Monday 25 November 2013

The Great Storm of 1703

As the nights draw in and winter is upon us, my thoughts turn to matters of weather. From my window I can see the bonfires of Covent Garden and with the shutters drawn tight one can hear the hurrying footsteps of those looking for shelter from the cold, yet this is nothing compared to the cataclysmic weather conditions that struck Britain in November 1703. A little breeze is one thing but the Great Storm of 1703 was catastrophic; thousands died from pauper to bishop and the damage was immense. Southern England has seen nothing like it since and we hope never will again.

The Bishops Palace, Wells
The Bishop's Palace, Wells

The storm came in from the English Channel and made landfall on 24th November, hitting the densely-populated capital in the following days and and raging across the country into the first week of December.  As the hurricane-force winds swept across London the people fled the streets in terror, seeking shelter from chimneys and roof leading as it crashed down to earth. The queen herself was forced to take refuge in the cellars of St James's Palace as the chimneys shook and crumbled and in Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder and his wife were crushed in their bed at the palace by falling chimney stacks. Britons regarded the ferocity of the weather with disbelief, believing it to be a physical manifestation of the wrath of God, the Almighty punishing a nation for its sins.

As you can read elsewhere on the site, the Eddystone Lighthouse was completely destroyed and numerous ships were sunk in the calamity, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. In fact, many vessels were returning from the War of Spanish Succession and they sailed straight into the storm to be capsized and smashed into matchwood, their crews lost. On land people were crushed beneath masonry and thousands of trees fell to the furious gales, whilst still more humans and cattle too were drowned when rivers swelled and burst their banks, sweeping raging waters across low-lying lands.

Daniel Defoe witnessed the hurricane from his home in London and it inspired him to write The Storm in 1704, chronicling his experiences and the tragedy the gales had wrought. The government declared a day of national fasting to honour the dead and atone for the sins of the nation and slowly, surely, England began to count the vast cost of the Great Storm.


Carol Hedges said...

We tend to think pf extremes of weather as a modern phenomenon..they weren't as you show. Also, there were the 'hungry years' when some volcano blotted out the sun and crops failed...Ithink that was in Tudor times...and numerous other events. Just shows we cannot control the climate..

Catherine Curzon said...

There were some incredible weather events in the Georgian era, I think I might need to revisit in another post!