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 Inside Out East: Monday October 13, 2003

THE GREAT STORM

Reporter in the woods
Reporter uncovers the full story

In 1703, a catastrophic hurricane ripped across East Anglia. It was the worst storm in British history and killed 8,000 people. But could global warming make tomorrow's weather even more violent? Inside Out investigates.

It is 300 years since villages from Northamptonshire to Suffolk were decimated by 'The Great Storm'. But only now is the full story emerging.

The first complete account of the impact of the storm on the East of England has just been written by Martin Brayne.

The hurricane on 26 November 1703 tore across East Anglia, ripping up everything in its wake.

Unlike today's storms, when we have advanced warning and can prepare for the worst, the poor souls of 1703 had no idea what was about to hit them.

TORNADO & HURRICANE FACT FILE

Hurricanes originate in the Tropics.

A storm featuring winds of over 74mph is often referred to as a hurricane.

A hurricane is a fierce rotating storm with an intense centre of low pressure. In south-east Asia they’re known as 'typhoons' and in the Indian Ocean, 'cyclones'.

In 1998, Hurricane Gilbert produced 160 mph winds, killing 318 people, and devastating Jamaica.

The United Kingdom is actually the World’s most tornado-prone nation.

Wind speeds in tornadoes can vary from 72 to almost 300 mph. Fortunately, only 2 percent of all tornadoes have winds greater than 200 mph.

Men and animals were lifted into the air

Winds and rain lashed the entire country and floods were reported almost everywhere.

Winds of up to 80mph killed 123 people and destroyed more than 400 windmills - many of which caught fire due to the friction of their wildly-spinning sails.

Daniel Defoe, who travelled the country afterwards assessing the damage, reported that men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for yards through the air and that lead roofs were ripped from one hundred churches.

The Robinson Crusoe author reported seeing a tornado which "snapped the body of an oak".

15,000 sheep were drowned in floods near Bristol and 800 houses were completely destroyed.

At Cambridge, falling masonry wrecked the organ of St Mary’s church, newly installed at a cost of £1,500 - and King’s College Chapel was badly damaged - pinnacles were toppled and much of the fine late medieval stained glass ruined.

Martin Brayne
Author Martin Brayne has written a full account of the storm

The death of a fleet - and a lighthouse

Some 8,000 sailors perished as the storm decimated the British fleet. Hundreds of vessels were lost, including four Royal Navy men-of-war.

One ship at Whitstable in Kent was lifted from the sea and reputedly dropped some 250 yards in land.

Famously also, Henry Winstanley had the misfortune to be in the wooden lighthouse which he had designed on Eddystone Rocks of Plymouth on 26 November, and was killed.

What has the future in store?

While the events of 1703 may seem safely tucked away in the depths of history, more recent events

have also savaged the British Isles.

In 1987, winds gusting up to 115mph cut a swathe of destruction across London and the Home Counties. There were 19 deaths and the storms caused an estimated £1bn of damage.

While not quite on the scale of the 1703 storms, this kind of extreme weather is enough to convince some people that the global warming is about to unleash a natural disaster of Biblical proportions on the South of England.

Predictions by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia put global sea level rises between 12cm and 67cm by 2050.

Ships
Many ships were lost in 1703

Parts of East Anglia as well as parts of the south east could end up under water

The threat of rising sea levels is compounded by the fact that the UK is gradually tilting. The south east of the country is sinking while the north west is rising.

This could make any future storms - and the resulting flooding - even more devastating.

Martin Brayne says: "Rising sea levels caused by global warming, together with increased amount of building on low-lying coastal areas, mean that a storm as severe as the Great Storm would have even more devastating effects, [though] the Thames Barrier would protect London."

What can be done?

"By sharing technologies, experience and resources," says BBC Meteorologist Helen Willetts, "We can hopefully lower the greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the threat of global climate change.

"Choose clean energy options where available, such as wind, solar and wave power, these do not emit greenhouse gases and are renewable.

"Individually, we can recycle material, insulate our homes, take public transport and think about energy efficiency in the home."

And it is clear that whatever can be done, should be done.

One thing is for certain, nobody wants to experience the horrors of 1703 again!

See also ...

Inside Out: East
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse

On the rest of the web
Sutton Publishing : Publishers of 'The Great Storm'
The Tornado and Storm Research Organisation

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