to my property the next day and was shocked to see that everything downstairs was completely ruined.

I have a haunting memory of the stench that was left in the house caused by the putrid water that had entered the property.

Anne Hopper: Later in the afternoon I walked back into the town centre. By now things were getting pretty nasty and dangerous.

As I walked down towards Mafeking Park and Castle Square, I was met by a mass exodus of vehicles heading away from the town. Large amounts of water were now flooding the main road at the Mafeking Park roundabout, the entrance to Carlisle Park and Castle Square.

Crossing the road at the Goosehill school, a number of council workers could be seen delivering sandbags with water lapping their feet.

The fire service were back and forth across Telford Bridge along with numerous police vehicles, who were stopping pedestrians from trying to go along Bridge Street, as by now it was starting to flood.

At Telford Bridge, we stood glued to the spot and in silence as we watched this torrent of water heading toward us, engulfing everything in its path – the garden at The Chantry didn’t stand a chance.

The noise was loud and terrifying. In the distance the throbbing sound of the SAR helicopter from RAF Boulmer could be heard. I later found out it was to airlift those who were trapped in upstairs properties.

On the Sunday, I went back into the town to view the aftermath. I was totally shocked at the devastation which had been caused.

People were walking around the muddy streets in disbelief wondering how things would ever return to normal.

Some of my lasting memories will be of the pleasure boats in a jumbled heap, walls and railings demolished, thick mud everywhere and furniture and carpets in piles at front doors.