The Great Storm of 1703

At the beginning of the 18th century, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, had published a short work about the most terrible tempest to have hit the British Isles in history – according to him. By all accounts it does sound rather grim.

By coincidence, a much publicised storm is brewing outside my window, in Worthing, West Sussex in the early hours of October 2013. The media has gone to town to highlight the potential danger; even the Prime Minister, David Cameron has assured the country that all emergency measures are on standby in case the lights go out the rivers flood. The wind is certainly gusty as I write this, although the wheelie bins that we are forced to keep outside the frontage of our houses for easy access to the refuse collectors have yet to topple over and cascade down the streets.

Within in living memory is the so-called hurricane of 1987, which I am sad to confess I slept through soundly and only discovered the devastation the following day. For me, one of the terrible effects of that storm was the decimation of beech trees on that for two hundred years pinpointed the iron age hill fort at Chanctonbury Ring, north of Worthing on the South Downs. There were, however, deaths, fallen trees, smashed up cars and endless damage to property. The insurance companies were caught unawares and the claims plentifold.

The Great Storm of 1703 had no such warnings and lasted a week, from Wednesday 24th November to 2nd December. The first two days the weather grew dark and foreboding and the wind gusty. It wasn’t until two o’clock of the morning, says Defoe, that the full force of the tempest hit travelling in a South West direction. It continued all night for the first night until 5am and then picked up again from three in the afternoon on Saturday.

The coastal areas suffered pretty severely and London too. Defoe talks about the systematic damage done to property; titles and bricks spread across the streets, chimney stacks collapsing in large numbers, crashing down on their own houses and their neighbours houses; how many, ignoring the warnings or the howling tulmit outside, remained in their beds and were crushed to death by the chimney stacks. The merchants boats and navy ships were hastily brought into ports and habours across the land and lashed together as best they could. Those at sea were quite literally pushed along, accelerated to the nearest shelter or if they were heading out on a voyage were forced to retreat. One report says that 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, a section of the Thames just down from London Bridge. The famous bridge, Defoe says was amazingly unaffected and put forward the theory that the wind was sucked under the arches rather that smash into the sides of the buildings and houses that were at that time perched along the structure. Other houses in London didn’t get away with it quite so lightly.

The Wikipedia entry is interesting: 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, HMS Mary, and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 and 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 (John Rudyard was later contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site). The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000.

It would be interesting to produce a Bald Explorer programme based on the great storm and trace the route of the wind, the damage caused and the lives affected. My interest was initially aroused when researching for a novel I am writing in which I needed a fictional Spanish Galleon to become shipwrecked on the British south coast. Although I could make up a storm, I much prefer to find some real events in history and plot my story around that – besides, it gives such wonderful material, more than my simple brain could never have dreamt up.

The Bald Explorer is a self funded project, making and producing TV programmes that become broadcast on the not-for-profit Community Channel and on their Youtube Channel. If you would like to help and see more episodes produced, you can assist by making a donation to the special Paypal account – the donate button is on the right hand side of the Bald Explorer website. Thanks so much.

Spas of England

As you may be aware, I am currently making another long format episode of the Bald Explorer about the subject of water. Not any old water you that might find in your tap or down a well – this is Chalybeate spring water, stacked with iron and coloured with an orange tinge. There are quite a few springs up and down the country like this and many located in famous resorts – Bath, Epsom and Harrogate. The BE is interested in one discovered by a nobleman while convalescing at the beginning of the 1600s in an area we now call Royal Tunbridge Wells. A place where gentry and royalty came in large numbers to be seen and parade along the Pantiles at the height of the Georgian period.

In 1841, Augustus Granville published the second volume of his well researched book, The Spas of England which concentrated on his travels in the Midlands and South of that country. He was an eminent physician who had previously brought out a guide to the spas of Germany – a country renown for their love and fascination with health giving water.

Granville worked his way round the country, describing not only the facilities which the Spa towns had to offer, but also tit bits of information about the locality, eating places and hotels. He stayed at Tunbridge Wells for a short, but didn’t have too many good things to stay about it. On one occasion, when in Buxton, Derbyshire, staying at the Crescent hotel, a hugely popular and expensive mansion of a place, the general manageress asked him if he was the same A.B. Granville that authored the work on Spas of Germany to which he bashfully confessed he was. She lampooned immediately, nearly casting him asunder from her hotel – the reason she exclaimed was that by telling the readers of his book how marvelous it was in Germany, most of her wealthy customers had lost interest in the English Spa scene and had disappeared abroad – many never returned.

The work is a little out of date, of course, but aside from the information on spring water and health advice bathing in the sea, it is a jolly good read.

I am hoping to have the programme finished and delivered to the Community Channel by January 2014 and no doubt it will transmitted soon after.

The Bald Explorer is a self funded TV documentary series and if you have enjoyed the programmes, you help is always appreciated. You may donate, if you like, to help me cover the costs of production by using the Paypal button to the right hand side of the website. Thank you so much.

In Production… Chalybeate

In the next Bald Explorer programme, hopefully aired on the Community Channel in 2014, I am in search of the spring water of a Spa town in Kent. I am referring to Chalybeate of Tunbridge Wells – that’s pronounced ‘kal-eeb-ee-ot’ by the way, meaning iron water. I want to tell how the original orange coloured waters were discovered, by whom and how a fashionable resort arose from nothing at the beginning of the 17th century. Jason Reeve, my son Billy and myself have been stalking around the Kentish weald with camera and tripod, boom pole and microphone getting the facts (as far as they are known) onto digital media. I will be editing the footage and shaping it up into a TV programme fairly soon. There is still much, however, to do.

toad2Today, for example, I was over at an actor friend of mine’s abode shooting a short sequence depicting the eminent physician and Spa enthusiast, Augustus Granville, who wrote an entertaining book The Spas of England, published in 1841.  He wasn’t terribly impressed with the spring water or the resort when he visited at the beginning of the Victorian period, although to be fair to the town of Tunbridge Wells, it was a few years after its most fashionable period, the 18th Century. He bemoaned that few used the cold bath and that there was little mineral quality to the famous water. Nick Scahill, who collects all things Victorian, agreed very kindly to play the part of Granville.

The wells, named after the local medieval town of Tunbridge (now spelt Tonbridge and four miles to the north) are located in an area known as the Pantiles. It has nothing to do with the architectural titles you find on roof tops. These were small square clay fired titles baked in special pans and laid on a walkway in front of the spring head. Unfortunately, they have now gone, but the name lingers on, much to the confusion of visitors and no doubt some residents of the town.


I am hoping to film in the privately owned Pantiles area very soon and obtain an interview a Dipper (a lady in traditional dress who dishes out the water for tourists to taste) and record a conversation with the curator of the Tunbridge Wells museum about the fine Tunbridge Ware that became all the rage in 1700s.

Don’t forget, you can help make the Bald Explorer programmes happen by making a small donation via the special button on the right hand side of the website. The shows are completely self-funded for transmission on the Community Channel which is a not-for-profit TV station. If you do make a contribution, I will make sure you get to see a copy of the finished episode before it is broadcast. Thank you very much.