Water lapping at the windows of the Kings Arms has become one of the iconic images of flooding in York. The picturesque, historic inn is one of the first buildings to be affected by flood water, every time the river rises. It’s also easy to photograph, from Ouse Bridge, without getting your feet wet.
The flooding of the Kings Arms is a well known, local event and not too much of a disaster. Originally a counting house for the river port, the building was converted into a pub by Tadcaster-based Sam Smith brewery in 1898. The design of the pub, with front door to the riverside and a back door uphill to the road, means it can stay open well after the river reaches the front wall. Here the beer isn’t kept in the cellar – it’s upstairs.
Over the years the brewery have adapted the Kings Arms to be more flood resistant. A 2007 article in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser describes how the pub can be prepared for a flood in half an hour and back in action four hours after the water goes down. Everything in the two bars is designed to be quickly dismantled and moved upstairs. The building’s electricity supply comes in at first floor level and all sockets downstairs are near the ceiling. The stone floors, whitewashed walls and solid woodwork are easily hosed down when flood recedes.
Clearing up after a flood in an ordinary house, not adapted to withstand water, is a very different prospect. For homes flooded unexpectedly from the river Foss, after the failure of the Foss barrier on Saturday night, the clean up will be a long, miserable and costly process. Improving flood protection can only go so far. Waterproofing low lying homes will be a major concern, and a hot political issue, in the years to come.