Flooding, Helen, Project Updates

Flooding project update: routine water management and mills

Rugeley Parish Officers accounts for the 1708 flood, SRO D3243/4/1

The more I’ve developed where I want this project to go, the more I’ve been thinking about ordinary routines. There are catastrophic examples of major floods from the period I’m studying (roughly 1550-1750) such as the Bristol Channel flooding in 1607, and I’ve found a few examples of floods within Staffordshire. In Rugeley in 1708 there was both a disastrous fire in February and on the 15th September there was “a great Rain th[a]t occasioned a Deal of Damage.” These floods had some the same effects as today – damage to businesses, property, (in the case of the Bristol Channel)loss of life…

However if we want to properly understand how people reacted to floods, we also need to understand the routine management of water systems and the day-to-day maintenance that probably prevented even more damage from occurring. Evidence of this can be found in all sorts of places, as everyone needed to use water supplies for drinking, cooking, cleaning, or for industry. This meant there were a lot of demands on water systems – there needed to be enough water for people to use or for mills to work, but without drains, ditches, streams or rivers overflowing and causing flooding. This meant that ditches needed regular clearing, floodgates needed building and repairing, and use of water sources was sometimes regulated by local courts or the terms of leases.

The Staffordshire Record Office has a lot of documents relating to mills, presenting a valuable source for studying the water courses they relied on. I want to look out for terms in leases about using or maintaining water systems, and at mill accounts for details of repair and maintenance work. I’ve so far identified Rugeley as a promising case study. By the mid seventeenth century there was a slitting mill in Rugeley, and leases refer to pools, the river, and streams. Hopefully eventually I’ll be able to compare these references to modern-day Rugeley and determine exactly where some of these pools were!

If you’re interested in this project, I’m currently looking for volunteers, so please have a look at the call for volunteers here: https://floodanddrought.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/looking-for-volunteers-mills-c-1550-1750-project/

– Helen


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