Truth revealed at last in 150-year-old Sheffield flood victims mystery

The aftermath of the flood outside The Stag Inn and Turner Wheel, Malin Bridge
The aftermath of the flood outside The Stag Inn and Turner Wheel, Malin Bridge

The identities of two victims of the 1864 Sheffield Flood have finally been confirmed after more than 150 years.

Flood researchers Karen Lightowler and Associate Professor Richard Ollerton have been investigating the lives of Eliza Muscroft and Eliza Mappin who are among the 293 people named on the Sheffield Flood Memorial at Millsands, Sheffield.

An artist's impression of people desperately searching the waters for survivors in the Philadelphia area of Sheffield

An artist's impression of people desperately searching the waters for survivors in the Philadelphia area of Sheffield

Karen Lightowler has been researching the Flood and its victims for over 15 years and has published numerous accounts of victims’ lives. "We knew many details of Eliza Muscroft’s life before the Flood," she said, ‘including that her maiden name was Burgin, she was born in Ecclesfield in 1810, she married James Muscroft and had two young daughters.

"We also knew that she had definitely died in the Flood but could find no death certificate or burial record for her. On the other hand, we did have death and burial records for Eliza Mappin but could find no details of her life before the Flood. It turns out they were the same person!"

The Great Sheffield Flood occurred just before midnight on 11 March 1864 when the recently built Dale Dyke Dam failed. An estimated three million cubic metres of water swept down the Loxley Valley to Hillsborough, then through Sheffield and on to Rotherham. More than 290 people died as a result of the Flood.

"Contemporary newspaper reports of the Flood include various lists of victims," Professor Ollerton said. "These lists name Eliza Mappin but not Eliza Muscroft. However, later insurance claims against the Sheffield Waterworks Company, which built the dam, include Eliza Muscroft but not Eliza Mappin."

The mystery was finally solved when Professor Ollerton discovered that Eliza’s husband James Muscroft was actually a well-known prize-fighter in the late 1820s who fought under the name of Jem Mappin.

"Mappin was the name of James’ stepfather, so his legal surname was Muscroft but he was also known as Mappin. Consequently, James’ wife Eliza Muscroft was also known as Eliza Mappin.

"The chaos of the Flood aftermath meant that victims were not necessarily identified by relatives and Eliza’s commonly used surname of Mappin seems to have been given to reporters."

"The Flood had a tremendous impact on the area and also on the relatives of the victims," said Karen Lightowler. "There is still much to be learnt about this tragedy, including finally determining exactly how many people were killed. We have now narrowed down this figure even further."

It is also very likely that Eliza is the only person to be named twice on the Sheffield Flood Memorial.

* This is a corrected version of a story that appeared in last Saturday's Sheffield Star Retro. Apologies to Prof Ollerton and Karen Lightowler for the inaccuracies, which were introduced in the editing process.