The Great Storm of 1703 was the most severe storm or natural disaster ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britain. It affected southern England and the English Channel in the Kingdom of Great Britain. A 120-mph (193-km/h) “perfect hurricane”, it started on 24 November, and did not die down until 2 December 1703 (Old Style).
Observers at the time recorded barometric readings as low as 973 millibars (measured by William Derham in South Essex), but it has been suggested that the storm may have deepened to 950 millibars over the Midlands.
At sea, many ships (many returning from helping the King of Spain fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession) were wrecked, including HMS Resolution at Pevensey and on the Goodwin Sands, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 – 15,000 lives were lost overall. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed on 27 November 1703 (Old Style), killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley. The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000.
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. HMS Association was blown from Harwich to Gothenburg in Sweden before way could be made back to England.
In London, 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.
There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristol. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was killed when two chimneystacks in the palace fell on the bishop and his wife, asleep in bed. 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.
A recently discovered contemporary diary written by a witness in rural Worcestershire describes in richly descriptive language the damaging emotional and psychological effects of the storm. 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.
Following the storm’s destruction of the first Eddystone Lighthouse (in which the first architect was lost), John Rudyard was contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site.
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