Local historian Ken Howe continues his musings on the Great Storm of 1987, which battered the south of England, causing loss of life and damage worth over £1bn.
In the November issue I left you at the point where half of the road was waking to the damage brought on by the ‘non-storm’. The morning light slowly took its place and everyone was then able to evaluate their damage. The sound of tool boxes opening and the buzz of handsaws was heard as the smaller limbs of fallen trees were cut to more manageable sizes.
I was amazed that I had partially slept through the uprooting of several trees, only to be finally disturbed by the rattle of an old tin can.
Checking on Mother
My next thought was of my mother and her house in Victoria Road. My wife and I made our way down to the station; on the way each road told its own story with trees and branches strewn across the paths in all directions. We reached the bridge and crossed over. Victoria Road seemed fairly unscathed but a house on the corner of Albert Road was half covered in the foliage of a fallen tree. We entered my mother’s house and found that she was still asleep, or rather had been until we arrived. As she had a gas cooker, we were able to make tea and toast. Having seen her comfortable and satisfied that no damage had occurred to her house, we returned home.
On the way back, I met an old friend who worked for the railway. He had been dispatched that morning to walk the track into Kingston and report on the number of trees brought down that were littering the track. This was in the early hours of the morning when it was still as black as pitch and pieces of tree were being blown directly at him. There were to be no trains to Waterloo that morning.
Assessing the damage
On returning home, we surveyed the damage to our house. A couple of large ridge tiles were missing and some smaller ones too. It was same story for my neighbours in the next two of our terrace of three houses. One of them quickly took control and instructed a roofer, who was working at his firm’s premises, to come and deal with the damage to all three houses.
The next thing to look at was my shed. The asphalt covering had been shredded and was scattered across several gardens, leaving the shed denuded and looking very sorry for itself.
Fortunately Brookers, our local hardware store, was open and I went there to buy some batteries for our radio and torches, a cycle lamp, some candles and a roll of asphalt and some tacks. I also bought a new dustbin lid as our previous one had taken off and was nowhere to be seen. Brookers was well known as an old fashioned store that stocked everything but only had a wooden drawer that served as a till – pretty fortuitous as the tills in all the other local shops were electrically operated and were temporarily out of order. By the time I left Brookers, a long queue had formed, which was to last most of the day.
My wife was working locally in the High Street and looked in to see what was happening. She was soon back home boiling several kettles for teas and coffees as her firm only had electrical appliances for refreshments.
I decided to pop into The Builder’s Arms for a livener. Several neighbours were already there and tales were being swapped about the previous night’s experience. A stranger sitting at the bar then announced that he had been to Waterloo and back that morning. This was followed by cries of derision such as “Did you fly in then!” and other similar hoots. The stranger finished his drink and left.
We were later to learn that our area alone lost over 1,000 trees and tragically there were 22 deaths nationwide.
Poor Michael Fish’s reputation never recovered.
Ken Howe is a local historian and author of several books.
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