Parish, Grace (b.1919)

Grace Parish and her husband farmed together in Pawlett near Bridgwater.  Here she discusses flooding, a common occurrence for residents of the low lying Somerset Levels.

River Parrett flooding in Langport, 1894 River Parrett flooding in Langport, 1894.
Sound File
Listen to Grace Parish - 1.88MB Duration 4:05 min.

GP: The River Parrett, it is a tidal river.  Well now this particular time, it was December 1981, um, we had snow all day, it was December 13th, 1981, we had snow all day, it had absolutely teamed down with snow and it blew, we had an awful wind as well.  Well it was a high tide you see.  The snow formed very rapidly and I suppose that all that water coming down the river from Langport, you see, it, um, it goes right the other side of Langport the River Parrett, a big catchment area.  And the wind blowing the tide in it was just too much and it came all over the banks.  And we were flooded right the way through to Puriton, acres and acres and of course down on the Huntspill and the Burnham area they had a dreadful time, didn’t they?


We only lost one sheep, down where the sheep were there was just one little high spot and about hundred sheep congregated on this one little high spot and there they had to stay for oh, nearly a week.  You could not get them out because of the gateways were covered and the ditches were filled and of course it flooded the gateways so no way and when the water began to go down a bit, no way could you get them.  So they had to take hay down and feed the poor things.  One just died, but, um, we were very fortunate there again.


It was horrible in this house when the water went down, the carpets they were filled with mud, it was a dreadful job lugging them out onto the lawn.  Being wool, you would never think this carpet had gone through that would you, it was wool, you see, a wool carpet.  We put them on the garden walls and my son came down and we had a steam cleaner, it forced hot water on to the carpet, it cleaned them thoroughly and the people across here at the BP place, they have hot air ducts going through, some were over there and they took them and put them up over the hot air ducts and dried them.  They went down I suppose they shrunk about an inch in here and the sitting room, and this one, but out in the living room we had to have a new carpet.  We scrapped that one it was too bad.


AH: How high did the water come up in the house?


GP: It came up over my ankles.  It did not come up to the electricity, now you see the points, its about three or four inches, it just lapped the thing-me-gigs.  We didn’t have electric because the poles had gone or something.  We were without electric for I expect it was three days as far as I can remember, we couldn’t milk the cows you see.  It was a horrible time it really was.


AH: How did the cows cope?


GP: Well they just had to stay, they balled a bit, got a bit uncomfortable, but there were other people in worse situations.  We did have the electricity put back on quite, um, reasonably, quite quickly but there were other people down over that didn’t have it because the wind even if they weren’t flooded they had the wind as well, that, um, knocked out the electricity.  In fact up in the village they didn’t have it for a week, anyhow.


AH: This ground is obviously low-lying?


GP: Well we are below sea level, aren’t we, well below sea level.


AH: With your husband living here as he grew up, has there been other floods?


GP: No, no, since I have been here we have flooded twice.


AH: Because you were saying the other day.


GP: Yes, um, two weeks ago on Monday, two weeks last Monday, [] we had that dreadful wind - a combination of a high wind getting behind the tide and the bank broke down over here by Dunball somewhere and that came, came over.  It wasn’t so deep, it wasn’t so deep and it didn’t last so long.


AH: Did you get any in the house?


GP: Well I did, I had it in the hall, but you see I scooped it.  I had a bucket and I kept scooping.  I understand now when a boat is getting filled with water.


AH: How long did you have to do that for?


GP: Well about an hour, for about an hour and then all of a sudden it didn’t seem to get any higher and it didn’t seem to be seeping in so much and that meant the tide had turn and going out again.  But someone came, I was reading in the living room and a face was at the window saying, ‘Your sheep, your sheep, the river is coming over, the river is coming over’.  So I dashed out and told them, they were milking you see.


But by the time they could get there they could only bring forty-five of the sheep away because water was between them and the other sheep, there is a bit of a causeway out there, they had made for there.  Well they brought in one lot, but I could not do very much to them because you see by that time the lawn was covered in water.  And, um, although I had the sandbags by the porch, I could see it was seeping in, I could not get it down tight enough, so I just got a bucket and I kept dipping.


I looked in every so often I could see the water creeping it got under the door and it crept and it crept to the stairs. But I had towels each side on the doors, so it didn’t come into these rooms, and they were saturated, but I did, I contained I anyhow.  And of course the minute the tide started turning and went out, it suppose it soaked back into the lawn, I suppose it went somewhere anyhow.  And we had breakfast, this started about seven o’clock in the morning just as it was getting light and we had breakfast at about ten o’clock that morning.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in 1990. Photograph ©Fiveash Collection, SRO. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.