Being exposed to the full force of the sea and winds, Brighton has always copped its share of storms.
By a recent meteorological innovation, storms are now named alphabetically, with Desmond lashing us recently. (We await Eva, Frank, Gertrude.)
Being exposed to the full force of the sea and winds, Brighton has always copped its share of storms, including both the historical Great Storms. According to Daniel Defoe, the first Great Storm, in November 1703, devastated the town. “The violence of the wind stript a great many houses, turned up the leads off the church, overthrew two windmills, and laid them flat on the ground, the town in general (upon the approach of daylight) looking as if it had been bombarded.” Many ships were lost, or blown as far as Holland.
Two years later, a second storm completed the destruction, obliterating under shingle all the remaining dwellings below the cliff. In February 1775, high winds and high tides resulted in the gun-battery being washed away, the water going so high it poured down one house’s chimney. Similar conditions in September 1785 resulted in the loss of any boats not dragged into town in time. In the morning of July 1797 “there was the greatest storm ever remembered by the oldest of our inhabitants”, when three-inch hailstones rained down, breaking skylights and windows. “The cucumber-frames in Hicks’s gardens, with his hot-houses, were entirely smashed.”
In November 1807 a “tremendous gale” blew off roofs and demolished unfinished houses. “The destruction of glass has been beyond all precedent great. Several houses in St James’s Street had each from twenty to thirty panes demolished.”
A boat carrying 40,000 herrings sank off Shoreham, with the loss of its crew; 10,000 herrings later washed up at Rottingdean, being “taken up by the inhabitants there”. The Chain Pier, opened in 1823, suffered repeatedly from storms. The toll-house was swept away in November 1824; the pier was battered by mountainous seas in December 1828; in October 1833 it was struck by lightning, causing a fire that gutted large sections; and in November 1836 further serious damage occurred. The pier was finally destroyed by a storm in December 1896.
In November 1837, Charles Dickens, staying at the Old Ship, reported: “On Wednesday night it blew a perfect hurricane, knocking down shutters, carrying people off their legs, blowing the fires out, and causing universal consternation. The air was for some hours darkened with a shower of black hats (second hand) which are supposed to have blown off the heads of unwary passengers in remote parts of the town, and have been industriously picked up by the fishermen.”
In July 1850 “a storm of lightning, thunder and rain of almost unexampled violence broke over Brighton”, turning the Level to a lake, and causing Pool Valley (so called for good reason) to be flooded, not for the first time, to a depth of 5 feet. Creak’s baths, Strong’s painter’s shop, an adjoining carpenter’s shop, and the Duke of Wellington inn were all inundated, the manager of the latter preserving only “his cash box and account books”. Boats were used to rescue residents and salvage floating goods.
In June 1860 a French ship, the Atlantique, was wrecked in a gale “on the beach at the back of the Albion Hotel, carrying away part of the groyne, and the sea began to beat furiously over her”. A later shipwreck was that of the Greek-registered Athina B in January 1980, laden with pumice, blown onto the Kemptown beach in January 1980 during a force-8 gale.
As for the second Great Storm, in October 1987, that blew down hundreds of trees all over the city, hurled part of a minaret from the Pavilion roof into the Music room, smashed windows and roofs, and caused a colossal mudslide into Rottingdean’s High Street.