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There are few topics of conversation in Sileby that evoke such strong viewpoints and feelings as that of flooding. One only has to look at local social media to see how it provokes debate; it's causes, what and who are to blame, and so on. The issues are outlined here.

Historically, many of the issues have not changed : saturated ground, overflow of the village's brooks and watercourses after sustained rainfall or meltwater, flooding resulting in damage to land and properties, blockages caused by poor ditch and bridge maintenance, backflow from the flooded river system, etc. 

The Flood Plain and Water Management

The Soar Valley near Sileby is a flat, wide landscape of grassed fields, ditches and small ponds. This wet, silty, alluvial terrain gives rise to a diversity of seasonally waterlogged soils ideal for meadowland. About a quarter of Sileby parish is formed by these lands. For hundreds of years they were an integral part of the village's ancient economy, providing hay and pasture enabling farmers to keep animals throughout the winter.


                      Flooding over Sileby's northern meadows, 26th November 2012 (looking from Mountsorrel Castle Hill)                      


Management of water was key to the success of the meadows. The deliberate act of allowing water to flood over the fields had a number of distinct advantages. Firstly, it allowed silt to deposit onto the grasslands thereby increasing the fertility of the soil. It also warmed the ground promoting grass growth. A system of ditches and small leats, together with several streams and natural watercourses kept the water flowing over the grass enabling it to grow underwater in well oxygenated conditions, whilst avoiding stagnation.  

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                                                             Sileby : Open Fields (Green) including the Common Meadows (Yellow).

​​In Sileby, the flood plain was managed in two distinct blocks, divided by the Sileby Brook. The section near Mountsorrel was the North Meadow, and on the Rothley and Cossington side was the South Meadow (also called Stone Meadow). A number of main ditches such as Herry Ditch, Northings ditch and the Water ditch helped to disperse water over and away to the river. This was in addition to several natural watercourses across the meadows. Cleansing and maintaining these channels was regulated by the manor court. In 1674 manorial ordinances compelled Sileby's inhabitants to 'scour' their ditches upon threat of a hefty five shilling fine.

The Enclosure Award of 1760 reordered the flood plain and created an area of new meadow and pasture fields. Ditches were constructed around the new field allotments and former watercourses were abandoned and allowed to silt up. Under the new scheme every ditch or drain had to be at least five feet broad at the top and three feet deep.

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                                                    Former watercourses (darker lines) - Area around Mountsorrel Lane, 5th April 2018

                                                                                                     Source : © Google Earth

Early Attempts at Flood Prevention

​Various measures have been put in place to prevent or limit the impact of flooding. The Sileby Brook was initially a slow, winding stream and its capacity to take away flood waters was hampered by its many meanders. From the 18th century parts of the watercourse have been straightened, but this moved the problem further downstream where the water backed up at pinch points near Brook Street or when the river water backed up the brook.


Despite local attempts to alleviate the problem, many flood events were still recorded in the local press. On the 9th October 1880 the Leicester Chronicle reported that "the wash pit banks and The Banks were flooded", and a year later at Christmas in 1881 the brook had overflowed its banks again. Flood prevention work was completed by the Loughborough Highway Board in 1892, but this was to little or no avail as flood events were widely reported afterwards.


Blockages were often caused by some of the low bridges with their lack of clearance. As a result, the bridges on Back Lane and The Banks were replaced in the 1930s to improve the flow of the brook. Later, the stream was widened and concrete lined to enable greater water capacity along the stretch going through the village centre.

The Great Flood of 1912

One of the largest reported floods was in late August 1912. That month the county had suffered a period of prolonged rainfall and the ground was saturated. The Soar became inundated with flood water. On the 27th August 1912, the Leicester Daily Post outlines the issues faced in Sileby,

"There was very little hay about; most of it had disappeared in the raging waters previously. Many of the hedges dividing the fields were even submerged and there was nothing showing above the acres of water except occasional trees. At one point between Cossington and Sileby the river must have swollen until it was nearly a mile broad, and the roadway between Sileby and Mountsorrel was impassable to all except those in boats."


The Yorkshire Post of the same day adds,

"For 12 miles in a northerly direction from Leicester there are vast floods like a huge lake. At Sileby the main street was three feet under water, which was rushing through with great force, inundating the houses."

On the 28th, the Leicester Daily Post adds more detail,

"the village on Monday evening was separated into two portions, each of which was inaccessible to the other, except by vehicles. The brook overflowed its banks, and residents in Brook Street were unable to leave their houses, the whole street being underwater. The factory of Towle, Killingley and Hiam (on Swan Street), which is situated close to the brook, suffered considerably. To a late hour water was being pumped out, but yesterday morning it had entered the yarn room... Acres of fields were flooded, and the water from the Soar had reached to within twenty yards of Cossington-road. Damage has also been done to livestock. The recreation ground is also under water."    

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                                                                    The Great Flood of 1912 : Brook Street, Sileby (26th August 1912)

                                                                                                   Source : © Peter Campbell

Towle's factory suffered another disastrous flood in May 1932, when hosiery and yarn was damaged to the tune of £5,000. The firm's machinery was partly submerged and 200 people were thrown out of work whilst it was recovered and cleaned.

According to Rev. Ray Hunting, locals gauged how bad a flood was by how far it had travelled up the Cossington Road from Dudley's Bridge. The Free Trade pub was often used as a marker; if the waters had reached there then it was a noteworthy event. 

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                                                                                         Flood on Cossington Road (Undated)

                                                                                                  Source : John Whittington


1954 - A flood too far?

Another significant flood occurred in August 1954. After a cloudburst on the 12th August the brook rose three feet and burst its banks. Water traversed along Cossington Road where householders tried in vain to stop the water entering under their front doors, with villagers moving their furniture and belongings upstairs. The Free Trade Inn had water lying four inches deep in the smoke room and bar. Porter's newsagents on Brook Street had two feet of water inside, ruining a large part of their stock. Much of the blame was put upon the lack of action from both the Rural District and County Council to cleanse the brook.

Residents affected by the deluge complained to the Leicester Evening Mail. On the 18th August they branded the brook as a rat and frog infested waterway that had "brought years of sewerage and mud" into their homes and businesses. They claimed that the brook hadn't been cleaned properly since German prisoners of war had completed it during the Second World War. They openly blamed the catastrophe on years of inaction by council officials who they claimed did not want to own the problem or pay for it.

Meetings took place over the remainder of the year but neither authority would take responsibility to relieve the problem, each saying that the other was liable. In the meantime, during November that year, the brook flooded again, making Brook Street impassable to traffic. 

Eventually, in 1957, Barrow Rural District Council carried out a series of heavily engineered flood prevention measures along the village section of the Sileby Brook.


                             Flooding - Brook Street and Beyond (1954?)                                           Flooding - Cossington Road (1954?)

                                               Source : John Whittington                                                                Source : John Whittington

Flooding events are not unusual in Sileby; it's part of the parish make up. Villagers know only too well that roads such as Mountsorrel and Slash Lane are impacted due to this. However, the main concerns of today's residents relate to the increase of serious flooding incidents, in the possible impact of run off from new housing developments, and in the ability of the Sileby Brook to handle excess water efficiently.  

It is a difficult matter to deal with, especially as warmer and wetter conditions are becoming more prevalent. Local flood prevention and warning schemes are in force. The Environment Agency now prefers to look to older, more natural solutions rather than large engineering projects to try to alleviate the problem.

Nevertheless, flooding is an old issue which still haunts the village, and it is not about to go away. Even now it seriously affects the village, as the recent floods of 2020 and 2021 have demonstrated.

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  Flooding - Brook Street (April 1975)                                                        Flooding - Cossington Road (April 1975)  

                                     Source : Karen Preston                                                                                  Source : Karen Preston

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