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History: The Great Storm of 1987

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Sketch of Pool Valley flooded in 1850

Other Great Storms

Brighton in its known history has suffered a number of severe weather events. The very wet winter of 1999/2000 saw the the Wellsbourne, Brighton's intermittent river 'spring' into life. Communities on the edge of the Downs were flooded, and the London Road ran like a river (well, at least, a stream) for some months.

I was told this report by a member of the council's emergency team. He entered a restaurant in Patcham Old Village, and heard the sound of gushing water. He traced the sound to a toilet, which had a head of water coming out of it one foot above the level of the toilet bowl! Such was the pressure of water in the flooded sewerage system.

On 17th July 1850 the town was hit by a ferocious thunder and lighting storm which though it lasted for under an hour turned the whole of Valley Gardens (from the Level to the Steine) into a shallow lake and flooded the basements of most of the houses in the lower part of the town. The water then exited to the sea via Pool Valley, and the buildings around the valley were flooded to a height of over 5 ft.

The days leading up to the storm had been very hot. On the day before dense sea fog had covered the town. And then around 6-30 pm on Thrusday, 17th. the storm broke: "Then came - suddenly, as like the explosion of a bomb-shell - one terrific clap of thunder, which seemed to shake the town to its foundations ..." (Brighton Herald).

The Great Storm of 1703

The 1987 storm is reckoned to have been the worst to affect southern England since 1703 - that is, not including the destructive storm surge that hit East Anglia in 1953.

In the storm of 1703 more than 8,000 people were killed - many at sea, and hundreds of ships were lost. As far as 17 miles inland cattle refused to eat grass which was burned and polluted with salt spray. In the Fens windmills caught fire from the friction caused by the excessive speed of their sails.

And here in Brighton the 'Lower Toun', the fisherman's quarters which were actually on the beach below the cliff, was washed away. One eighteenth century account lists the destruction as follows: "one hundred and thirteen tenements, shops, capstan-places, stake-places, and cottages" (1795). The 'Upper Toun' was also badly damaged. What remained of the Lower Toun was destroyed in another violent storm in 1705.

In 1704 Daniel Defoe wrote a ground-breaking piece of investigative journalism in his book, The Storm. Defoe published adverts in the newspapers of the time, and asked readers to write to him giving their accounts of what had happened. In this way he was able to accumulate information about the storm's impact from around the country.

Read Defoe's account of how the storm affected Brighton - click here

Marine Village = 21st Century Lower Town?

View of marina village showing harbour, flats, and cliff face in the background You will say there's no comparison between the modern structure of Brighton Marina and the hovels of the fishermen of the eighteenth century. And, of course, you're right.

But the marina village is below the cliff, and between the cliff and the sea. It could be a hard place to be, should it ever be the wrong time.

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