Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1703, Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed in The Great Storm.

The Great Storm of 1703, thought at the time to be retribution sent by God, was a natural disaster that not only destroyed buildings thought to be indestructible, but claimed 8,000 lives and wrecked the shipping industry.

The Great Storm of 1703 was the most severe gale ever recorded in Britain. It was caused by extreme low air pressure in southern England which drew the waters of the Atlantic like a magnet into the English Channel.  The hurricane force winds stated on 24th November 1703, and did not subside until 2nd December. Some meteorologists had expressed the view that The Great Storm was in fact a tsunami, but this can be contradicted by contemporary barometric readings, as taken by the Reverend William Derham, as low as 973 millibars.

The storm took everyone by surprise. At sea, many Royal Navy ships were wrecked. In the New Forest, 4,000 oak trees were blown down, and in the towns buildings collapsed completely and the streets were filled with fallen masonry. Westminster Abbey had the lead ripped from its roof, and Queen Anne had to take shelter in the cellars of her palace as masonry collapsed. The Bishop of Bath and Wells was flattened by a falling chimney whilst he slept. The storm climaxed on 27th November, when Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed. Its builder, Henry Winstanley, was in residence, completing additions to the structure. He had previously bragged that he wished he could be present for ‘the greatest storm that ever blew under the face of heaven’, to see his project withstand the storm. After the storm had abated, not even a stanchion of the lighthouse was left standing, and Winstanley’s body was never recovered.

The writer, Daniel Defoe, toured the devastated area, to report for his broadsheet. He wrote ‘No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it’.  He described Portsmouth and other coastal towns ‘as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces’. Defoe himself almost died in a London street, when a chimneystack nose-dived to the ground within inches of him. He describes how 700 ships were heaped together on the Thames, downstream from London Bridge, and how a Royal Navy ship, HMS Association was blown from the Thames Estuary to Gothenburg.

The storm was considered to represent the anger of God, for what Defoe called ‘the crying sins of this nation’, meaning specifically the failure of the navy to make any progress in the war with France. The queen issued a proclamation for a national day of fast on 19th January 1704, to beseech God to forbear from sending another greater storm.

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