Tornadoes in Britain : the 18th Century
A funnel cloud near Warrington, June 16, 1799, from a drawing ‘taken on the spot’.
The inhabitants of 18th century England recorded many dramatic tornadoes. They knew what they were, and what they could do, but were not sure what they should be called. Were they waterspouts, hurricanes, typhoons, or tornadoes?
The Elephant's Trunk
On November 26th, 1703, just before the Great Storm, the Rev. Joseph Ralston, of Bessels Leigh in Oxfordshire, was asked by a rustic to come and look at a "pillar in the air". The Reverend saw a 'spout' like an elephant's trunk hanging from the clouds and leaving a mark on the ground. It met and snapped an oak tree, demolished a barn, and sucked up the water from the cart ruts in the road. The Reverend thought that it was caused by a "circumgyration and condensing of the clouds".
One of the most powerful tornadoes of the 18th century left a zigzag path of destruction 12 miles long in nocturnal Sussex on May 20, 1729. Trees were swept away, buildings unroofed or wrecked, and mud and soil plastered over the ruins. Two dung carts disappeared. Richard Budgen, who investigated the storm and produced the first printed map of a tornado track, called it a Spout, a Hurricane, and a Tornado. See here
A 'moving meteor' on Deeping Fen, Lincolnshire, May 5, 1752, was less devastating but more visual. It began by "spouting out water to a considerable height…with a terrible noise". The whirl passed onto land, then lifted into the air, releasing a rain of straw, hay and stubble. The tornado, looking like a "pillar of smoak", then evaporated into a cloud. A hailstorm followed.
An 'astonishing phenomenon' at Great Malvern in Worcestershire on October 14, 1761, resembled a 'volcano', or a mass of 'prodigious thick smoke', with a sound like 100 forges at work at once. Leaves, sticks and dirt filled the vortex and "flew higher than the highest hills".
The Water Spout
On the evening of November 1, 1785, a 'water spout' was seen hanging from a dense cloud near the River Trent in Nottingham. Trees bent to the ground as the cloud passed over them. The cloud descended over the river, spray whirled up, and people on the bridge saw what they thought was a "column of thick smoke". It drew closer, and appeared as a black inverted whirling cone, making a rumbling noise. The cone ascended, but returned to earth half a mile away. Trees were uprooted and a barn wrecked; heavy rain fell, and the roar of the 'spout' caused terror and confusion. A 14-year old boy was carried over a hedge and set down unharmed.
The Whirling Clouds
Workers at a brick kiln at Saxham, Suffolk, saw a strange sight on the evening of July 31, 1786. From black whirling clouds in the southwest another cloud reached towards the earth, rising and falling. It made a sound like that of a fire roaring up a stove. But what was it? The workers watched the thing for several minutes as it drew closer, not knowing what it might be, but disliking the look of it. They decided to take shelter in a hut. The tornado lifted the roof off the hut, hurled the occupants in various directions, and departed, leaving a sulphurous smell. A nearby turnpike keeper saw the thing emerge from a wood and lift off the ground.
Great Falls of Mire
There were widespread thunderstorms in England on August 1, 1797. An 'alarming tornado' on Balsall Common in Warwickshire darkened its vortex with dung which had been laid in a field for manure. This delightful shower then rained down upon Kenilworth Chase, several miles away. Another tornado near Manchester unroofed houses, uprooted trees and carried off hayricks. It passed close to a ploughman, who clung onto his horses to resist the 'attraction' of the whirlwind.
Tornadoes in the 19th Century