Looking back at the Great Storm

When residents of Tenterden and local communities around Kent drew back their curtains one October morning in 1987, many were confronted by scenes of destruction caused by the Great Storm.

Thirty three years ago this week, Kent and the South East was hit by the worst storm to hit for 300 years.

Lives were lost

During the night of 15th-16th October 1987, hurricane-force winds raging up to 120mph did widespread damage to homes, buildings and vehicles across the county. In just a few hours the storm brought down phone lines, cut off electricity and gas supplies, and blocked miles of train lines and roads.

And the most tragic consequence was that 18 people in England sadly lost their lives. Several of these were in Kent, including Bob Homewood from Biddenden, and Richard Ashlin from Staplehurst. It’s thought that more people would have died if the winds had been at their highest during the day.

The human toll and material damage in France was also huge, and a Sealink cross-channel ferry was blown ashore in Folkestone.

Famous trees of Kent devastated

Of course, the storm flattened around 15 million trees, many of which had been standing for centuries. The most meaningful example of this was at The Vine cricket ground in the town of Sevenoaks.

Six out of the seven ancient oak trees which apparently had given the town its name came down.

At nearby Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s former home, thousands of trees were flattened. And apparently Knole Park lost over 70% of its trees, creating a scene of destruction rarely seen.

More than heavy wind

Modern satellite technology means that today’s weather forecasting is highly sophisticated. But the early warning systems weren’t quite as accurate in 1987, and Kent residents had gone to bed with just the expectation of ‘heavy wind’ overnight.

And for anyone tuning into the BBC weather forecast before the storm, they watched meterologist Michael Fish dismiss one viewer’s worries with the words: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”

But of course the natural disaster that unfolded overnight was so much more – causing grief, loss and devastation for local communities. Just like the TV weatherman’s words won’t be forgotten, The Great Storm and the scenes of destruction will stay in the memory of many Kent residents for years to come.

Milroy House is a beautiful Georgian building in the centre of Tenterden and has survived throughout the centuries. It is now provides office suites for rent – more information here.

Inspectors survey the damage caused by the Great Storm