Great Storm of 1703 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In London, approximately 2,000 massive chimney stacks were blown down. The lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St James's Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. On the Thames, around 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, the section downstream from London Bridge. HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chatham. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's HMS Association was blown from Harwich to Gothenburg in Sweden before way could be made back to England.[2] Pinnacles were blown from the top of King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge.[3]

There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristol. Hundreds of people drowned in flooding on the Somerset Levels, along with thousands of sheep and cattle, and one ship was found 15 miles inland.[4] At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was killed when two chimneystacks in the palace fell on him and his wife, asleep in bed.[3] This same storm blew in part of the great west window in Wells Cathedral. Major damage occurred to the south-west tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.

At sea, many ships (some of which were returning from helping Archduke Charles, the claimed King of Spain, fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession) were wrecked, including on the Goodwin Sands, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland, HMS Mary, and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall. The first Eddystone Lighthouse off Plymouth was destroyed[3] on 27 November 1703 (Old Style), killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley (John Rudyard was later contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site). A ship torn from its moorings in the Helford River in Cornwall was blown for 200 miles before grounding eight hours later on the Isle of Wight.[3] The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000.

The storm of 1703 caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and their Man of War escorts, the Dolphin, the Cumberland, the Coventry, the Looe, the Hastings and the Hector sheltering at Milford Haven. By 3pm the next afternoon losses included 30 vessels.[5]

The storm, unprecedented in ferocity and duration, was generally reckoned by witnesses to represent the anger of God – in recognition of the "crying sins of this nation." The government declared 19 January 1704 a day of fasting, saying it "loudly calls for the deepest and most solemn humiliation of our people." It remained a frequent topic of moralizing in sermons well into the nineteenth century.[6]


The Great Storm also coincided with the increase in English journalism, and was the first weather event to be a news story on a national scale. Special issue broadsheets were produced detailing damage to property and stories of people who had been killed.

Daniel Defoe produced his full-length book, The Storm, published in July 1704, in response to the calamity, calling it "the tempest that destroyed woods and forests all over England." He wrote: "No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it." Coastal towns such as Portsmouth "looked as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces." Winds of up to 80 mph destroyed more than 400 windmills.[7] Defoe reported in some the sails turned so fast that the friction caused the wooden wheels to overheat and catch fire.[8] He thought the destruction of the sovereign fleet was a punishment for their poor performance against the Catholic armies of France and Spain during the first year of the War of the Spanish Succession.[9]

Thirteen ships lost in the Royal NavyEdit

In the English Channel, fierce winds and high seas swamped some vessels outright and drove others onto the Goodwin Sands, an extensive sand bank situated along the southeast coast of England and the traditional anchorage for ships waiting either for passage up the Thames estuary to London or for favourable winds to take them out into the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.[10] The Royal Navy was badly affected, losing thirteen ships, including the entire Channel Squadron,[10] and upwards of fifteen hundred seamen drowned.[11]

Lamb (1991) claimed 10,000 seamen were lost in one night, a far higher figure, about 1/3 of all the seamen in the British Navy.[15]Shrewsbury narrowly escaped a similar fate. Over 40 merchant ships were lost.[16]

  1. ^Derham, William (1704–1705). "A Letter for the Reverend Mr William Derham, F. R. S. Containing His Observations concerning the Late Storm". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (The Royal Society) 24 (289): 1530–1534. Bibcode:1704RSPT...24.1530D. doi:10.1098/rstl.1704.0005. JSTOR 102921
  2. ^"A history of great British storms", The Guardian, March 10, 2008
  3. ^ abcdRennell, Tony. "Think this week's gales are bad? They're nothing compared to the storm that drowned Britain", Daily Mail, January 6, 2012
  4. ^Stephen Moss. 'Wild Hares and Hummingbirds. Square Peg. p. 32. ISBN 978-0224086721
  5. ^"Shipping Losses During Great Storm of 1703", Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
  6. ^In Plumptre, E. H. (1888) The Life of Bishop Ken – quoted by Martin Brayne, The Greatest Storm, 2002 – it is stated that a 'Storm' sermon endowed by a Mr Taylor was still being preached at Little Wild Street Congregational Church, London well into the nineteenth century.
  7. ^"The Great Storm", Inside Out, BBC, October 13, 2003
  8. ^Brown, Paul. "The Great Storm of 26 November 1703", The Guardian, November 21, 2010
  9. ^McKay, J. (2007-09-01). "Defoe's The Storm as a Model for Contemporary Reporting". In Keeble, Richard; Sharon, Wheeler. The Journalistic Imagination: Literary Journalists from Defoe to Capote and Carter (1 ed.). Routledge. pp. 15–28. ISBN 0-415-41724-4
  10. ^ abc"The Great Strom Project", Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society
  11. ^Wheeler, Dennis (2003). "The Great Storm of November 1703: A new look at the seamen's records". Weather58 (11): 419–427. Bibcode:2003Wthr...58..419W. doi:10.1256/wea.83.03
  12. ^Laker,J., "History of Deal", Deal, 1921, pp.252-3
  13. ^Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p167.
  14. ^Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8. OCLC 67375475
  15. ^Lamb, Hubert (1991-06-13). Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37522-3
  16. ^Jerrold, Walter (1907). Highways and Byways in Kent. London: Macmillan. pp. p142–43. 


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