The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Friday, July 26, 2019

The Ingatestone Storm of June 24th 1897

Summer storms in Essex can be remarkably destructive, but when such a storm destroys pantile roofs with hailstones larger than hens eggs, kills pigeons, and snaps trees in half, then one can certainly agree that such a storm is remarkable. A letter in 'Nature' in July 1897 gives a first-hand account of the damage such a storm can cause.

I AM doubtful if an English thunderstorm has ever assumed the proportions that one reached here on Thursday last. Although there is nothing new under the sun, yet there is a good deal new to each individual, and the following facts were not looked on as possibilities by me before I witnessed them on that day.
The 24th was an intensely hot day, and after much distant thunder the storm broke on us about 2.45 p.m. (while hay-making was in full swing) from the north-west. After about ten minutes of the heaviest rain, hail began to fall, and soon a terrific hurricane, accompanied by hailstones larger than hens' eggs (mixed in with others of all sizes downwards), came on and lasted for five minutes, during which most of the damage was done. After this the storm gradually abated, and in something over half-an-hour had passed away.
The scene was quite unique and winter-like. The ground was quite white, and in many places the hail had drifted to a foot deep, and every ditch and depression in the ground was full of water and hail. Every window on the north-west sides of the houses and cottages was destitute of glass—not merely broken, but the whole driven through. Two greenhouses were completely smashed, only one pane in some miraculous way having escaped on the windward side. A bird-cage hanging in a window was demolished, and the bird found in a chair on its back under a bit of glass. Rooks and pigeons were lying about the fields dead and dying, and one of my men secured enough for a rook pie next day. Also we picked up next day some half-dozen small birds while turning over about eight acres of hay.
A stable roof covered by pantiles half-an-inch thick had half the tiles broken into quite small pieces, and has ihe appearance of having been shot at by rifles. Several chimney stacks had been blown on to the roofs, and in one case close by, through the house to the ground. All the farm buildings and cottages were unroofed more or less.
Trees had fallen in quantity, either torn up by the roots or broken oft in the middle. Branches had been twisted off everywhere and hardly a leaf remained ; the neighbouring common was beaten down as if an army had stampeded over it.
The crops presented a curious and melancholy sight. The grass intended for hay looked as if a steam roller had been over it. The oats had also been not only beaten flat, but broken off short, and reduced to a sort of long chaff; in some cases the ends of a piece of stem stuck up, while the middle had
been driven into the ground by a hailstone.
The mown ground and the lawn were indented to the depth of from one to two inches all over, much as if a flock of sheep had passed over them. This was, of course, also seen on the flower-beds and mangold fields. This last crop has also been destroyed to the extent of two-thirds, every leaf broken off, and often the root in two pieces.
A hedge at right angles to the storm and some wall fruit were completely stripped of leaves and twigs, and left with "bare poles" nearly half denuded of bark ; not a vegetable remains in the garden.
Luckily the area of greatest severity was very small and not in the centre of the storm. The advancing front of the worst part seems to have been only about a mile in width, and to have spent its greatest energy after advancing a like distance.
The hailstones were in appearance a conglomerate of smaller ones cemented together with ice, and generally the centre stone was bigger than (he others. They were much collected together in corners, and one was measured, twenty-four hours after the storm, four and a half inches round.
Sheffield Neave.
Ingatestone, June 28 1897


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