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The Great Storm of 1703 was the most severe storm or natural disaster ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britainmarker. It affected southern Englandmarker and the English Channelmarker in the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker. 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 Midlandsmarker.


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 Pevenseymarker and on the Goodwin Sandsmarker, HMS Stirling Castlemarker, HMS Northumberlandmarker and HMS Restorationmarker, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 - 15,000 lives were lost overall.

The first Eddystone Lighthousemarker 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 Forestmarker alone was 4,000.

On the Thames, around 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of Londonmarker, the section downstream from London Bridgemarker. HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chathammarker. HMS Association was blown from Harwichmarker to Gothenburgmarker in Swedenmarker before way could be made back to England.

In Londonmarker, the lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbeymarker and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St. James's Palacemarker to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof.

There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristolmarker.

At Wellsmarker, 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 Cathedralmarker.

Beliefs and response

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 for the next half century.


The Great Storm also coincided with the increase in English journalism, and was the first weather event to be a news story on a national scale. Special issue broadsheets were produced detailing damage to property and stories of people who had been killed.

Daniel Defoe produced his first book, The Storm, published in July 1704, in response to the calamity, calling it "the tempest that destroyed woods and forests all over England". "No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it," he wrote of it. Coastal towns such as Portsmouthmarker "looked as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces". He thought the destruction of the sovereign fleet was a punishment for their poor performance against the Catholic armies of Francemarker and Spainmarker during the first year of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Thirteen ships lost in the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy was badly affected, losing thirteen ships, and upwards of fifteen hundred seamen drowned.

  • The Restorationmarker, a third rate, Captain Emms, 387 men, on the Goodwin Sandsmarker; not one saved.
  • The Northumberlandmarker, a third rate, Captain Greenway, lost on the Goodwin Sands; all her company was lost, being 220 men, including twenty-four marines.
  • The Stirling Castlemarker, a third rate, Captain Johnson, on the Goodwin Sands, 70 men, of which four marine officers were saved, the rest were drowned, being 206.
  • The Marymarker, a fourth rate, Rear-admiral Beaumont, Captain Edward Hopson, on the Goodwin Sands, the captain and purser ashore; one man, whose name was Thomas Atkins, saved; the rest, to the number of 269 with the rear-admiral, drowned. The escape of this Atkins was very remarkable - He saw the rear-admiral, when the ship was breaking, get upon a piece of her quarter-deck, from which he was soon washed off; and about the same time, Atkins was tossed by a wave into the Stirling Castle, which sinking soon after, he was thrown the third man into her boat, by a wave that washed him from the wreck.
  • The Mortar-bomb, a fifth rate, Captain Raymond, on the Goodwin Sands; all her company lost, being 65.
  • The Eagle advice boat, a sixth rate, Captain Bostock, lost on the Coast of Sussex; all her company, being 45, saved.
  • The Resolution, a third rate, Captain Lisle, on the coast of Sussex; all her company, being 221, saved.
  • The Litchfield Prize, a fifth rate, Captain Chamberlain, on the coast of Sussex; all her company, being 108, saved.
  • The Newcastle, a fourth rate, Captain Carter, lost at Spitheadmarker. The carpenter and 39 men were saved, and the rest, being 193, drowned.
  • The Vesuvius fire-ship, a fifth rate, Captain Paddon, at Spithead; all her company, being 48, saved.
  • The Reserve, a fourth rate, Captain John Anderson, commander, lost at Yarmouth. The captain, the surgeon, the clerk, and 44 men saved; the rest of the crew drowned, being 175.
  • The Vanguard, a second rate, sunk in Chatham harbourmarker, with neither men nor guns in her.
  • The York, a fourth rate, Captain Smith, lost at Harwichmarker; all her men saved except four.

Lamb (1991) claimed 10,000 seamen were lost in one night, a far higher figure, about 1/3 of all the seamen in the British Navy.

See also


  1. BBC article - The Great Storm of 1703


Further reading

  • Lamb, H.H. and Frydendahl, Knud (1991). Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521375221
  • Laughton, Leonard George Carr and Heddon, V. (1927). Great Storms. London: Phillip Allan & Co.

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