On the night of 16/17th November 1771 the North East of England suffered some of the worst and most destructive flooding on record.
The river Tees burst its banks in a number of places with Yarm being one of the areas worst affected. At the height of the deluge some stretches of the High Street were submerged in 20 feet of water!
The floods were caused by a sudden thaw of the ice in upper Teesdale, and a cloud burst over the Pennines. The rain began in the early hours of Saturday morning and continued heavily throughout the day and night without a break.
Despite the fact that the water levels had already begun to rise, and a warning from the Reverend Bramwell in Hurworth up river, the people of Yarm at first made no attempt to save their property or evacuate the town. When the flood waters reached the town the river rose so quickly that many were forced to evacuate their homes immediately. A report at the time stated that 'They abandoned the goods in their shops and the possessions in their homes to save their own lives'.
By Sunday morning the whole of Yarm lay underwater, every building was affected. On the main street alone, six houses were completely destroyed and many more left uninhabitable. The Shambles was washed away and the town’s main church was also damaged. 'The pews were upturned and tossed about, the pulpit was overturned and several windows were shattered'.
Nine of the townspeople lost their lives in the floods. In one home alone where three people were staying, two drowned, and one survived by hanging from the top of a window for nineteen hours with floodwater up to his chin.
One man who lived at the lower end of the High Street , a strong swimmer, distinguished himself by saving the lives of many of those in the homes around him. In the early hours of Sunday morning, hearing the screams of people living near his weavers shop, he dived from his bedroom window and swam to the windows of those around him, bringing as many as he could to safety.
As the flood waters subsided many of the townsfolk had to be rescued from upper floors and rooftops where they had fled to escape the force of the water as it swept through their properties.
In the aftermath of the flood, the people of Yarm were greatly indebted to the people Stockton, as well as other nearby towns that weren't as badly affected by the flooding. In particular, Mr Leonard Robinson of Stockton who provided those effected in Yarm with several cartloads of bread, butter and several hundred bushels of coal to try and ease their suffering. Other contributions came from far and wide over the North-East, from towns such as Richmond, Guisbrough and Ayton. Two unknown ladies in Darlington also gave £50 (more than £3000 in today's money) each to try and help with the aid effort.
The high water marks of the Great Flood , and of other flooding incidents over the years, can be found in various places around the town.
Perhaps the most interesting marker is that on the wall of the Town Hall which, bizarrely, records the date of the flood as SEPT 17th 1771.