Worcester Floods

Salmon at deep midwicket

Andrew Thomas

New Road in 2007 resembled a boating lake rather than a cricket ground © Worcestershire CCC
In 2007, for the first time in their 108 years as a first-class county, Worcestershire suffered two summer floods from the River Severn on to their New Road ground. The first peaked chest-high on June 27, only days before the club's most lucrative Twenty20 and floodlit televised matches, causing them to be relocated or abandoned.

Feverish activity for the next three weeks made the ground fit for first-class cricket, but a second and far more damaging flood peaked two metres deep on the square on July 21. This was the deepest flood at New Road since March 1947; from the records it seems to have been the sixth-deepest at Worcester since 1672. Chief executive Mark Newton soon bowed to the inevitable and confirmed there would be no more cricket at New Road in 2007, and later put the cost to the club at £1,164,000. Full insurance is not an option because the ground is in the high-risk part of the floodplain.

Frequent if lesser flooding has been a fact of life for Worcestershire since 1896, when the wealthy and well-connected secretary Paul Foley organised and paid for the club to move from Boughton Park to New Road, a larger ground nearer the city centre, down on Chapter Meadows, beside the River Severn and with a clear view of Worcester Cathedral. From riverside plaques Foley was aware of the level reached by the notorious winter floods of December 1672, November 1770 and February 1795, while he himself had seen the summer flood of May 1886 that was 9cm deeper than the one in July 2007. However, Foley considered the calculated risk of flooding at such an aesthetic, prime location a price worth paying in his pursuit of increased membership and first-class status.

The speed with which the Severn can rise - 1.7 metres in four hours in July 2007 - and the level floodplain allow the dramatic transformation from a cricket ground in the morning to a lake by afternoon. Canoes, rafts, sailboards and boats of all sizes have been rowed, sailed, paddled and powered over the playing area. February 1956 saw sledging and ice-skating when the flood froze. But of the 135 or more floods on New Road since 1899, only nine have peaked during a first-class season: August 1912, May 1913, June 1924, May 1931, May 1932, June 1955, May 1969, and June and July 2007.

The two floods before the First World War were of great concern to the committee in the cash-strapped years after Foley left. The June 1924 flood was high enough to reach into the pavilion. Fred Hunt (head groundsman 1898-1945) would tell how he and an assistant once used a cricket net to capture a 45lb salmon on the outfield. In May 1931 the honorary secretary Rev Gillingham swam from his car to the pavilion, keys around his neck, to collect club books, membership cards and pass-out tickets. In 1969, after a relatively dry decade, Worcestershire lost 14 days' play at New Road. In July 2007, the director of cricket Steve Rhodes swam in the dark through dirty, cold floodwater to retrieve his laptop from the changing-rooms.

Between them, the twin floods of 2007 left unusually thick layers of foul smelling, grey-brown silt, reddish mud and assorted debris on the ground. Advertising boards and fencing were left high in the hedgerows (an early flood carried off the horse-drawn roller and it was found upside-down two fields away). Were last summer's floods the result of climate change? Environment Agency data indicate that average peaks of flooding on New Road have become higher each decade since the 1980s. And of the 25 deepest floods since 1899, seven have occurred since October 2000.

© John Wisden and Co.