29 June, 2007

Wet wet wet! Early Modern floods....

With various parts of England currently bailing out after the recent storms and river surges (and more to come this weekend apparently), it seems appropriate to have a look back at how Britain's flood defences (or lack of them) fared in earlier times.

The "main event" in Early Modern times was the Great Flood of January 1607, depicted in the woodcut shown here. There are good features on this on the BBC Bristol and BBC Somerset sites. The latter has an atmospheric audio story of the 1607 flood ,which is best listened to with a howling gale outside and a glass of ale in hand. A tsunami-like surge up the Bristol Channel killed 2,000, mainly in Somerset.

An interesting source for historical flood events is the Chronology of British Hydrological Events, hosted by Dundee Univ. "Recent years have seen an increased awareness of the varaibility (sic) of hydrological behaviour"...a nice scientific understatement.

Anyway, the searchable database threw up these quotes from primary sources, Early Modern and earlier...

Hertfordshire, 1695: Ralph Thoresby, in his Diary writes:- 'May 17th, morning, rode by Puckeridge to Ware, where we had some showers which raised the washes from the road to the height that passengers from London that were upon the road swam and a poor higgler was drowned, which prevented our travelling for many hours, yet towards evening adventured over the meadows where we missed the deepest wash at Cheshunt, though we rode to the saddleskirts for a considerable way, but got safe to Waltham Cross.' "

London, 1668: on 23rd May, 1668, Samuel Pepys writes in his Diary: "About six in the morning took coach, and so away to bishops Stortford. The ways mighty full of water, so as hardly to be passed. "

Stratford-upon-Avon, 1588: "The worst flood recorded occurred on the 18th July, 1588, just before the Spanish Armada, when a sudden rise in the river, 'higher than ever yt was knowne by a yeard and a halfe and something more', carried away all the hay in the Avon valley, breaking both ends of Straford's bridge and leaving a trail of devastation all along the river course, from Warwick where houses were broken down to Welford and Bidford, with consequent loss of life and goods. According to a contemporary account the water rose a yard every hour from eight till four o'clock in the day, and it depicts in graphic detail the plight of the three men who, going over Clopton Bridge, 'when they cam to the midle of the Bridge they could not goe forwardes and then returned presently but they could not go backe for the watter was soe risen'." [Warwickshire Avon]
Source: Levi Fox (1953) The Borough Town of Stratford-upon-Avon

London, 1216: "It is recorded that in 1216 people have rowed through the Great Hall of Westminster whose floor lay covered in fish as the floods receded"
Source: http://www.riverthames.co.uk/


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