River Wissey Lovell Fuller


October 2003

Earthquakes happen abroad, don't they? Well not always, it seems. Here is an item about an earthquake nearer to home!


In the main earthquakes are something that happens in other countries aren't they. We generally sit in front of our televisions with feelings of deep sympathy for those unfortunate people that have suffered the awful consequences of these natural disasters. We may feel moved to contribute towards a disaster fund, but our feelings of sympathy are mixed with a certain degree of complacency and thankfulness that it doesn't happen here.

Well it does! In the last thousand years there has been at least 56 tremors recorded in the UK, one every eighteen years on average. Admittedly most of these have been minor, but some have been sufficiently violent to cause structural damage to buildings. In the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in particular there were several fairly major tremors resulting in significant damage to buildings and some deaths and injuries due to falling masonry. There was even more activity in the nineteenth century. There were two notable tremors in Scotland early on in the century but in 1884 there was a series of tremors. At 9.20 in the morning on April 22 these tremors culminated in the most destructive earthquake ever recorded in England.

The earthquake was centred on the area just to the south of Colchester, but was felt quite strongly in London. It was felt as far west as Exeter and beyond, and as far north asYork and Cheshire. In the area most effected the quake appeared to take the form of a wave motion that travelled through the ground, spreading out from the centre. The amplitude and speed of the wave were not measured but the number of reports of the phenomenon are such that there can be little doubt of its existence.

The village nearest the centre was Wivenhoe and an eyewitness on a large boat in the Colne estuary witnessed the wave pass through the village, seeing the buildings rise and fall, the next instant he was knocked off his feet by a large wave of water which severely rocked his boat. A sailor on the same boat saw the roof of his own house collapse into the rooms below. In Wivenhoe walls cracked, windows were broken, slates sent crashing, and chimneys tumbling. One young man in a large house had just stepped out of his bath when a chimney weighing a ton crashed into it; in another house the burning coals in the fireplace were thrown into the room and set the house on fire. The local chapel was seriously damaged, one witness said "the church appeared to go over several degrees to the South-East and then back again to the North-West, then the top of the tower came down with a crash, at the same time the huge chimney of the Grosvenor Hotel also came down. Looking in all directions I saw chimneys, walls and houses coming down."

Whilst Wivenhoe suffered worst, all the other villages and towns in the area suffered badly. In Colchester slates fell from roofs, chimneys fell and walls cracked; half the massive spire of the Lion Walk Congregational Church plunged partly into the church and partly into the road, some of the heavier pieces crashed through into the basement. On Mersea Island cracks and fissures ran across the ground at lightning speed, most were only a few inches wide but the worst was at least one foot wide and, according to an eye witness, it was such that a small person or a child could have fallen in. Many houses and cottages on the island were wrecked, including the school, but once again it was the church, St Andrews, the village church at Lagenhoe, that suffered most. Tons of stonework and masonry crashed through the roof, practically destroying the nave, tiles were stripped from the roof and walls were cracked. At the same time the chimney of The Crown public house fell through the roof and destroyed the upper floors.

In the House of Commons in London Members were jolted against the walls as "all the rooms of the building were violently shaken". Most buildings in the metropolis suffered similarly. A wave about 3ft high was seen to travel up the Thames, swamping small boats.

In view of the very large number of chimneys, church steeples and roof tiles that fell in south-east Essex it is truly remarkable that no fatalities were recorded, although it is possible that there were some deaths indirectly attributable to the earthquake. Nevertheless it is remarkable and it may be that the absence of serious casualties would explain why such a serious earthquake received such little attention and is largely forgotten.

The following is an extract from a poem 'The Earthquake' written by Caroline Mary Prior of Colchester soon after the event which gives some indication of how it was viewed by the people of Colchester at the time:

Eighteen-hundred and eighty-four.

Oh most eventful year!

We never felt so weak before,

And never knew such fear.

Lo, on one Tuesday morning bright,

A visitation came,

Our hearts were seized with fright,

For 'Earthquake' was it name.

At twenty minutes, 'twas past nine,

The wondrous trembling came;

We never shall forget the time-

Bells rang, clocks dumb became.

Great noises overhead were heard,

Loud rumblings underground;

Our houses rocked, the earth was stirred,

We felt awe most profound.

And from the church at Lion Walk

The spire fell to the ground;

And in its fall of love did talk

That none was hurt around.

Fond mothers of their children thought

(Before themselves) about;

Their infants in their arms they caught,

And then with them rushed out.

Meanwhile the chimneys and the slates

Were falling ev'ry way;

Though people were outside their gates,

No one was hurt that day.

Not only dear old Colchester,

But we found Wivenhoe

Was more than we a sufferer,

And Church at Langenhoe.

Peldon and Mersea felt its power;

Abberton, Fingringhoe;

Of bricks and tiles had quite a shower-

They of the earthquake know.

A cup and saucer were knocked out

Of a poor woman's hand

Bricks from a chimney fell about

The spot where she did stand.

A man fetched water from a well

A brick fell in his pail;

The man escaped God's care to tell

Of his poor creature frail.

Dear friends, my time would fail to tell

All the hair-breadth escapes.

Our God's love is, we know full well,

Better than wine from grapes.

Source, 'The Great English Earthquake' by Peter Haining

Ron Watts


Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.

Thomas Edison, US Inventor

Ron Watts

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