The Crow Hill Bog Eruption
Stanbury, Haworth, 2nd September, 1824
‘it reached the hamlet of Pondens, where it expanded over some corn fields covering them to the depth of several feet’
The Bronte children sheltered at Ponden Hall during this event. It was their first visit to the house. The following account is taken from ‘Haworth Past and Present’ by J. Horsfall Turner, the full text of which can be viewed here. It includes an excerpt from Patrick Bronte’s sermon about the phenomenon.
On Tuesday, the 2nd of September, 1824, there happened a dreadful eruption of a bog at Crow Hill, which kept the water of the river Aire in such a turbid state, that for sometime it could not be used at Leeds, or any other place, either for culinary or manufacturing purposes. Three days after the commencement of the disruption, the Rev. Mr. Bronte, of Haworth, sent a letter to the Leeds Mercury office, stating that he believed it to be the effect of a severe earthquake; but as no agitation had been felt in the neighbourhood, this supposition was not generally accepted. The Editor, who visited the spot a few days afterwards described it in the Leeds Mercury, as follows: “Crow Hill, the scene of this phenomenon, is about 9 miles from Keighley, and 6 from Colne, at an elevation of about 1,000 feet above the former place. The top of the moor, which in nearly level, is covered with peat, and other accumulations of decayed vegetables of a less firm texture; the whole appeared saturated with water, and in most places trembled under the tread of the foot. The superfluous water, at the east end of the Moor drained into small rivulets at the bottom of a deep glen or gill, down a precipitous range of rocks, which presented the appearance of a gigantic staircase. This rivulet passes down the valley to Keighley, and enters the Aire, near Stockbridge, about a mile below that town. At the distance of about 500 yards from the top of the glen, the principal discharge seems to have taken place : here a very large area, of about 1.200 yards in circumference, is excavated to the depth of from 4 to 6 yards; and at a short distance from this chasm there is a similar excavation, but much less in extent. These concavities have been emptied, not only of their water, but also of their solid contents. A channel about 12 yards in width, and 7 or 8 in depth, has been formed quite to the mouth of the gill, clown which a most amazing quantity of water was precipitated, with a violence and noise of which it is difficult to form an adequate conception, and which was heard to a considerable distance. Stones of an immense size and weight were hurried by the torrent more than a mile. It is impossible to form any computation of the quantity of earthy matter which has been carried down into the valley; but that it is enormous is evident from the vast quantities deposited by the torrent in every part of its course, and from the great quantity which our river still contains. This destructive torrent was confined within narrow bounds by the high glen through which it passed, until it reached the hamlet of Pondens, where it expanded over some corn fields covering them to the depth of several feet; it also filled up the mill-pond, choking up the water-course, and thereby putting an entire stop to the works. A stone bridge was also nearly swept away at this place, and several other bridges in its course were materially damaged; we feel happy, however, in being able to state, that it was not fatal to life in a single instance. The torrent was seen coming down the glen before it reached the hamlet, by a person who gave the alarm and thereby saved the lives of several children, who would otherwise have been swept away. The torrent at this time presented abreast of 7 feet high. The track and extent of this inundation or mud may be accurately traced all the way from the summit of the hill to the confluence of the rivulet with the Aire, by the black deposit which it has left on its banks. The first bursting of the Bog took place at 6 o’clock in the evening of Thursday, the 2nd iust., and another very considerable discharge occurred on the following day, about 8 in the morning, and it is highly probable that other extensive portions of the Bog will, from time to time hereafter, be discharged into the Aire in a similar manner. No human being was on the spot to witness the commencement of this awful phenomenon, and of course we cannot arrive at an absolute degree of certainty as to its cause; the most probable one, is the bursting of a water-spout. The suddenness and violence of the disruption strongly favours this supposition, it would evidently require a power acting with a great degree of momentum to move and break in pieces the large and almost solid masses of peat and turf which were forced down the hill, to say nothing of the detached rocks which were moved. The state of the atmosphere about the time when the disruption took place, also renders this solution highly probable, the air being fully charged with electric matter. ‘At the time of the irruption,’ says Mr. Bronte, ‘the clouds were copper coloured, gloomy, and lowering; the atmosphere was strongly electrified, and unusually close.’ These appearances, as they indicated, were followed by a severe thunder storm, during which it is more than probable, that some heavily loaded cloud poured its contents upon the spot. We may add, in support of this hypothesis, that more water seems to have been sent down the glen than could have been supplied by the contents of the two bogs which have been excavated. But, perhaps, a still more important inquiry is, what can be done to prevent recurrence of similar irruptions? This is rather a difficult question; there is, however, no doubt but the drainage of the Moss would remove the danger, as no instance exists of either the bursting or floating away of a drained bog. Probably the channels now made, should they remain open, will give the requisite stability to the peaty soil.” This account was reprinted as a broadside. It was also stated that the inundation was very fatal to the fish, which were suffocated by it in large quantities. There were four eruptions on the following Thursday. A gentleman who witnessed the last of them thus describes it: About a quarter to seven o’clock in the evening the phenomenon began to exhibit itself. On approaching the cavity, or canal, made by the former eruptions, and which is now about three quarters of a mile in length, he and his friends perceived a vast body of peaty earth in motion, impelled by the water in the rear. Soon the substance became stationary, and remained in that state for about ten minutes. By and by it was again in motion down the channel very gradually, all the while receiving fresh accessions of mud and peat, till at length the whole cavity was filled. Having at length reached the precipice, it rushed over the steep with a tremendous noise, and the discharge was distinctly heard at the distance of four miles. How long the flow continued he could not say, but he heard it for an hour at least after he quitted the place. From his examination he conceives that a body of peat moss is loosened by these disruptions to the extent of a mile in circumference, and the prevailing opinion on the spot is that this enormous mass will come away before the discharge from Crow Hill will finally close.
The following is an extract from Mr. Bronte’s sermon. “I would avail myself of the advantages now offered for moral and religious improvement, by the late earthquake and extraordinary eruption which lately took place about four miles from this very church in which we are now assembled. You all know, &c., at about six o’clock in the afternoon, two portions of the moors in the neighbourhood sunk several yards during a heavy storm of thunder, lightning, and ruin, and there issued forth a mighty volume of mud and water, which spread alarm, astonishment, and danger along its course of many miles. As the day was exceedingly fine, I had sent my little children, who were indisposed, accompanied by the servants, to take an airing on the common, and as they stayed rather longer than I expected, I went to an upper chamber to look out for their return. The heavens over the moors were blackening fast. I heard the muttering of distant thunder, and saw the frequent flashing of the lightning. Though ten minutes before, there was scarcely a breath of air stirring, the gale freshened rapidly, and carried along with it clouds of dust and stubble; and by this time some large drops of rain clearly announced an approaching heavy shower. My little family had escaped to a place of shelter, but I did not know it. The house was perfectly still. Under these circumstances, I heard a deep, distant explosion, and I perceived a gentle tremour in the chamber.” Mr. Bronte considered this ‘earthquake ‘ as a monitor to turn sinners from the error of their ways. The children referred to were the four youngest, as Maria and Elizabeth had been taken to Cowan Bridge School a few weeks previously.