On this day in 1853. #Wales #history

On the evening of the 9th July, 1853, the residents of the Duhonw valley of our local Epynt mountain had no idea of the terrifying events which were about to unfold.

On the banks of the Duhonw brook stood a little cottage called Dolfach. A Mrs Lawrence lived there with her daughter and two grandchildren, and a maidservant. Mrs Lawrence farmed 25 acres around the cottage. A 164 years ago, it would have been a simple life, keeping a few sheep, and a cow perhaps, eking out a small living in this tranquil, idyllic location.

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Location of the former cottage of Dolfach

The weather on that day had been heavy and sultry with dark thunder clouds bubbling up over Builth – not unusual at this time of year…

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View of the Epynt mountain from my house, this morning, 9th July. The Duhonw valley lies on the other side of the Epynt.

On the night of July 9th, a storm began in the little village of Penybont in Radnorshire and worked its way south. The heavens opened and a deluge of rain fell over Builth, followed by hail-showers which left a covering of hail some four inches deep. Thunder, sheet-lighting and fork lightening illuminated the Epynt as the storm increased.

Then came a cloudburst as had never been seen before and a waterspout fell on the Epynt mountain. Such was the volume of water that fell in a short time that the Duhonw brook became a raging torrent. While the inhabitants of the cottage slept, the fork in the Duhonw brook above the cottage became jammed by the large boulders and trees which had been uprooted by the volume of rainwater and carried downstream. The raging torrent was now forced down a narrow channel towards the little cottage.

Further up the valley stood Dolau-newydd mill worked by a Mr Thomas Evans. In the flood, part of the mill was swept away and the floodwater rose so high that Mr Thomas urged his family upstairs. As the floodwater rose ever higher, he and his family were forced to seek refuge in the attic while Mr Evans frantically began cutting a hole in the roof through which his family escaped onto the roof.

Back at Dolfach, a cottager living on the opposite side of the brook witnessed what happened next. He’d been stirred from his sleep by the noise and discovered that rainwater was flooding his home. Looking out, he saw that the kitchen and outbuildings of Dolfach had already been swept away. As he watched, powerless to help, he saw water gushing through the upper windows of his neighbour’s cottage. The scene must have been one that nightmares are made of as he then saw two trees come crashing down with the water, into the back of the cottage. Before his eyes, the cottage crumbled and the debris and inhabitants carried away by the ferocious torrent.

The dawn of the next day was to reveal the extent of the devastation all down the Duhonw valley. A total of 18 bridges were destroyed by the floodwater. Along with the bridges destroyed, chasms had been torn in roads and the farms on the hillsides and further down the valley turned to mud, their crops destroyed.

Poor Mrs Lawrence’s body was found the next day, 18 miles away down the river Wye along with furniture, trees and debris from her cottage. She was still dressed in her nightclothes. The bodies of her daughter, grandchildren and maidservant were discovered some days later, near Builth. Her grandson had only time to put on his trousers, her granddaughter was still wearing her nightdress but had managed to put on one boot, and the maidservant’s body was found clutching a blanket – all signs that they were about to make some attempt at escape before they were swept away.

Now, as then, we are powerless in the face of freak weather. When I go to my bed tonight, I shall give a thought to those poor people destroyed by the ‘Epynt Waterspout’.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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