Jo’s cinematic saga is inspired by the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864

By Siobhan Fletcher   |   Reporter   |
Wednesday 18th May 2022 2:00 pm
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Joanne Clague

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Author and former Isle of Man Newspapers reporter Joanne Clague is set to publish her debut novel next month.

The Ragged Valley will see one of the biggest industrial disasters of the Victorian era immortalised in the first of a three-book saga series, that has been snapped up by Canelo.

Joanne worked for 30 years in print, radio and broadcast journalism here in the Isle of Man before turning to novel writing.

She lives in Laxey with her family.

Her inspiration for The Ragged Valley came when she was researching her grandparents’ lives as file cutters in Sheffield’s steel industry before the Second World War.

Some 250 people, most of them working class inhabitants of the banks of the Loxley and Don rivers, perished in the disaster when the Dale Dyke dam burst its banks on a stormy night in 1864.

Joanne said: ‘I stumbled on some information about the flood during a research trip to the Kelham Island museum and was amazed I had never before heard of it, especially considering what a huge blow it was to the town and the emerging steel industry.

‘It felt like an event lost in time and I couldn’t stop thinking about those who had lost their lives in the flood, as well as the townspeople who had to live with the consequences.’

Millions of gallons of water were unleashed on the unsuspecting town near midnight on March 11, 1864.

The flood thundered down the Loxley valley from Bradfield, destroying every mill, factory and dwelling on the banks of the river, reaching as far as Lady’s Bridge in the centre of town, the first bridge in its path to withstand the onslaught.

Some victims were recovered from as far away as Doncaster.

Mrs Clague added: ‘I was surprised there seems to be no lasting monument. Although the history is there if you seek it out.

‘There are markers, such as the plaque on the Malin Bridge Inn, a water line on a Kelham Island pub, and information boards in Bradfield, as well as a clob stone on the site of the old dam.

‘In 1964 the Sheffield Star produced a centenary souvenir.

‘But by far the finest record of events is a contemporaneous account written by the editor of the Sheffield Times, Samuel Harrison, just a few months after the disaster, which I was lucky enough to obtain a reprint of.’

The Ragged Valley will be published on June 2 by Canelo in paperback and ebook.

Book two in the series will be published in October 2022 and book three will be out in the spring of 2023.

Details of on-island book signings to follow.

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