On the evening of 26 November 1703, a violent storm hammered into Great Britain from the North Atlantic. It remains the worst storm ever experienced here with a death-toll of some 8,000 people. It was witnessed by Daniel Defoe (at that time languishing in Newgate Prison) who decided on it as the subject for his first major book. Defoe had a very chequered and colourful life, frequently falling into bankruptcy and prison whilst writing some of the classics of that era.
While thinking of Daniel Defoe, my mind switched to a great storm in my own lifetime – that of the night of 15 October 1987. An unannounced event that literally took the country by storm with catastrophic results.
Watching the news and weather forecast that day, we had heard the reassuring words of weatherman Michael Fish: “Earlier on today apparently a lady rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well, don’t worry if you’re watching, there isn’t.”
Disturbances in the night
My wife and I retired to bed and noticed the wind seemed a bit stronger than usual. The cats were a bit jumpy too – often a sign of impending bad weather. The wind continued to pick up and before long was whistling around the chimneys. That noise was broken briefly by a scraping sound like chalk scraping on a blackboard, as a ridge tile slid slowly down the roof and dropped onto the ground below. The wind was positively howling now and a second tile followed, only a little more quickly, and then a third. How many tiles are there on a roof?
Sleep was proving to be something of an elusive commodity; at some stage though we must have drifted off out of sheer exhaustion, only to be reawakened a little later by the sound of an empty tin can blowing around the empty car park next door. As the wind swirled around the open space, the can bounced across the tarmac from one side to the other with a loud metallic clanking.
Having decided sleep would not be allowed whilst the offending can continued its circus routine, I decided the only solution was to arise, enter the car park, arrest the marauding can and safely deposit it in the dustbin.
I reached for the bedside light switch – click – nothing. Damn! What a time for the bulb to go! I got up and went to the main light switch – click – but again nothing. I tried the radio on the landing table – also nothing. What a time for the fuses to blow!
I made my way downstairs trying all of the switches in desperation on the way but to no avail. I entered the lounge and in the dim light, I saw five pairs of pointed ears staring out of the window. The cats seemed to be studying some flashing lights and as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I made out that the flashes were actually torches and that several people were moving about in the road. My wife joined me and made out the outline of what seemed to be a tree lying on its side.
We returned to our room, dressed and went outside to join a growing number of people who were surveying the results of the night’s damage. Eight trees had come down in the road and although there was no damage to buildings other than missing slates and tiles, several cars had been struck by the falling trees. One Ford in particular, not recognised as belonging to any of the residents, was pinned to the ground by branches of a mature lime tree, which had penetrated its windscreen and roof. The full scale of the devastation was yet to be revealed…TO BE CONTINUED.