I just happened to be trawling through some indexes to our records when a subject caught my eye - the Great flood of Salisbury Plain down to the Wylye Valley in 1841. What particularly drew me to the reference was a note concerning a piece of doggerel about the event, which resonates with the events happening across Britain toady, particularly in Somerset.
I have always been curious about doggerel and other poetic forms as an historical record commemorating events (and people), especially disasters, such as William McGonagall’s poem on the Tay Railway Bridge disaster of 1879. But what I found was even more astonishing; forget the 8 verses by McGonagall, our document contains 51 verses, in part 1, and a further 25 in part 2, a grand total of 76 stanzas detailing an event that, according to contemporary local newspapers, lasted a mere 12 hours, though with such force and hugely disastrous consequences for the local communities. The document (WSA 1336/98) is a transcript of a letter by Ann Doughty of Hanging Langford to her mother some days after the flood with a doggerel rhyme by an unknown author.
Those who have lived in Wiltshire far longer than I will probably know about the event, but for the uninitiated here is a summary. On 16th January 1841, two days after a heavy snow storm, a rapid thaw led to a severe flash flood in the area of the Salisbury Plain drained by the River Till, down to the River Wylye. Two communities especially hard hit were Tilshead and Shrewton, where 36 houses were destroyed, 3 people drowned and more than 200 made homeless. The flood reached its peak between 8 pm and 10 pm, but by 3 am the next morning it was completely dry.