to 1884 Back to
morning of April 22, 1884 the residents of the British Isles
something that they believed would never happen in their country - an
earthquake. Many people, even today, believe that the UK never has
earthquakes, indeed they are something that happens far away and to
other people. Not so. The country has seen a number of quakes
than 5 on the Richter
Scale since 1990. The 1884 quake was even stronger. Centred on
Essex, just outside Colchester, its effects were felt as far away as
North Yorkshire and Exeter as well as on the continent in Belgium.
The UK is actually affected by small quakes regularly. It is far from
stable. Its geology is, after all, extensively volcanic and
igneous. Granite (Lundy), marble (Purbeck) and basalt (Giant's
Causeway) are all rocks that have been formed by various
of the land. The whole mainland is also undergoing a movement called
isostatic bounce - a result of end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years
ago. The weight of ice on the north end of the landmass pushed it down
into the earth's crust and it is still recovering from having that
weight removed. Scotland is slowly rising but the south of England is
slowly falling at the same rate.
The 1884 quake, however, was possibly the strongest on record. Actual
numerical values were not assigned to earthquakes until the 1930s so it
is not known what the magnitude was but it was probably somewhere
between 6 and 7, given contemporary reports of the damage.
However, there is some evidence that many reports were
"hushed-up" or at least played down. Author Peter Haining, in his book*
about the disaster, says that it is possible
that Victorian England, at the height of its Empire, simply would not
accept that anything so "foreign" as an earthquake could possibly
happen in Her majesty's heartland.
There is no doubt that the event happened, however, and that it was
severe. Photographs exist of the damage caused throughout Essex. The
village of Wivenhoe was almost at the epicentre of the quake. Houses
along the quay on the River Colne took the brunt of the shock and most
lost their roofs; the Anchor public house was wrecked. The
Congregational Church in Colchester lost its steeple, the Bell Inn at
Old Heath was completely destroyed and huge cracks appeared across
Mersea Island. Postcards of wrecked churches, homes and pubs were
produced to raise money for the restoration fund.
In fact earthquakes are common in
England and the year 1750 was one of
the most active on record. That year England experienced a series of
earthquakes with two hitting London in the space of a month. The first,
on February 8, is thought to have reached 4 on the Richter Scale
month later, March 8, at 5.30 in the morning a scale 5 tremor hit the
Radical William Hone described the event: “It awoke people from their
sleep and frightened them out of their houses. A servant maid in
Charterhouse Square was thrown from her bed, and had her arm broken;
bells in several steeples were struck by the chime hammers; great
stones were thrown from the new spire of Westminster Abbey; dogs howled
in uncommon tones; and fish jumped half a yard above the water.”
They were only two of a number of quakes that year, including
Warrington in April, Spalding in August and Northampton in September.
(2002) The Great English Earthquake.
Robert Hale Ltd. London.