St James 
West Tilbury, Essex    
© Nigel Anderson - St James Trust

The Great Storm

The Great Storm of 1703 was the most severe storm or natural disaster ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britain with between 8,000 and 15,000 lives being lost. The storm affected southern England and the English Channel on the 26-27 November (December 7-8 in the modern calendar), sinking ships and destroying land and buildings. The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000. In Devon the first Eddystone Lighthouse was destroyed, killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley. On the Thames, around 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, (downstream from London Bridge) while HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chatham. In London, the lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St James's Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristol, with hundreds of people drowning in flooding on the Somerset Levels, along with thousands of sheep and cattle, One ship was later found 15 miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was killed when two chimney stacks 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 Cathedral. Major damage also occurred to the south-west tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.  
 Daniel Defoe (famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe) ran a tile and brick factory in what is now Tilbury from 1696, while living in the parish of Chadwell St Mary. It is therefore possible that he was in the vicinity of West Tilbury when he witnessed the Great Storm (a week after his release from Newgate prison, where he had been imprisoned for seditious libel).   The event became the subject of Defoe's The Storm (1704), a collection of witness accounts of the tempest, one of the world's first examples of modern journalism. Defoe portrays the storm as: "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," Defoe further describes the aftermath of the incident: “The streets lay so covered with tiles and slates from the tops of the houses  that all the tiles in 50 miles round would be able to repair but a small part of it.”

Daniel Defoe