West, Ian. M. 2019. Chesil Beach: Storms and Floods. Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England. Internet site: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/chestorm.htm. Version: 16th March 2019.
Chesil Beach (Chesil Bank): Storms and Floods
Ian West,
Romsey, Hampshire

and Visiting Scientist at:
Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences,
Southampton University
Website hosted by courtesy of iSolutions, Southampton University
Website archived at the British Library
With additional photographs by Alan Holiday.

|Home and List of Contents |Chesil Beach - General |Chesil Beach magnetite |Chesil Beach geological bibliography |Fleet Lagoon |Hurst Spit - comparable shingle bank |Portland - General |Portland Bill |Portland Fossils |Portland Quarries |Portland - Mutton Cove and West Cliffs |Portland Dinosaur footprints |Portland Harbour |Portland Bibliography |Bridport Field Guide | |Hurst Castle Spit| |Erosion History of Barton, Highcliffe and Christchurch Bay

- Selected external links: | Chesil Beach Nature Reserve and Chesil Beach Centre | Portland (Dorset County Council) |

Click here for the full LIST OF WEBPAGES

(You can download this educational site to SurfOffline or similar software to keep an offline copy, but note that updating of the live version takes place periodically.)

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Chesil Beach and Portland Field Guides ---

Chesil Beach -Introduction Page
Chesil Beach - Storms and Sea Defences (this webpage)
Chesil Beach Pebbles
Chesil Beach - Magnetite Pebbles (lodestone) from a Shipwreck
Isle of Portland - Introduction
Isle of Portland - Portland Bill
Portland Harbour Field Guide
Isle of Portland - Withies Croft Quarry
Isle of Portland - Dinosaur Footprints
Isle of Portland - Bibliography
The Fleet Lagoon

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"Twern't a sea - not a bit of it -
twer the great sea hisself rose up level like
and come on right over the ridge and all,
like nothing in this world"


Eyewitness to the 1824 Storm Surge over the Chesil Bank at Fleet (Barnes and Legg, 1976)

An overview of Portland Harbour, Dorset, behind the Chesil Beach, 2012

A storm on the Chesil Beach, as seen at Chesil Cove, Dorset, 2nd December 2007

Impact on the Chesil Beach, Dorset, of waves from the storm of 14th November 2009, photo by Alan Holiday

Storm waves breaking on the Chesil Beach, Dorset, at low tide, 14th March, 2019, seen at the start of field trip with Anna Best

A turbulent sea on the Chesil Beach, Dorset, 31 December 2006, with much plastic debris washed up

Storm on Chesil Beach, 1976

English Channel Hurricane of November 1824 - Map showing the effects on Devon, Dorset and Hampshire


Rescue of a resident from the sea flood at Chiswell, behind the Chesil Bank, Isle of Portland, Dorset in February, 1978, by the police with a boat; someone else waits at a window


Chesil Beach and Portland Field Guides ---

Chesil Beach -Introduction Page
Chesil Beach - Storms and Floods
Chesil Beach - Pebbles
Chesil Beach - Magnetite from Shipwreck
Chesil Beach - Bibliography
Isle of Portland - General
Isle of Portland - Portland Bill
Isle of Portland - Withies Croft Quarry
Isle of Portland - Bibliography


1824 storm
1868 tsunami?
1924 flooding
1954 flooding
1976 erosion
1979 floods
breaching of the beach?
breaking through the beach?
Bridport flooding
Burton Bradstock flooding
flooding - Burton Bradstock
imbrication of pebbles
Leland in 1546
mud volcano
seawater springs
springs of seawater
Storm 1824
Tsunami in 1868?


The Chesil Beach or Chesil Bank is a major shingle beach with a crest attaining 14m above sea-level at the Portland end. Unlike most English Channel beaches this great bank faces the waves coming in from the southwest, straight from the Atlantic Ocean, with a fetch extending to the Carribean or the northern part of South America. Occasionally exceptional wave systems develop in the Atlantic and huge waves hit the beach overtopping it and supplying enormous volumes of flood water to the low ground behind. It is not known as to whether it has ever been overtopped by a true tsunami, and most huge waves seem to be associated with storms either in the English Channel or further out in the Atlantic. The beach is effectively a dam against a stormy sea and prevents most waves from attaching the land behind. On the rare occasions when the beach is overtopped, though, the effect is like the overtopping of a dam, and can be serious, if not disastrous. A brief account is given here of records of storm effects on the beach and of recent sea-defences and drainage channel intended to reduce overtopping and when it happens alleviate its worst effects.

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(and including some storm records of other areas that might be relevant)

For more historic coastal information see:

History of Coast Erosion at Barton, Highcliffe and Christchurch Bay, (with a chronological record).

Hurst Spit, Hampshire, with a record of historic storm effects

Hengistbury Head and Mudeford Spit, with a record of erosional history


A listing of the major storms that are known to affected the Chesil Beach and other parts of the central to western English Channel are given below. This is not intended primarily as a meteorological record but is given to try to relate specific erosional or accretional coastal activities to weather events. It includes more storms than are known to have produced flooding or damage at the Chesil Beach but is purposely intended to cover the subject as comprehensively as possible so as not to miss some event of importance. Obviously some significant storms will have been missed and some gaps will be filled when information is available.

For a serious meteorological study of storms affecting the British Isles in chronological order see Lamb (2005) - Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isle and Northwest Europe. Unfortunately this excellent catalogue of weather maps and detailed information places emphasis on the North Sea rather than the central to western English Channel, which concerns us here.

See also records of storms and sea damage at the western end of the Chesil Beach at West Bay, Bridport. In addition storm and erosional activity at Lyme Regis is of interest, especially since there is an old record of an earthquake and a small tsunami at the town.

Most of the Chesil Beach events listed below have a source reference associated and this should be checked for confirmation by researchers or other serious users. Where there are dates without detail or reference, these are from Williams (1992), page 10, and are not clearly referenced in that report. They may be a compilation from Arkell (1947; 1954); Gibbs (1982) ; and "University Southampton, Geography Department", the mention of which does not specify a particular individual. Many of these have not been confirmed by the present author, but may be discovered in due course from a literature search. Should you find errors in this listing please inform me by email.

The interpretation of the seriousness of the particular events is only subjective and may be wrong. An effort needs to be made to identify catastrophic events as opposed to merely major floods or storms.

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566 - Great Storm in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire

".. a great storm, which in the year 566 A.D., visited the coasts of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, doing serious damage, of which we have no details." ( New Shoreham - By Burton Green). There may be no information regarding Dorset.

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1014 - "The Great Sea Flood" - A Storm Surge or a Tsunami?

"This year, on the eve of St. Michael's day, came the great sea-flood, which spread wide over this land, and ran so far up as it never did before, overwhelming many towns, and an innumerable multitude of people."

( The Anglo Saxon Chronicles ; The Online Medieval and Classical Library, Berkeley Digital Library.)

"St. Michael's Day is celebrated in the Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches on September 29th, and in the Greek church on November 8. The different dates have to do with changes from the Roman to the Julian and Gregorian calendars." ( The Mystery of St. Michael's Day, Amish Country News.) A September date means that an Atlantic hurricane is a possible cause, although, of course, a tsunami could happen at any date.

"The earliest recorded landslides in Portland are for 1014 when 'great areas of the Portland Cliffs' were destroyed by the sea exposing large areas of stone which formed the first quarries." (Williams, 1992). No reference was given but this is a presumably a reference to the Great Sea Flood. If this is correct then the major scouring event by the sea is of particular interest.

See also the following note by Wallace (1990) in his fig. 2 : "Great Sea Flood of 1014 devastates the South Coast. In London high tides rise above Roman wharf and undercut Roman wall behind." Wallace (1990) on p.16 comments that "Old Selsey was one of the 'many town washed away' by the Great Sea Flood, and finally abandoned after the earthquake of 1048. Thereafter sea-level probably stabilised or even fell slightly, in accordance with Fairbridge's Eustatic Sea Level Curve and London archaelogical evidence."

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1048 - Earthquake

There was an earthquake apparently throughout England.

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13th Century - Mid to Late - Storms at Dungeness

Dungeness area - "This switch to a more defensive mode of land management records the start of a period of renewed flooding of the back-barrier area which was aggravated by the major storms of the middle and later 13th century AD." (Long, Waller and Platter, 2006).

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1275 Major Earthquake - Southern England

The following is summarised from the historical records of the British Geological Survey.
See: BGS - British Earthquakes - Historical Listing.

11 September 1275 - Southern England:
General reports that damage was widespread and specific mention of one church, in this case St Michael's on the Tor, at Glastonbury, which was destroyed and subsequently rebuilt. Beyond that, the earthquake was felt at London, Canterbury and Winchester, and in Wales. Houses and churches in many places in England were thrown down suggests a maximum intensity greater than 7 MSK. It is also reported by one source (Annales Oseneia) that people were killed. This is the only contemporary report of earthquake fatalities in Britain before 1580. Possibly the epicentre was in the Portsmouth/Chichester area (S coast of England); such a location would agree well with the limited data available.

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1320 Hurricane (?) Destruction at Lyme Regis

There was a "tongue of land", at Lyme Regis town that extended into the sea from Cobb Gate and which was the original port, before the facilities were moved westward to the Cobb. There were warehouses and a quay on this promontory. It was destroyed in this great storm. All was washed away and the loss included 70 dwelling houses Legg (1999). This is certain to have had some effect on the Chesil Beach but I have not found any information on this.

This level of destruction of property on a coast which was much less developed than in 1824 suggests that this was indeed an 1824-type hurricane. Wallace (1999) suggested that from 1250 to 1425 there was a rapid rise in sea-level and tidal maximum causing great land loss along the South Coast of England and in the Netherlands.

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1366 Very Rapid Coast Erosion at Highcliffe, Christchurch Bay

To judge from the following historical record in Samuel (undated), there does indeed seem to have been great land loss in the 14th century, as mentioned above. At Highcliffe, adjacent to the Chewton Bunny, Christchurch priory provided 40 acres compensation for land loss to local villeins. The loss must have been at least 40 acres within an easily memorable time. An acre is about 4000 square metres. If a strip 2 acres wide and 20 acres long was lost then the erosion would have been about 126 metres landward. If the strip was one acre wide and 40 acres long then the erosion would have been about 63 metres. These would be minimum figures. If the time was say 10 years then the erosion rate would have been at least 6 metres per annum, which is about 6 times the figure for the maximum erosion rate in Christchurch Bay in recent times. It could have been more than this.

A summary of the information is quoted below. The full document is a manuscript in the British Library - T16, part II, Folio 38a. It is in Latin, but a historian might be able to obtain from it a clearer picture of the ravages of the sea at that time.

[Because of major loss of land around Highcliffe by coastal erosion of Barton Clay -] "Christchurch Priory has granted its villeins of South Chewton forty acres in lots to the west of Chewton Mill in the thirty-first year of King Edward's reign (1366), in return for which the men have paid two marks as entry fee and are renting each acre at two-pence payable annually at the Feast of St. Giles: therefore they are not to be charged because of these acres, but neither are they to be excused from services which they did before this present concession; they may never claim compensation from the Priory for any of their land waste by the sea, nor relief from gifts previously owing by custom to the Priory: and if it is necessary to move their homes owing to marine devastation the men agree to rebuild at their own expense on the forty acres.

In another region, the Norfolk Broads were peat (turbary) diggings abandonned by the end of the 14th century because of increased flooding resulting from a rise in sea-level (Lambert, J. et al. 1960)

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1372 - Storm Destruction at Lyme Regis

The Cobb was completely destroyed by a savage storm that damaged much of the town (Clarke, 2000).

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1373 - Hurricane Destruction at Lyme Regis

At Lyme Regis 77 tenements were destroyed or ruined. There was great damage to the Cobb and 15 ships were sunk, in addition to 40 fishing boats (Clarke, 2000). This storm, with sinking of ships and destruction of houses, seems to have been somewhat similar to the 1824 "Great Gale" or hurricane. It might have been on the same scale.

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1377 - Storm devastated Lyme Regis

Peter Lacey (2011) Ebb and Flow; The Story of Maritime Lyme Regis, p. 21. "Turning again to Fowles, he speculates 'there may have been headlands both east and west of the town.' What we can state with certainty is that in 1377 a storm devastated teh the town, sweeping those parts of it nearest the sea away. The storm destroyed the heart of Lyme's maritime development which was probably centred around the mouth of the river." [Was this a different event from the 1373 hurricane mentioned above, or the same one, with some uncertainty about the date.

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1481 Storm Surge at Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis was wasted by tides and overflowing of the sea - i.e. a storm surge. The first Cobb (the harbour on the west side of the town) was destroyed Legg, 1999 . There seems to be no record regarding the Chesil Beach but there is likely to have been some major effect. Leland writing in 1546 speaks of the south-eastern winds breaking through the bank and Camden, in 1590, says the the Chesil Beach 'when the south wind rises, gives and commonly cleaves asunder' (Arkell, 1947). It is not known whether these old accounts have any relation to the 1481 storm but it is just possible.

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1546 - Leland's Description of the Chesil Beach

" This arm (viz. that runneth up by the right hand of Waymouth Haven to Portland Passage, see Waymouth) going up from the Strait of Trajictus, and is of good bredth, and so se goith up to Abbates-Byri, about a vij. miles of, where is a litle fresh water resorting to the se. A little above Abbates-Byri is the head or point of the Chisil, lying Northe Weste, and from thens streach up 7 miles, as a maine narow banke by a right lin on to South Est and ther buttith on Portland, scant a quarter of a mile above the new castall in Portland. The nature of this bank of Chisil is such, that as often as the wind blowith strene at South Est so often the se betith it, and losith the bank and breakith through it. So that if this might continually blow there, this bank should soon be beaten away and the se fully enter and devide Portland, making it an isle, as surely in tymes past it hath beene, as far as I can by any conjecture gather. But as much as the South Est wind dooth bete and breke off this Chiselle bank, so much doth the North West wynd again socor, strength and augmentith. On the farthest point of the Trajectus into Portland, comming from Waymouth, is a point of land like a causey al of pible and sand, cast up by the rages of the se. Wheron I went scant a mile, to the lowest part of the rotes of the high ground of Portland, wher a late a right strong and magnificent castel is builded at this causey end. And from this castelle to the very South Est point of the Chisil, is but a little way: and the arme of the se that goith up to Abbates-Byri, gulfith in bytwixt the South Est point of the Chisel and the castelle."

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1606 - Sea-Flooding in the Bristol Channel Area - Tsunami?

It is not known whether this affected the Chesil Beach. Information is provided here in case there is some record.

A news item refers to a January 1607 flood, but as noted below it was probably in 1606.

"520 sq km of land in south Wales and south west England were covered by water. This great sea-flood in the Bristol Channel area was thought to have been caused by high tides and severe storms. A tsunami is now considered to have been a possible cause" (BBC News on the internet, 4 April 2005 - Tsunami theory of flood disaster. ).

However, this may not be correct. Please see: TW - Blog Website which is useful in not only providing a criticism of the tsunami theory but also gives the following quotation:

"But the yeere 1606, the fourth of K (King) James, the ryver of Severn rose upon a sodeyn Tuesday mornyng the 20 of January beyng the full pryme day and hyghest tyde after the change of the moone by reason of a myghty strong western wynd. So that from Mynhead to Slymbryge the lowe groundes alongst the ryver Severne were that tuornyng tyde overflowen, and in Saltmarsh many howses overthrowne, sundry Chrystyans drowned, hundreds of rudder cattell and horses peryshed, and thowsandes of sheep and lambs lost. Unspeakable was the spoyle and losse on both sydes the ryver. [..snip..] The salt water was in Rednyng in Sansoms new chamber to the upper stepp save twoo, and in Hobbes house syx foote hyghe. In Ellenhurst at Wades howse the sea rose neere 7 foote and in some howses there yt ran yn at one wyndow and out at an other. [..snip..] Also in Brysto by credyble report that mornyng tyde was hygher than that Evenyng tyde by nyne foote of water.
John Paul, Vicar of Almondsbury, 26th January 1606"
(refer to the above-quoted webpage for more information)

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1665 Storm at Brighton destroys Tenements

In 1665 a violent storm washed away some tenements under the cliff, amongst which were several shops and cottages ( UK and Ireland Geneology - Brighton with Hove and Cliftonville. ) I do not know of any record regarding this storm at the Chesil Beach.

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1694 Culbin Sands Disaster in Scotland

A very severe storm, force 11 is suggested, reached the position of the frigate S/S Packan, but its position is not resolved. "The log sheets are variously headed 'Oosterend' (Ostend?), 'St. Martin Pas de Calais', and Portland Bill', but the latitude and longitude positions seem garbled.. See Lamb, 2005, p. 53 for more information.

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1695 - Ships driven to West Coast of English Channel

Date - 12 September (Old Style), 22 September (New Style), 1695.

"On September 12, at night, a violent storm sprang up along the English coast. Many ships were torn from anchor and driven to the west coast of the English Channel." See Lamb, 2005, p. 55 for more information.

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1701 - Southerly Gale caused Shipwrecks

Date - 18 January 1700-1 (Old Style), 29 January 1701 (New Style).

Southern England, Channel and southern North Sea. Southerly gale caused many shipwrecks and great loss of life at sea, damaged buildings and brought down many trees inland (report in Lowestoft diary).

See Lamb, 2005, p. 55 for more information.

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1703 Hurricane - Daniel Defoe's Storm - 26 November

DEFOE STORM 1703 (like the 1824 Hurricane)
Defoe, D. 1704. Report of a major hurricane in November 1703, with similarities to November 1824 hurricane, both causing major sea flooding and destruction. The 1 in 250 year (roughly) storm has not reappeared since 1824. We have had a 1 in 60 year storm in 2014, but it was not on scale of these major hurricanes. The 1703 storm overtopped the Hurst Spit; the 1824 storm drove it back about 40 metres. A similar great hurricane must reappear sooner or later, but the sea defences now are generally inadequate to deal with great hurricanes.

[or 1705 - [Probable date. Refers to 1703 storm which was obviously then recent and contains many letters dated 1704. Date not seen on the title page.]

A Collection of the Most Remarkable Casualties Disasters which happen'd in the Late Dreadful Tempest both by Sea and Land on Friday the Twenty-fixth of November, Seventeen Hundred and Three. To which is added Several Suprising Deliverances. The Natural Causes and Original of Winds. Of the Opinion of the Ancients that this Island was More Subject to Storms than Other Parts of the World. With Several Other Curious Observations upon the Storm. The Whole Divided into Chapters under Proper Headings. 2nd Ed. George Sawbridge, London, 272 pp. By Daniel Defoe.

Modern edition is available:
Daniel Defoe, The Storm. The book is obtainable in paperback, edited and with notes by Richard Hamblyn, Penguin Books, 228pp. 2003 and 2005; it can be bought from Amazon. Some notes based on this, follow:

Rise in sea-level during the storm. Sea rising in some place 6 or 8 feet higher (about 2.5 metres). This is similar to the effects of the 1824 storm with a sea level rise of 2 to 3 metres above the previous known high. At the present time storm surges can rise from 1 to more than 5 metres above high tide, but more than 3 metres is not expected in the English Channel, because there is no record of higher figures. (higher surges are not impossible of course, even if very unlikely)/
[The November 1703 storm had a major effect on the mouth of the Beaulieu River and thus Lepe Beach.]
[New Forest Damage: 4,000 trees were uprooted in the New Forest on the 26th to 27th November 1703. . p. 127. Six chimney stacks were blown completely clear of New Park House (north of Brockenhurst) without damaging the roof or the inhabitants and they landed several yards from the house. This provides evidence of sudden very severe wind force.

In November 1703 there was a famous storm that destroyed most of the windmills in England. It is considered to have changed the mouth of the Beaulieu Estuary in the relatively sheltered waters of the Solent by forming a new spit. According to Legg (1999) this had been recorded in parish registers as: "The great storm, both at sea and land, the greatest man knew in England was on the 26th day of November in the year 1703". See also Defoe (1705). This storm which continued over several days is bound to affected the Chesil Beach.

In this storm the Eddystone light was destroyed and all its occupants drowned, and within the first six hours of the storm the Royal Navy had lost twelve ships and over 1700 men. In all some 8,000 people were killed and thousands more injured. The author Daniel Defoe was in London at the time, and he used his own experiences of "this terrible Providence" as material for what became his first full-length book, The Storm, which he published the following year.

See Richard Hamblyn - Britain: The Gathering Storms. "Forget the violent gales of 1987 - when a real hurricane hit Britain 300 years ago, it was an 'Army of Terror' that killed 8,000 people. And we're due for another." He suggested in a review that this great storm was a hurricane that was thermally boosted in its passage from North America to Britain. Here is an extract:
"Three hundred years ago today - just before midnight on 26 November 1703 - a fast-moving Atlantic hurricane hammered into Britain from the west. It arrived entirely without warning, but it was to make its presence felt over the next six hours as it battered its way eastwards through the night. By dawn the following morning it had moved on to Scandinavia, but it left behind a 300-mile wide trail of devastation across England and Wales, all the way from Cornwall to the Wash. Some 8,000 people were killed, thousands more injured, and Britain looked and felt as if it had been transformed overnight into a war-torn country with a battlefield in every village and town. The author and journalist Daniel Defoe was in London at the time, and he used his own experiences of "this terrible Providence" as material for what became his first full-length book, The Storm, which he published the following year.

Defoe's account offers an unparalleled insight into what is still the worst storm in British history, and the only true hurricane ever to have arrived on our shores at maximum strength. We have had plenty of severe storms since 1703, most notably on the night of 15-16 October 1987, but we have never played host to another hurricane [but I am afraid that we have! See below the details of the 1824 Hurricane and Storm Surge.]

The meteorological definition of a hurricane is a tropical storm with sustained wind speeds of at least 74mph, originating in the western Atlantic. Given the rapidity with which our weather patterns are changing, however, and the increased number of damaging storms which we have suffered in recent years, how long will it be before Britain feels the force of another visiting cyclone like Defoe's? We are not just talking of a belter of a storm depression veering up from the Bay of Biscay, as happened in October 1987, but a full-blown hurricane flailing in from the tropics "like an Army of Terror in its furious March", as Defoe so memorably described it.

The question is difficult to answer with any degree of certainty, but since we know that the oceans are getting warmer every year, that a storm of such severity over Britain is viewed as a once-in-every-300-years event, and that the hurricane season for 2004 has been predicted to be unusually active by the US government's Hurricane Research Division, it appears that the question may well answer itself sooner rather than later..." continues.

There is a record regarding Brighton of loss of tenements under the cliff ( UK and Ireland Geneology - Brighton with Hove and Cliftonville. )

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DEFOE STORM 1703 - Brambles Bank and the West Solent. "Before the Great Storm of November 1703 it [the Lepe Beach area, West Solent] would have seemed very different. A large part of the Brambles Bank [offshore shingle bank adjacent to Hurst Spit] was then swept away and vast quantities of shingle altered the whole of this shoreline dramatically. Lepe Harbour was damaged, that of Stoney Point destroyed and the old harbour of Ourd on the Bourne vanished as shingle closed the entrance."
[From - Murley, C. and Murley, F. 1991 [reprinted 1992 and 1995] Waterside: A Pictorial Past; Calshot, Fawley, Hythe and Marchwood [and Lepe Beach]. By Clare and Fred Murley [edited by David Graves]. Ensign Publications, Southampton. Paperback, 96pp.]

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1705 Storm Damage at Brighton

At Brighton there was again loss of tenements under the cliff. The loss to the inhabitants was £40,000 ( UK and Ireland Geneology - Brighton with Hove and Cliftonville. ) I am not aware of any records regarding the Chesil Beach.

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1745 - Destruction of Kimmeridge Bay "Cobb"

In the early 17th century Sir William Clavell constructed a cobb or stone pier like that of Lyme Regis from the point of Hen Cliff, Kimmeridge. This was to partially enclose Kimmeridge Bay for the shipping of minerals. "It is described as one hundred and fify feet long, sixty broad, and fifty high... In 1745 a violent storm threw the pier into ruins, which neglect and subsequent wash have now almost obliterated..." (Brannon, 1860)

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1749-1757 Surges in the Beaulieu Estuary, Hampshire

Mr. J.J. Greenwood, the New Forest historian, has informed me that there is the following information about tidal surges in the Beaulieu river causing serious damage (From Estate Managers records, Northants RO, MB W14-18):
16 January, 1749.
30 November, 1750. This was the highest surge ever remembered at that location.
11 December, 1755.
October, 1757.

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1774 - Landslide - Hawkley near Selborne

"The months of January and February, in the year 1774, were remarkable for great melting snows and vast gluts of rain; so that, by the end of the latter month, the land-springs, or levants, began to prevail, and to be near as high as in the memorable winter of 1764. The beginning of March also went on in the same tenor, when, in the night between the 8th and 9th of that month a considerable part of the woody hanger [forest on the high slopes of a Chalk down] at Hawkley was torn from its place, and fell down, leaving a high free-stone cliff naked and bare, resembling the side of a chalk pit. It appears that this huge fragment, being perhaps sapped and undermined by waters, foundered, and was ingulfed, going down in a perpendicular direction; for a gate which stood on the top of the hill, after sinking with its posts for thirty or forty feet, remained in so true and upright a position as to open and shut with great exactness ..." [further details given, including mention of a rift under a house etc. on pp 280 - 281 of White, G. (Gilbert White), 1860 edition, The Natural History of Selborne.]

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1776 - Siberian Weather at Selborne

January 1776. Extreme cold at Selborne; temperature went to zero Fahrenheit. (See Gilbert White, 1860)

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1783 - 1784 - Polluting Acid Haze over England - from the Laki Crater Eruption, Iceland

Extracts from Gilbert White (1860). The Natural History of Selborne. p. 331 et seq.

"The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phenomena; for beside the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder-storms that affrighted and distressed the different counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze or smoky fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance unlike anything known in the memory of man. By my journal I find that I had noticed this strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive, during which period, the wind varied to every quarter without making any alteration in the air. The sun, at noon, looked as black as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-coloured ferruginous light on the ground and floors of room, but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting. All the time, the heat was so intense that butchers' meat could hardly be eaten the day after it was killed; and the flies swarmed so in the lanes and hedges, that they rendered the horses half frantic and riding irksome. The country people began to look with superstitious awe at the red lowering aspect of the sun; and, indeed, there was reason for the most enlightened to be apprehensive, for all the while Calabria and parts of the isle of Scilly, were torn and convulsed with earthquakes; and about that juncture, a volcano sprang out of the sea on the coast of Norway...

[continues with reference to Milton's first book of Paradise Lost] -

"As when the sun, newly risen,
Looks through the horizontal, misty air
Shorn of his beams; or, from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs."

"on June 5th, 1784, the thermometer in the morning being at 64, and at noon at 70 [Fahrenheit], the barometer at 29.65, and the wind north, I observed [at Selborne, Hampshire] a blue mist, smelling strongly of sulphur, hang along our sloping woods, and seeming to indicate that thunder was at hand." .. [later - vast drops of rain, round hail and convex pieces of ice, which measured 3 inches in girth. In South Lambeth, London - no storm, but electric air, causing the bells of an electric machine to ring repeatedly with fierce sparks]

[See also Witham, C.S. and Oppenheimer, C. 2004. Mortality in England during the 1783-4 Laki Crater Eruption. Bulletin of Volcanology, vol. 67, No. 1, Dec. 2004. (Acid aerosol and/or gases of volcanic origin resulted in about 20,000 extra deaths in England).]

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1784 - December - Extreme Cold at Selborne, Hampshire

Winter of 1784, December. Extreme cold at Selborne; temperature went below zero Fahrenheit. (See Gilbert White, 1860). Friday 10th December "the air was full of icy spiculae, floating in all directions, like atoms in a sunbeam let into a dark room.".. [ men lost fingers from frostbite in Hampshire .. "during the two Siberian days the parlour cat was so electric that had a person stroked her .. the shock might have been given to a whole circle of people".]

[Was this strange winter weather also some effect of the volcanicity that year?]

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1786 - New Forest Storm

"A hurricane of wind in many parts of England". Damage around London. Many trees in the New Forest were "torn up by the roots" during two days of very heavy gales.

See Lamb, 2005, p. 88 for more information.

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1790 - Hooken Cliff Landslide, near Beer, Devon

The Chalk cliffs at Hooken Cliff, just west of Beer Head in Devon collapsed in March 1790. The rotational landslide raised the adjacent seafloor above sea-level as a reef. See Barber (2001).

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1795 - 17 November - Admiral Christian's Hurricane

A great naval fleet from Portsmouth intending to sail to the West Indies to fight the French was wrecked in the English Channel in a storm of hurricane strength. Many of the fleet under Admiral Christian were lost in Lyme Bay. About 1000 men drowned (Damon, 1884) and many bodies were washed up on the Chesil Beach (Legg, 1999). Boult (2003) gives detailed information: "Approximately 296 lives were lost on the Chesil that Wednesday 18 November, and some 71 saved. A total of 234 bodies were recovered from the beach."

This seems to have been a hurricane and it occurred at almost the same time of year as the disastrous 1824 hurricane. It does not seem, though, to have broken over the Chesil Beach to the same extent as did that storm, although it is not clear as to why it did not. It is not known whether there was a storm surge. It seems to have been rather similar in many respects to the 1824-type hurricane, but also had an "eye of the storm" with quiet conditions.

Storm Record (based on Boult, 2003 ):

Monday 16 November, morning - fine weather with a light north-westerly breeze.
Monday 16 November, evening - north-westerly wind was strengthening.
Tuesday 17 November 2 am. Wind increased. Cloud rolled over. Thick drizzling rain began to fall.
Tuesday 17 November - daylight. Still cloudy.
Tuesday 17 November - noon. Wind backed to the west and blew hard. Wind becoming stronger.
Tuesday 17 November - 8 pm. Strong gales. Wind backed to the southward.
Wednesday 18 November - early hours, am. Wind blew hard.
Wednesday 18 November - morning. Strongest gales Christian "ever remembered to have witnessed". Howling shrieking wind from the southwest.
Wednesday 18 November - 10 am. - "Excessive hard gales and violent squalls with thick weather". Thick fog of sea-spray. Mountainously high waves on the Chesil Beach, with a roar from the backsucking of pebbles. Waves the height of a house. Ships Aeolus, Golden Grove, Catherine, Venus, Piedmont and Thomas all wrecked on the beach. Small boats were able to cross the Fleet Lagoon and the ferry at Passage House (Smallmouth) seems to have been operational. Thus the Fleet Lagoon was not as highly flooded as in the 1824 hurricane.
Wednesday 18 November - 6 pm. Wind from south-southwest with violent squalls with heavy rain. Then sudden change to west-northwest and a sudden calm (eye of the hurricane?).
Wednesday 18 November - night. Wind rose again, from the west-northwest, with squalls and rain.
Thursday 19 November. Ships broken and damaged from Torbay, Devon to the Downs off the east coast of Kent. Dead bodies washed ashore at Dover.

It is recommended that you read the full accounts of the storm and shipwreck in the interesting and informative book by Edwina Boult, 2003 - Christian's Fleet: A Dorset Shipping Tragedy. This is very thorough with extensive references and notes.

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1802 - 2nd February - Weymouth Flooding

This may not have been in such a direction as to have much effect on the Chesil Beach. The record is for Weymouth.
Fig. 110 of Burnett (1982) shows a storm breaking over the Weymouth sand spit at the Marine Hotel (southern end, near the present location of the pier). " On February 2nd [1802] a brig laden with fruit was driven ashore during a gale... During the storm the quay and adjacent streets were flooded and many bathing machines were destroyed."

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1815 - 27 March - Alexander Shipwreck Storm

The 'Alexander' from. Bombay to London, with passengers and troops, was during the night driven on the beach opposite the village of Wyke, and all on board perished, excepting four lascars and one woman (Damon, 1884).

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1817 - Ships wrecked in Lyme Bay - 20 January. Damage to Dawlish Warren

Two ships lost in Lyme Bay in last night's storm. One foundered near West Bay, Bridport and one was a total loss on Charmouth Beach with all hands drowned (Legg, 1999). In a single storm in 1817 five acres of Dawlish Warren were washed away (Barber, 2001).

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1818 - 4th-5th March - Portsmouth Storm Surge

"The gale hit Portsmouth a few hours before high tide was due and the force of the wind drove the flood tide towards Portsea Island.. The flood drove inshore and soon the water was two feet deep in Broad Street. By 9 pm. the sea had risen feet feet above the level of normal spring tides, and, at that level, stayed for more than three hours. ..All Portsmouth and the greater part of Portsea Island were flooded and at Southsea a mile long breach was torn in the shingle bank. Horsea Island vanished under the waves.. The water squeezed through the narrow part of the harbour entrance, and between Round Tower and Point, swept entire buildings away."

On the Isle of Wight there was damage to door and staircases on the lower parts of Cowes and Ryde. Ryde's new pier was demolished and thirty-six of its great timber arches were torn adrift and washed ashore at Hayling and Southsea.

"Later writers suggested that a logical explanation of the disaster was that with the upheaval of the sea bed, a tidal wave [tsunami] had occurred. Almost simultaneously the tempest burst from the south "driving the huge wall of water to pounce on such sitting ducks as low-lying Portsea Island"."
(Davison et al. 1993)

Further information, given below, suggest that it was just a storm surge like the 1824 event, but coming more from the south rather than the southwest.

At Chesil Beach there was a shipwreck recorded by:
Historical List of Shipwrecks at Chesil Beach & from Bridport to Lyme Regis.
"1818 March 4th: Le Mercuria, 500 ton French vessel, lost near Chesil Cove. 20-30 drowned."

There is confirmation regarding this storm in Mansfield in the News 1818 - Source Nottingham Review.

"1818 March 6th (Wednesday evening previous): Storm across southern Britain caused considerable damage around Nottingham, uprooting trees, blowing slates off roofs etc. "At Leicester and Mansfield also the storm was very violent, and attended with similar effects to those experienced in this town".

Directional information on the storm when it hit the Isle of Man are available in: Manx Annals - Eighty Years Ago.
"In the night of the 4th of March, 1818, occurred a frightful storm: 'A Douglas paper of March 5th, that year, says : — " We have not for many years witnessed so tremendous a storm as last night struck terror into every bosom and, carried havoc and devastation in its train." It had been thundering ; and lightning and blowing strong for several days previously, and consequently the harbour at Douglas was crowded with shipping of all sizes. On Wednesday, the 4th, the wind stood at sou'-west, but at night it suddenly veered to sou'-east, and then blew a hurricane. Scarcely a vessel in the port escaped –" neither cable nor post resisted the storm the very posts in the quay were dragged cut." Then at nine, in the darkness of night and in the midst of consternation, a brig, Samuel, of Whitehaven, entered the harbour, and, driven by the gale, crashed into the other vessels. Then ensued crashing and smashing and fearful confusion — masts and bowsprits snapped, bows and sterns stove in, bulwarks smashed. Two boats were actually sunk; no lives lost, but many persons were injured. The quays were crowded with people, and everyone who had a lantern brought it to the quayside." [continues]

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1821 - December 20, Hurricane at Keyhaven, near Hurst Spit

Keyhaven inundated. Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to this record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893).

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1824 - Hurricane "Great Gale" hits Devon and Dorset with a Storm Surge But compare to the November 1703, Daniel Defoe Hurricane, with storm surge of about 2.5 metres.
"the wind was stronger than the West Indian hurricanes"
(Naval officer quoted by Hutchinson, P.O. - History of Sidmouth)

1824 contin - The Surge - Introduction - General

November of the year 1824 is famous for storm surges and hurricanes in Europe. Much of the Devon and Dorset coast was devastated with an abnormal rise in sea-level and huge waves from the southerly hurricane winds (Le Pard, 1999). The effect on the Chesil Beach was drastic. Adjacent to this and elsewhere and at sea many lives were lost. The sea-flood swept away many houses that had been built on very low ground near the coast. The hurricane caused some of the worst flooding ever known on the English Channel coast. It had a drastic effect on beaches and sea-defences from Plymouth to Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire and its effects were felt far beyond to the east. It had economic consequences in the region regarding ports and housing, and it may have been caused the decline of the south coast salt industry (New Wall Saltworks Apuldram.) A similar hurricane and storm surge event will occur again, of course, sooner or later but there is there no good data on the frequency or return period. The historic records from English Channel coastal towns and villages provide some indication of what might happen at these places during the next occurrence.

1824 contin - The Storm Surge of St. Petersburg - Also in November

Mid-November 1824 is more famous, though, for the great storm surge and river flooding of Saint Petersburg (Leningrad). We cannot ignore this because it was similar to the Dorset event in some respects and it took place at a very close date that of the Dorset storm. The St. Petersburg disaster is described on the basis of local reports in Pushkin's poem - "The Bronze Horseman". The city is situated at the eastern end of the funnel-like Gulf of Finland, off the Baltic Sea, and is particularly prone to the effects of storm surges. The largest flood occurred on "November 19, 1824" (Gregorian conversion of a Julian date - November 7), when the sea-surge caused the river to reach 410 centimeters flooding the city and drowning between 208 and 569 people and destroying 462 houses. There is serious concern now (in Russia) about a repeat of the 1824 weather conditions ( St Petersburg races to halt floods.)

There may be some uncertainty about the date. The Julian Calendar was used at St. Petersburg, but the conversion to Gregorian is not simple because of different leap-year rules (note also the existence of the different Swedish and Finn calendar). Thus was this a separate severe storm occurring just a few days earlier or was the same storm. If if was the same storm then, of course, it should have been earlier in Dorset (your comments on the Julian-Gregorian conversion might help). If the dates had been appropriate the St. Petersberg storm could be explained by northeast drift of the dissipating Atlantic hurricane that had earlier affected the English Channel. "St. Petersburg’s flooding patterns are closely connected with the movement of low-pressure air masses over the Atlantic. Low-pressure air moves in from the west, creating so-called "long waves" that bring extra water into the Gulf of Finland and the mouth of the Neva River. Strong westerly winds then effectively block the flow of water from the mighty Neva .. spill the excess water over its banks and onto the city." ( St. Petersburg - Floods webpage. )

Certainly, the English Channel storm surge (the Dorset "Great Gale") is recorded as far east as Ramsgate (see below) and a particularly bad storm surge was noted in mid-November, 1824 in the Zuiderzee of the Netherlands ( Dutch Heritage Website. ). It is worth remembering too that the 1703 Hurricane proceeded northeast: "By dawn the following morning it had moved on to Scandinavia, but it left behind a 300-mile wide trail of devastation across England and Wales, all the way from Cornwall to the Wash." ( Richard Hamblyn. Britain: The gathering storms. Re - 1703. "Forget the violent gales of 1987 - when a real hurricane hit Britain 300 years ago, it was an 'Army of Terror' that killed 8,000 people. And we're due for another")

1824 contin - Hurricanes and Storm Surges in the English Channel - Introduction

Extreme wind conditions in the central to western English Channel can produce storm surges if the the wind is from the southwest or west-southwest (for examples of previous occurrences of such weather conditions see some of the historic weather maps for the British Isles in Lamb (2005) - Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isle and Northwest Europe). Relatively small but recent examples of English Channel storm surges have been described by (Law, 1975) and by George and Thomas (1976).

Meteorological conditions at 6 am during the 1974 storm surge in the English Channel

The diagram of meteorological conditions during the Barbican, Plymouth storm surge and flood shows how these can occur in the English Channel. The wind was only at gale force but the storm surge and low atmospheric pressure raised the sea-level 0.8m above high tide and caused the worst flooding in living memory at Plymouth. See George and Thomas (1976) for further details.

The meteorological conditions for this period are shown in Fig. 5. During February 10, the depression to the west of Ireland (Low H) continued its north-easterly movement and became slow-moving off the north-west of Scotland. A secondary depression to the north of the Azores ( Low J) deepened and rapidly moved to a position south of Ireland. This depression further intensified over southern England and was eventually absorbed by the primary low to the north of Scotland...

(Note: Some further information from George and Thomas (1976) is provided here: "The meteorological conditions for this period are shown ... During February 10, the depression to the west of Ireland (Low H) continued its north-easterly movement and became slow-moving off the north-west of Scotland. A secondary depression to the north of the Azores ( Low J) deepened and rapidly moved to a position south of Ireland. This depression further intensified over southern England and was eventually absorbed by the primary low to the north of Scotland... Between midnight and 1800 on February 11, the winds over south-west England backed from the S.W. to become prolonged southerly gales (force 8), before veering and dying out. These steady gales, together with the low pressure, were the cause of the storm surge during this period... The surge is .... detectable at St. Mary's, Devonport and Portsmouth. The maximum surge height was 0.8m [i.e. above tide level] at Devonport...[continues].")

Broad conclusion that are pertinent were expressed in the earlier study of Law (1975). This paper stated that:

"(i) Storm surges do occur in the English Channel.
(ii) These surges are associated with the passage of an intense depression or a fast moving front in the Channel vicinity.
(iii) These surges are of various forms; they may propagate as free long waves at a speed similar to that of the astronomical tide or they may move at the speed of the generating system.
(iv) They may be internally or externally generated, the latter probably being the more substantial form.
(v) Amplitudes of 2 to 3 feet would appear to be readily attained. [but note that, as mentioned above, even a gale can in favourable circumstance produce this; a hurricane could produce much more]
(vi) Surges on the French coast do not appear to be significantly greater than those on the U.K. coast, although the lack of French data precluded a conclusion on this point.
(vii) Surges tend to propagate up Channel from West to East, reaching a maximum around mid-channel but rapidly dying out to the East, little surge activity being apparent at Dover.
(viii) An anomaly exists in the propagation of a surge from St. Mary's to Newlyn. This consistently gave a period of three hours in the samples analysed compared to 15 minutes for the astronomical tide.
(ix) Channel surges do not appear to favour any particular part of the tidal cycle, unlike those in the North Sea. Those analysed occurred at all states of the tide."

This discussion by Law (1975) concerns relatively small storm surges of about 1 metre or less. Really severe storm surges have not been observed in the English Channel in recent years and have thus not been subjected to detailed study. However this does not mean that they do not occur. Hurricane conditions are needed for a high storm surge and these occur in this area at fairly distant intervals of time. The best-described was the storm, the "Great Gale" of the English Channel in November 1824. It was recognised as a hurricane at the time - "it blew a most dreadful Hurricane, such as never been known in the memory of man" said the correpondent on the spot, George Chamberlaine (the Rector of Wyke Regis as quoted in Betty, 1970 and subsequently in Le Pard (1999)). Roberts (1833) also referred to the storm as a hurricane and noted that the winds came from the south. Even though the meteorological details are not known, there is little doubt from the descriptions that they were correct.

There are, of course, numerous hurricanes out further west in the North Atlantic Ocean, although they rarely affect the United Kingdom. In the North Atlantic region a tropical cyclone with 1-minute maximum sustained near-surface winds in excess of 33 metres per second (more than 64 kt) is called a hurricane ( Elsner and Kara, 1999). The energy necessary to sustain such a hurricane is provided by the evaporation of warm water from the ocean surface over which hurricanes originate.

Remnants of Atlantic hurricanes hit Britain fairly frequently, as for example the storm that caused the Boscastle flash flood of Monday, August 16, 2004 (Guardian Newspaper, August 15, 2005 - One Year on Boscastle gets back to Business). Hurricanes making landfall at full stength on Britain are not so common. However, the 1703 storm , referred to above, has been regarded as a true hurricane, and there is certainly no reason to dispute that. Richard Hamblyn said that: "that a storm of such severity over Britain is viewed as a once-in-every-300-years event". He did not, however, mention at all the 1824 storm but did stress that global warming may make the appearance of such hurricanes in Britain more frequent. The frequency of hurricanes in the English Channel is not known but the 1703 and the 1824 storm seem to be quite clear-cut examples. We do not seem to have had anything very serious since then, except for the storm (a so-called "hurricane") of the 15-16 October, 1987 which did not have a major effect on the coast. Thus if we study the better-documented 1824 hurricane, we will have a good indication of just what to expect when the next big hurricane and storm-surge starts to flood some low coastal areas of the English Channel.

Tracks of hurricanes approaching the English Channel - background information regarding the great storm of 1824

Hurricanes of relatively higher latitudes track initially to the northwest and then swing in a parabolic manner eastward. A high proportion of North Atlantic hurricanes head, during the later stages, in the direction of the west coast of Britain, but mostly they dissipate by about mid-Atlantic. As suggested by diagram above, a very small number, about three a century, reach the western end of the English Channel (see Elsner and Kara, 1999 for details). If the eye of a hurricane only reaches Lands End, Cornwall, then because the Chesil Beach is only about 240 km to the east it is almost certain to seriously affected by the anticlockwise winds of the hurricane. In other words the centre of the hurricane does not even have to enter the English Channel for circling winds to seriously damage the Dorset coast. Even a dissipating hurricane will be a very major storm for some considerable distance further east. Thus there may be serious storms that are of hurricane origin but not full hurricane strength hitting the English Channel about every 30 years or so. Perhaps only at fairly large intervals of time (about hundred to about three hundred years or so?) does one enter the English Channel target with full, undiminished strength. In November, 1824, and probably in November, 1703 what seem to have been true hurricanes were on the correct course and persisted just a little further. In particular, the entry of a hurricane into the English Channel in 1824 seems to have caused the great storm surge discussed below.

For further information on the historical record of coastal floods in Britain, together with frequencies and associated storm tracks see Zong and Tooley (2003).

1824 was also a notable year for hurricanes on the eastern coast of the USA; one of the worst of the century, hit Florida and Georgia and coastal waters ( Savannah - Hurricane History, By: Patrick Prokop and McIntosh County, GA - Newspapers - 1824 Hurricane ).

1824 contin - The English Channel Storm Surge

English Channel Hurricane of November 1824 - Map showing the effects on Devon, Dorset and Hampshire

Considering hurricanes in general, the most destructive component of a hurricane is the storm surge. This rise in sea-level results partly from extreme wind and wave action backing-up seawater on shelving coasts and concave bays and inlets and partly from the very low atmospheric pressure. The storm surge is defined as the difference between the storm tide and the normal tide ( Elsner and Kara, 1999). The period of high water associated with the surge is likely to last from 6 hours to, in some cases, several days. Extreme heights may exceed 4 to 5 m above normal tide level and are greatest on the right side of the hurricane eye. The effects are most severe when there is coincidence with astronomical high tides.

With this background in mind, let us now review the records for the Dorset event. For a full and interesting account of the historic aspects of the 1824 storm surge and hurricane it is important to read the key paper of Le Pard (1999) - "The Great Storm of 1824". The descriptive parts of the notes which follow are based this work and a number of other publications and websites which are given below.

On Monday evening, the 22nd November, the wind was blowing at hurricane force from the south. The Customs Officer at Lyme Regis noticed anomalies with the tidal level (Le Pard, 1999). This was a time of Spring Tides. At 1 am on Tuesday 23rd November the tide was apparently rising when it should have been low water. At 3 am, five hours before high water the level was at the Neap Tide high - probably about 1.5 m. In other words it was about a metre or so higher than would have been expected. As noted above (Law, 1975) has stated that amplitudes of 0.6m to 0.9 metres (2 to 3 feet) would appear to be readily attained in the English Channel. However, there seems to have been a rise well above this level.

Before 4 am "the sea had risen to great height" George Roberts quoted by Le Pard (1999)). The seawater was breaking over the Cobb and it was an emergency with rescues taking place.

A study of sea-wall and harbour-top levels at Weymouth and Poole may provide specific information on the surge. It was at about 4 am at Weymouth that major damage took place. The quays were entirely inundated, the sea-front houses of Melcombe Regis were flooded, the sea joined up with the backwater and boats were driven into the centre of Weymouth. The Preston bank was overcome and Lodmoor flooded (Le Pard, 1999).

At Poole "the tide had risen to such an astonishing height as to overflow all the quays." The houses in the Strand were inundated to 1.2 to 1.5 m. This happened in a relatively sheltered part of an estuary. The storm surge was able to fill the very large, Poole Harbour quite quickly; presumably the rapidly-rising sea was able flood over low sand barriers present at the entrance at the time. A very similar event happened in the smaller Christchurch Harbour. At Christchurch almost every house was damaged. The wind drove the water into Bridge Street and that part of the town was become impassable except by boats. The lower parts of houses were flooded to about 1 metre (Le Pard, 1999).

The flood height does not seem to have been so high at Weymouth, Poole and Christchurch as it was at Fleet. There an onlooker thought that the sea had more or less come up level with the top of the Chesil Beach at that point, although this may have been a false impression. The beach was 6.7 metres above high tide level at Abbotsbury (Arkell, 1947) and there was 6.9 m of sea floodwater on the meadows at the head of the Fleet Lagoon at that locality. The situation is complicated because of overtopping of the bank by very large waves. Thus the 6.9m does not represent simply the storm surge level; it it is a combined result of storm surge, high spring tide and exceptional storm waves.

The height of the storm surge above high tide level has not been calculated, as far as I know. I do not think that it has been modelled, and the following comments are only rough guesses. The surge in Dorset was probably less than the normal maximum hurricane surge of about 5 metres. Even if wave-focussing in West Bay raised the sea level to an additional 3 or 4 m, and if this is added to high spring tide it would easy for the sea to overwash the lower parts of the Chesil Beach, even without severe waves. There is no reason to question the reliability of the historic accounts.

Away from the Chesil Beach, the flooding of Weymouth, Poole and Christchurch might have only needed 2 or 3 m at most, above the high spring tide level.

(Note that the Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Review, Revised Deposit May 2003 states that "The Environment Agency has raised the Weymouth Town Centre Harbour Wall to provide tidal protection up to 2.4 m above Ordnance Datum and from a 1:200 year tidal flood event. Extensive flood works including an engineered flood flow path with bunding at Osprey Quay to provide a similar level of defence. These works will only lessen the risk of tidal flooding and not remove it altogether." This sensibly, cautious statement does not appear to claim to deal with a hurricane storm surge, which might be higher and, in any case, might be a rarer 1:250 year or more event. It must not be forgotten that a storm surge is an addition of sea-level height above the tide level, and can take the sea to one or two metres or possibly even more above the high tide level.)

The most easterly report of coastal flooding is with regard to the Pool Valley at Brighton. There seems to be little record of seawater flooding of the Solent or Selsey area, so it is not clear whether the storm-surge or some other cause such as direct wave action or heavy rainfall was responsible for the flooding as far east as Brighton.

1824 contin - Hurricane Wind Conditions

A naval officer at Sidmouth at the time said that the wind was stronger than the West Indian hurricanes (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903). The noise of the wind was like incessant Thunder, but there was something in it still more aweful and supernatural. It seemed to rage so perfectly without controul - so wild and free that nothing I ever heard before could be at all compared to it." (Extract from an on-the-spot report from a Sidmouth resident reproduced by Committee on Scientific Memoranda (1903)). Other people reported that the noise of the wind was remarkable and that it howled or roared in the great gusts. Chimneys were blown down and stone church buildings were damaged. Roofs of shops were carried away. The unusual force of the rain and hail broke a huge number of windows (Le Pard, 1999).

On Monday evening the wind was coming consistently from the south. Later at 6 or 7 am on the Tuesday morning when the storm was at its worst, and with the largest waves, it was coming from the SSW. At 8 am a ship was driven eastward from Lyme Regis to Charmouth, perhaps suggesting a more southwesterly or westerly direction at this time (Le Pard, 1999).

The storm abated by midday on Tuesday 23rd November, leaving enormous damage.

1824 contin - The Hurricane Waves

Some exceptionally large waves hit the coast of East Devon and of Dorset between 5 and 7 am. These were tsunami-like and referred to at the time as "tidal waves". They seem to done the most damage.

At East Fleet, the village behind the Fleet Lagoon and the Chesil Beach the sea began to break over the beach at 5 am. At 6 am the water seems to have come up the valley at East Fleet towards the Church, some way inland, "as fast as a horse can gallop" (i.e. about 35 mph or 56 km per hour). This wave seems to have been almost like a tsunami in appearance because it was carrying a haystack and debris from the fields at its front. It demolished the nave of the Church and swept away five houses (Le Pard, 1999). A rather similar event happened at 5 am at Sidmouth where an especially large wave burst into shops and washed out debris (see Sidmouth section below).

The waves came over the Chesil Beach at Chiswell where it is higher at about the same time as the wave incursion at East Fleet, 6 to 7 am, and the wind was still from the SSW. The village of Chiswell was almost destroyed and according to one account 28 of the inhabitants were drowned and 80 houses damaged or washed down. The continuing waves lowered the level of the Chesil Beach.

It is a little surprising that when the largest storm waves struck at about 6 am the wind was not SW which would have given the full Atlantic fetch. Apparently, if the observations are accurate, the wind direction was from the SSW and the fetch would have been limited by the end of the Brittany peninsula.

(It seems that the extent to which hurricanes cause giant waves has been underestimated. See Hurricane caused 'tallest wave' . Satellite image of Hurricane Ivan south of western Cuba Hurricane Ivan generated a wave more than 90 feet (27 metres) high - thought to be the tallest and most intense ever measured - scientists have revealed. ... The observations suggest prior estimates for extreme waves are too low, researchers warn in Science.)

1824 contin - Location Reports regarding the Hurricane and Storm Surge
(West to East)

The records of serious damage are mostly from about Plymouth to Christchurch Bay (i.e. west of the Isle of Wight). It is difficult to find records from the north coast of Cornwall and Devon and the Bristol Channel and there are few reports from elsewhere in England (except Brighton and Ramsgate where the storm seems to have been less severe).

1824 -- Porthleven, Cornwall

The first harbour was completely destroyed by a storm in 1824 - date is not given. ( Porthleven at Cornish-Links.)

1824 -- Penzance, Cornwall

Storm reported on, what seems to be, the 21 November (a day too early in relation to the Dorset storm):
In a letter from my son, dated November 22, 1824, he says, "Last evening I preached on .. the Scriptures, to such a congregation, as for numbers .... During our service, a storm of hail and rain, thunder and lightening, came on." ( Penzance - Methodist History. )

1824 -- Polperro, Cornwall

"Again [after a terrible storm in January 1817 that destroyed 30 boats], in November 1824, 19 boats were destroyed in a similar storm. Whole families were destitute and the fishermen had to apply for help from the inadequate poor rate. A fund was raised to pay for new fishing boats, the harbour walls were rebuilt and eventually an outer pier was built and paid for by local people." ( Fishing and Polperro.)

1824 -- Plymouth, Devon

At Plymouth, the hurricane of 1824 seriously damaged the Plymouth Breakwater. Its fierce treatment of sea-defences is shown by the fact that it removed upwards of 200,000 tons of stone and reduced the slope of the breakwater to 1 in 5 (see The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History: the Breakwater. ). Twenty-two vessels were sunk in Plymouth Harbour ( Le Pard, 2000).

(Note: Barbican Storm Surge of 1974: It is relevant to consider a more recent storm surge at Plymouth that has been studied hydrographically. See the interesting paper of George and Thomas (1976). Here is a a brief extract regarding Plymouth.
"The "Barbican" surge of 1974 February 11: High spring tides at the Barbican, Plymouth, are liable to wash over the quayside. .... On the morning of February 11 .. the sea level rose to 6.3m. The sea surged over the now unprotected Barbican and caused the worst flooding in living memory; the predicted height of high water at the time being only 5.5m. The meteorological conditions for this period are shown in Fig. 5. During February 10, the depression to the west of Ireland (Low H) continued its north-easterly movement and became slow-moving off the north-west of Scotland. A secondary depression to the north of the Azores ( Low J) deepened and rapidly moved to a position south of Ireland. This depression further intensified over southern England and was eventually absorbed by the primary low to the north of Scotland...
Between midnight and 1800 on February 11, the winds over south-west England backed from the S.W. to become prolonged southerly gales (force 8), before veering and dying out. These steady gales, together with the low pressure, were the cause of the storm surge during this period... The surge is of the single positive type, and is detectable at St. Mary's, Devonport and Portsmouth. The maximum surge height was 0.8m at Devonport...[continues].")

1824 -- Budleigh Salterton, Devon

The Triassic Budleigh Salterton Pebble Bed in the cliffs west of Budleigh Salterton, Devon, with pebbles from the deposit forming the beach

Spit almost blocking outlet of the River Otter, east of Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Here there is a well-known beach of Budleigh Salterton quartzite pebbles, derived from the Triassic Budleigh Salterton pebble bed in the cliff. Discoidal liver-coloured quartzite pebbles from this are notable in the Chesil Beach and are found on other beaches as far east as the Isle of Wight. A short account of the history of Budleigh Salterton suggests that many of the larger pebbles were thrown up in the 1824 storm to form the foundations of the present beach (see eastdevon.net - Budleigh Salterton - history. Of course they can be eroded directly from the cliffs, but a stock of the larger and less-mobile pebbles may have been accumulated just offshore.

Another webpage states that in the 1824 hurricane beach pebbles were moved eastward to form a spit blocking the mouth of the river Otter: "Budleigh Salterton, known locally as Salterton (formerly Salterne), derives its name from the manufacture of salt which was once a precious commodity, when it was the main food preservative. Large salt pans were situated at the lower section of the river Otter, the monks at the Otterton Priory holding the rights to this important enterprise. The pebble spit, now blocking what was once an open estuary, was a result of the great storm of 1824" ( Budleigh Diary: community information for Budleigh Salterton ).

Note however that the partial blocking of the outlet of the River Otter has long been a problem. The Otter Valley Association (1984?) in an Historical Guide to the Lower Otter Valley refers to a report by Leland in 1540 - "On the west side is Budleigh, .. it (the haven) is now clene barred" [clean barred]. He said that a hundred years earlier it was a thing "of sum Estimation". Efforts were made to clear a channel and the main channel was navigable to 60 ton vessels until 1810. Thus it is unlikely that the spit was created from nothing in the 1824 storm; it was probably just significantly enlarged and extended.

It is interesting that a hurricane in the English Channel not only seriously damage the Chesil Beach, also seems to be able to move source material from the west in an eastward direction towards Chesil. The movement reported here is on a relatively small scale and a headland prevents further transport. In the Holocene past when sea-level was lower Budleigh Salterton pebbles may have been moved by hurricanes westward on a very much longer spit and moved significantly towards the predecessor of the Chesil Beach.

It is also a matter of interest if the 1824 hurricane (or at least the more westerly winds of the later part of the storm) increased the tendency towards the blocking of estuaries by spit-development eastward. There are several such blocking spits on the Dorset, Devon and Hampshire coasts (e.g. Axmouth, West Bay - formerly, Burton Bradstock etc.), although they also develop eastward by normal longshore drift processes.

1824 -- Sidmouth, Devon

View of Sidmouth, Devon, looking west from the red Triassic marls of Salcombe Hill Cliff

The base of Chit Rock west of Sidmouth, Devon, a sea stack destroyed in the great hurricane of November 1824

At Sidmouth the hurricane was clearly recognised as something resembling the hurricanes of the Carribean, Florida and Gulf of Mexico (about which at the present time there is much bad news - Hurricane Katrina). A naval officer said that the wind was stronger than the West Indian hurricanes (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903). There was significant attack on the cliffs and some bad coastal flooding from the storm surge at Sidmouth:

Sidmouth, Devon, seen from the west, with a low sea front area, which was badly flooded in the 1824 hurricane

"A violent storm all night, quite a Hurricane! I never heard any-thing at all like it! The whole House shook, and our beds were rocked under us, as if they had felt the shock of an Earthquake! . . . (Nov. 24.) A most aweful scene presented itself to us this morning! Such a storm has not been Witnessed in the memory of man! . . . The sea poured in last night, and has very nearly destroyed the whole of the houses in front of it! The water came up as high as Harris'. The grocers, and people were taken out of their beds at night and conveyed in Boats to a place of Shelter: Everyone has lost something, and some poor people Every thing: never was there such a scene of devastation! All the Cottages under the Cliff were washed away: The Beach Walk is entirely destroyed, and covered with Shingle. Wallis' library is nearly knocked to pieces: and old Chit Rock, that gave its character to the Coast Scenery, is thrown down and nothing but its base remains. The rising of the sea was so sudden, that it almost appears to have been the effect of an earthquake! No language can describe the sad and desolate appearance which the Beach now presents, and the poor sufferers walking about, drenched in water, hardly knowing where to go or what to do, is enough to break one's heart...
I never was more frightened in my, life than during the night. I almost expected the House to have fallen down. . . . It was impossible to sleep. . . . I can hardly attempt to describe my feelings. . . . The noise of the wind was like incessant Thunder, but there was something in it still more aweful and supernatural. It seemed to rage so perfectly without controul-so wild and free that nothing I ever heard before could be at all compared to it." (Extract from an on-the-spot report from a Sidmouth resident, recorded in a diary and reproduced by Committee on Scientific Memoranda (1903)).

A fairly detailed account was given by P.O. Hutchinson in his History of Sidmouth, part of which was reproduced in Committee on Scientific Memoranda (1903). Here is an extract:

"The Chet-rock stood near the S. end of the reef. It was about 40 ft high, much beloved by the fishermen as on steering in it was the first mark they made. Annually one of them was crowned as its king. At low tide he and his court marched out and scrambled to its top where they waved their caps, cheered, and drank to the King of Chet (including the King of England) in smuggled brandy. Along the reef extended a labyrinth of stakes and nets called the 'Ram's horn'. At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, 22nd November the glass stood at 29.49. It was new moon, and the tide high at 11.45 a.m. The afternoon was fine and calm but freshened towards evening & the glass sank to 28.25. Mr. Stone, grocer Market place had a party, but it began to rain and blow from S.W. so that he offered them shake-downs. But they bundled on old shawls etc and left. There was only rainwater in the street then. So many slates were blown off he could not sleep & at 4 a.m. found his ground-floor full of water to the knees. He began clearing the shop but the enemy reached his armpits & washed papers off the mantelpiece. J. Pile, ironmonger (now Selleks) in Fore St. saw it full of water and a door wash past. A bag of nails was rusted into a solid mass. Mrs. Mogridge 7 York Terrace found boats etc battering her wall, and bored through a partition into No. 6 for escape. Lodgers at Mr. Pursey's (Canister House) were much distressed. A sick lady had to be taken from a warm bed into a wet boat. The York was much injured. Mr. Hall draper (now Fields) saw sailors, row across the Market-place and rescue ladies from (Pepperells) opposite. The cottagers under Clifton-place escaped to the top 10 min before the houses were washed away. Wallis Library (now the Bedford Hotel) had its Billiard-table broken against the fire-place, and a piano washed into the sitting room. The children were lowered into a drifting boat at the back by blankets - one by mistake into the water, of which he informed them in loud tones. May (gardener) saw it flow up to High St. (now Veales) where it was met by a land-flood & a boat rowed up Old & round into New Fore St. The landlord of the London Hotel saw a specially big wave about 5 a.m. burst in the door of the chemist (now Penberthys) sweep round the shop & reappear laden with bottles & pill-boxes. Edmondson of Bond St. had opened a shop for costly silks in Marine-place and the ball's were found all over the town next day. Mr. Yeates at dawn dragged himself by the railings to the beach, and to his dismay Chet-rock was no longer to be seen. The familiar old mass had been knocked over in the night. Fragments lay ahout on the reef for two years after. A subscription of £3000 was raised for the sufferers of which Honiton gave the noble sum of £600.

I only arrived in Jan. 1825 but the most beautiful watering-place of England looked still like a bombarded city. A cart was backed against Marlborough place and men were shovelling pebbles out of the windows into it. A naval officer said the wind was stronger than W. Indian hurricanes. The effects long remained. The shrinkage of population (as shown by Registrar's return) and of popularity were due partly to the growth of Torquay, but more to this catastrophe. Depression weighed on our trade for 40 years till it slowly began to revive about 1865. Mr. Hubert Cornish's view of the Rock is inaccurate. It was more like Great-picket."

Some further supposed details of events here have been given elsewhere: ".. the great storm at Sidmouth, and of the conduct of the excellent Mrs. Partington on that occasion. In the winter of 1824, there set in a great flood upon that town -- the tide rose to an incredible height - the waves rushed in upon the houses, and everything was threatened with destruction. In the midst of this sublime and terrible storm, Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop, squeezing out the sea-water, and vigorously pushing away the Atlantic Ocean..." ( The Project Gutenberg eBook, Sydney Smith, by George W. E. Russell).

See also: Sidmouth Storm of 1824 in: Devon-L Archives. By Robert J. Newton. "The extract below is taken from the book "A Story of Sidmouth", by Anna Sutton [1973] (ISBN 0 85033 113 7). At 4 o'clock in the morning of 23rd November, 1824, a storm of such violence occurred that the family of Bolt, occupying one of the cottages on the shore, had to seek shelter in the house above. Very shortly after, the cottages were swept away. As the day dawned, an appalling sight presented itself. The gardens in front of the houses were laid bare and covered with shingle. .." continues

Fisherman’s cottages under the cliff at the west side of Sidmouth near Chit Rock which were washed away at the time of the 1824 storm and are shown in an etching of 1815 reproduced by Devon Library and Information Services - Local Study Service. It was out of these cottages that the occupiers escaped up the cliff with their pig.

1824 -- Lyme Regis, Dorset

The Cobb at Lyme Regis, Dorset in the 19 Century; it was seriously damaged by the Hurricane and Storm Surge of 1824

The Cobb and the port of Lyme Regis was badly affected and left in ruins by the storm. The serious problems commenced on Monday evening, the 22nd November, when the wind was blowing at hurricane force from the south. The Customs Officer at Lyme Regis noticed anomalies with the tidal level (Le Pard, 1999). This was a time of Spring Tides. At 1 am on Tuesday 23rd November the tide was rising, when it should have been low water. At 3 am, five hours before high water the level was at the Neap Tide high - probably about 1.5 m. Before 4 am "the sea had risen to great height" (George Roberts quoted by Le Pard (1999)) and this can only reasonably be explained as the result of a storm surge produced by the hurricane winds and low atmospheric pressure. Soon the seawater was breaking over the Cobb and it was an emergency with urgent evacuation under difficulty of the people in the houses on the Cobb, at the place shown above.

(Compare to the effects of the 1373 hurricane at Lyme Regis)

1824 -- Seatown near Chideock, Dorset

The inhabitants of a cottage near the sea, presumably Seatown, had a narrow escape having not realised that the sea was rising in the night with the storm surge. They were rescued through a breach in the back wall and the cottage was swept away shortly afterwards (Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury quoted by Le Pard, 2000)..

1824 -- West Bay or Bridport Harbour, Dorset

There was a great storm on the night of the 22 November and morning of the 23rd. Vessels in the harbour were washed up onto the quay (i.e. seawater was above quay level as at Weymouth, Poole and Christchurch). A deep layer of sand was washed onto new harbour works. Thomas Major and his two daughters were drowned trying to escape the waves which hit their house ( Le Pard, 2000)..
"To describe the state of the harbour is impossible. A quantity of timber is washed up near Marshgate and some much further. Roofs of shops, sawpits, etc have been carried away. Mr Good's rope-yard was washed or blown down and 29 sheep belonging to Mr Edwards were drowned..." (Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, quoted by Le Pard, 2000). Marshgate or Marsh Gate is just over a kilometre back up the valley of the River Brit. Thus the storm-surge and waves not only flooded over West Bay and Bridport Harbour but probably also inundated the floodplain of the River Brit by seawater quite a long way up towards Bridport.

1824 -- Abbotsbury, Dorset

It has been recorded that on 23 November the sea-water stood at a depth of 22 feet, 8 inches (6.9m) on the alluvial meadows of the Decoy near Abbotsbury and "the waves hammered a gap in the battlements and flooded the swannery.." (Treves, 1906) . The swanherd's cottage was destroyed (Le Pard, 2000).

1824 -- Fleet, Dorset

A hurricane wave came over the Chesil Beach and up the valley of Fleet, Dorset, - as fast as a horse can gallop

"The sea began to break over the beach at 5 a.m., the water came up as fast as a horse could gallop. James watched as long as he dared, and then, terrified, ran for his life to Chickerell..." (Le Pard, 1999).

The Moonfleet church at Fleet, ruined by the 1824

Notice regarding the 1824 hurricane wave in the Moonfleet church  at Fleet, Dorset

The "tidal wave" hit the "Moonfleet" church - "James Bowring ... was standing near the gate of the cattle pound when he saw, rushing up the valley, the tidal wave, driven by the hurricane and bearing on its crest a whole haystack, and debris from the fields below. They ran for their lives to Chickerell, and when they returned they found that five houses had been swept away and the church was in ruins (Barnes, 1898 quoted by (Le Pard, 1999).). Of Fleet Church now only the Chancel remained (Mackenzie, 1995).

Thus, the original lower village of Fleet, normally sheltered by the Chesil Bank, was devastated by wave resembling a tsunami. Just why there was a sudden appearnce of giant wave which came over the Chesil Beach and the Fleet Lagoon is not clear. A notice in the small church states that there was 30 feet (9 metres) of water there. The church is round about 4m above sea-level, although I have no accurate figures; this suggests, if the figures are correct, a total water depth above sea-level of about 14m. If you walk to the church (say from the Moonfleet Hotel) now you can easily see how once the great wave had crossed the lagoon it would have been focussed into this small valley.

1824 -- Ferrybridge or Small Mouth and Wyke Regis, Dorset

"The Ferry House leading to Portland was washed away and the ferryman drowned. ...the saines and boats of the poor fishermen of Wyke... almost totally destroyed..." (report of the rector of Wyke Regis).

Deaths at Ferrybridge - ferrymen - Stephen Dryer and Richard Bess (ferryman). Dryer's body was found washed into Portland Roads [now Portland Harbour] ( Le Pard, 2000, quoting J.T. Elliott). , presumably by the outflow of the flooded Fleet Lagoon.

1824 -- Between FerryBridge and Chiswell, Dorset (near Chesil Beach Centre) - Washover Fans

Old washover fans near the Chesil Beach, Dorset, seen from a distance

Old washover fan near the Chesil Beach Centre, Dorset, seen from the bank

On the landward side of the Chesil Beach near Ferrybridge there are wide stretches with low-angle slopes of pebbles. Thus the Chesil Beach appears on maps to be wider here. These seem to be old washover fans from storms.

A good example is the old yellow-stained washover fan of pebbles that is present near the Chesil Beach Centre. This can be seen in the photographs above. It is only 500m northwest of the Ebenezer site where during the 1824 hurricane a sloop was washed onto the very top of the bank, and subsequently relaunched into Portland Harbour (see Le Pard, 2000) for details of this). It perfectly clear that sea was coming over the bank near here, and in any case the bank was generally lowered by the storm. Of course, the fan could be older than the 1824 event, but it is probably not younger because later storms were of much lesser intensity. Since, apart from the yellowing, the fan is fairly clean and clear of soil and vegetation the most probably explanation is an 1824 origin. The pebbles seem a little smaller (I thank Tonya West for this observation) but I have not made any measurements.

Other fans seem to be present in this area and may also be from the same hurricane. It is interesting that Chesil Beach type pebbles are found on the landward side of the Fleet Lagoon at East Fleet. A large washover fan under the lagoon would be expected because washover in the 1824 storm is historically recorded. In other places fans may be under the waters of Portland Harbour or built over. Here at the Chesil Beach centre there was already a bar extending to Small Mouth and thus the ground was higher and the fan clearly visible.

(Note: It has to be said that it is rather unfortunate that the present Chesil Beach Centre is not only on very low ground at the outflow end of the Fleet Lagoon, but is also at the end of an old washover fan. On this vulnerable site it would be have very lucky to survive a repeat of the 1824 hurricane. One has to hope that a similar storm will not happen soon! In any case it is difficult to see just where to place a building relating to the Chesil Beach in a place of perfect safety, and the present location is clearly convenient and very good for parking.)

(Note: For more information on washover fans see:
Sediment fluxes in a barrier spit system: response to changing environmental conditions. Institute of Geography, University of Copenhagen.)
See also:
Barrier Islands: Formation and Evolution. Extract - "Overtopping of barrier islands during storm events causes sand to accumulate into a fan-shaped feature on low barrier islands, where the washover or overtopping process can be quite significant, these fans coalesce to form washover aprons, as shown in Figure 4. Individual fans may extend over hundreds to thousands of acres but are generally only 10-15 centimeters thick. It is not uncommon for washover fan deposits to accumulate in several layers, each representing a single storm.")

1824 -- Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset

The sea defences at Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset, seen to be lower than the natural beach crest further to the southwest

The Chesil Beach at Chiswell in quiet conditions; here in 1824 hurricane waves flooded over the top onto the village

Additional sea-wall intended to protect Chiswell, behind the Chesil Bank, from overtopping waves

The worst recorded overtopping of the Chesil Beach was caused by this hurricane and storm surge the night of 22-23 November 1824. In a gale the crest of the bank in places was washed over the back, and many fishermen's cottages were destroyed, killing 50 to 60 people (Arkell, 1947) (for details of a gravestone to one of these see: Victim of 1824 Storm ).

The rector of Wyke Regis wrote: "the village of Chiswell was nearly destroyed, twenty-six of the inhabitants drowned and upwards of eighty houses damaged or washed down by a tremendous surf which broke over the Chesil Bank, and bore everything away with irresistible violence before it. The sea ran down the streets of Chiswell with a sufficient depth of water to float a vessel of hundred tons burden; and the wrecks of the houses with the furniture of the poor inhabitants were everywhere strawed on the shore. The Ferry House leading to Portland was washed away and the ferryman drowned.

The Chesil Bank throughout its whole extent was lowered from twenty to thirty feet [6 to 9m ]; the saines and boats of the poor fishermen of Wyke, as well as those of Portland, almost totally destroyed... The Colville West Indiaman of four hundred tons burden was totally wrecked in West Bay [or Lyme Bay], and every soul on board perished, besides several minor wrecks too numerous to mention"

(Barnes and Legg, 1976 and see also various notes elsewhere in this webpage.)

1824 -- Weymouth, Dorset

Chesil Beach, Dorset

When the "Tempest" hit Weymouth it destroyed the Esplanade and caused much serious flooding and damage to what was then a small but elegant town.

Weymouth Dorset in 1789, with Georgian houses before the 1824 storm surge

The sand barrier spit of Weymouth, Dorset, flooded in the 1824 storm surge

Chesil Beach, Dorset

The barrier spit of Weymouth (Melcombe Regis), which fronts the Radipole and Backwater estuary, has almost entirely been built over so that it no longer looks like the low sand and shingle promontory that it really is. It is now a seafront urban area with the large Georgian houses behind the main sand beach of Weymouth. The spit is of both sand and shingle, with alternating beds of these beneath the buildings. It has built out progressively from the north into a bay on the site of the Backwater. The Nothe with its degraded cliffs in the Brewers Quay area was the headland projecting from the south end of this bay. There are old beach deposits of this bay consisting of pebbles and boulder beneath the estuary (Damon, 1884).

Since Victorian times and the building of the Portland Breakwaters the proportion of sand on the beach has increased and the pebbles have been washed northward (Damon, 1884). The modern appearance of the beach gave me the impression that the spit was mainly of sand, but this seems not to be the case and it was mixed material. The original spit has been much widened by reclamation of the estuarine marshes to the west of it, with the construction of houses, shops and car parks and even the railway station on the low ground. Like many estuary-mouth barriers the spit is subject to wave damage and hurricane overwash at certain intervals of time. Unlike Sandbanks it seems not have had high dunes and the Esplanade road is relatively level at the top of the storm beach.

This low part of the town was flooded by the 1824 hurricane storm surge overwashing to the Backwater. Its waves smashed the Esplanade. "The gale commenced its devastations here at about four o'clock in the morning. The pier at the entrance of the harbour was nearly demolished by the fury of the sea, and all the quays entirely inundated. The Esplanade was destroyed, and the stone bench at the end carried upwards of two hundred yards;

The Esplanade Weymouth, Dorset, flooded by the 1824 storm surge

.....the lower apartments of the houses were speedily filled with water, and boats were seen floating in all directions. The back water [the Backwater - the estuary betweeen Radipole Lake and Weymouth Harbour] became speedily united with the sea, and one boy lost his life in attempting to cross the Narrows... " (Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, 29/11/1824 quoted by Le Pard (1999).)

The Narrows, presumably most of the area where the sand spit is narrowest between Greenhill in the north and the King George III statue in the centre, was affected by overwash into the estuary and flood plains of the River Wey to the NNW (this overwash outflow would be blocked to some extent were a similar event to happen now because of buildings and of the railway). The general situation is somewhat similar to that at West Bay, Bridport where the seawater flooded onto the floodplain of the River Brit. It is very likely that overwash occurred all along the Dorset coast where low flood plains or estuaries exist behind barrier beaches. Information, however, only comes from towns such as Weymouth that were already developed. It should be noted that Weymouth was not facing directly into the storm as was Bridport Harbout. The north-south trend of the Weymouth seafront means that it is sheltered from the waves of the most severe storms, even if surge water can flood over it.

Here is a more detailed account of the flooding of Weymouth by the storm surge: "The sea broke over the narrows in a strong and dreadful current, two individuals who were at that moment crossing the spot were swept away, "and the end of anguish knew", whole rows of houses that fronted the foaming, raging, billows, were completely inundated; the pride of Me1combe, its beautiful esplanade, was nearly all demolished, the stone posts and chains (which amount now to 336 stone posts and 4620 feet of iron chain), were rent up and entirely broken, the piers (over which the surges rolled in an awful and sublime manner) also were demolished, vessels, boats, and small craft, were either driven into the centre of the town, sunk, destroyed, or carried out to sea. The danger in which the front of the town stood, was appalling, the whole of the roads and streets were covered with the rolling billows, driving impetuously masses of sand and stone, boats were observed floating in close approximation with vehicles of various descriptions, such a scene of devastation and ruin were never remembered to have been observed before..." (Ellis, 1829, quoted by Le Pard, 1999.)

It is very good that there was little loss of life at Weymouth in 1824, although it was not a large town at the time by modern standards. A factor in this is that the buildings were mostly of brick or stone and quite substantial. They had more than one storey and people could escape upstairs; it would of course have been impossible to use boats safely during the hurricane. No part of the town was below sea-level and the flood water quickly drained away the next day (quite unlike New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina). If comparison is made with the present time than the largest change is the much greater housing development and the extension of the town over the marshes of the Backwater. The houses are again though of solid constuction. Some of modern Weymouth is very low and it should not be forgotten that sea-level has risen 20 or 30 cm since the 1824 flood. When a similar storm surge happens here again there may again be a very quick rise in sea-level within a couple of hours or so and higher parts of building may be in similar use. Obviously further study of the matter is needed.

(Note 1: This was not the first record of flooding of the Weymouth sand spit. As mentioned above, see also:
Fig. 110 of Burnett (1982) shows a storm breaking over the Weymouth sand spit at the Marine Hotel (southern end, near the present location of the pier). " On February 2nd [1802] a brig laden with fruit was driven ashore during a gale... During the storm the quay and adjacent streets were flooded and many bathing machines were destroyed."

Note 2: When reading the above clear distinction should be made between the urban development of the Weymouth sand spit in 1824 at the time of the hurricane and the urban development at the present time. See Burnett (1982), Dorset before the Camera, 1539-1855, for illustrations of Weymouth in 1790 before the hurricane. Many of the large three-storey buildings on the seafront were already there. In contrast, most of the development of the town behind the sand barrier on lower marshy or reclaimed ground has probably not happened until after the hurricane and storm surge. When the same type of storm happens again then buildings on the Esplanade would once more have to resist direct sea-flooding from the storm; the flooding might be more serious though on lower ground west of here and towards the Backwater, particularly if seawater was flowing towards the estuary. Of course it must be emphasised that a very large proportion of the modern town of Weymouth is on safe high ground and we are only discussing some low parts for which there has long been awareness of this problem. In any case if luck holds out this type of hurricane may not recur for a long time.

Note 3 : Hurricane Overwash - Regarding the Weymouth overwash the following may be relevant: "The U.S. Geological Survey is evaluating a new map product designed to give disaster officials a rapid estimate of the regional impact of a hurricane along the coast. The map plots how frequently overwash, a characteristic features of severe storms, occurs along the coast. Storm surge is where high winds and low atmospheric pressure of a hurricane form a bulge of high water that washes over the barrier beaches. Overwash is the deposit left after such a high water pulse overtops or breaches the dune line of a barrier beach. Much of the worst coastal damage from a hurricane is in areas of extensive overwash.. continues." from: Interpreting the Storm Response Overwash Map; A map to rapidly assess the geologic impact of a major storm to the coastline.)

(Question for students: Note that at Weymouth, as given in the reference above "the lower apartments of the houses were speedily filled with water". With this in mind it is of interest to read the relevant section - Natural Environment - of the Weymouth and Portland Local Plans and of the Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Review Inspectors Report. There is discussion on the "Tidal Flood Risk Area" at Weymouth on page 110 et seq. The following significant point made by the Inspector: "I have to add that I do not share the Council's confidence that 2.44 metres above Ordnance necessarily offers protection that would mean that the Park District is not at risk from tidal flooding. This figure is, after all, only 7 centimetres above the 1 in 200 year flood risk." The events of the 1824 hurricane show that major flooding does indeed occur occur at Weymouth - "the piers, the quays, wharfs, and the beautiful espanade, were all swept away... and in all probablility, these towns [Weymouth and Melcombe] would have been all destroyed, but gradually the sea retired.." (Ellis, 1829). Of course, the 1824 event was not just a tidal flood, it appears to have been a hurricane storm surge added to a high tide. Should the repeat of this event of only 181 years ago be considered in planning or, because its frequency is not known, should it be disregarded as a rare "Act of God"?)

1824 -- Lodmoor and Weymouth to Preston Road

"The road leading to Preston was also broken up, and the waves rushed over it, inundating Lodmor flat [now the Lodmoor Country Park and Nature Reserve]" (Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, 29/11/1824 quoted by (Le Pard, 1999).)

For information on recent studies of this stretch of coast see SCOPAC: F1 Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze- Lodmoor. See also Bastos and Collins (2002), regarding sediment here and for sea defence information see HR Wallingford, 1993).

1824 -- Dorchester, Dorset

There was destruction of chimneys, roofs and glass. At 6 am on Tuesday 23rd, the time of the overwash at Chiswell, a heavy stack of chimneys was blown down, killing the Reverend H.J. Richman and his wife ( Le Pard, 2000).

1824 -- Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Information on the Great Gale at Worbarrow Bay is provided by John Runyard's Homepage at www.runyard.org:

Excerpts from the Diary of Henry Rolls (1803-1877). By Len Runyard. Letter from Len Runyard, Hordle, Hants. England, July, 1995, to Robert Donald Runyard, Huntington Beach, California. Extracts from the diary of Henry Rolls, shoemaker, of East Lulworth (born 5th April, 1803).

"1824 On 23.11.1824, a terrible hurricane, or gale of wind, caused a great deal of damage; the sea rose high along the coast [other records confirm this temporary rise in sea-level]. The gale nearly washed down Samuel Miller's house at Warebarrow [Miller's house was Sea Cottage, Worbarrow Bay, shown in several pictures in Legg (1992) Tyneham; Dorset Ghost Village, and with an etching of 1830 showing a severe storm and shipwreck at that location. The significance is that the height of the house above sea-level is easily determined and therefore there is specific data available regarding wave height in Worbarrow Bay in the 1824 storm.] and blew down two of the pinnacles of St. Andrew's Church, E.L. [East Lulworth], on the west side of the tower [confirming west or southwesterly winds]; it also rolled over one of the monument stones at Arishmell [Arish Mell is in Warbarrow Bay - what are the monument stones?] - and they used boats in the streets at the port of Poole. It also did great damage at Weymouth, near Portland - and nearly everywhere."

1824 -- Swanage, Dorset

"Then again in the great November gale in the year 1823 [sic - should be 1824] it was estimated that from ten to fifteen thousand tons [of huge rocks and pebbles?] were washed into the bay. In this same gale seaweed was carried by the waves as far as the front door of the Anchor Inn [High Street, Swanage]. ( (Hardy, 1910).

1824 -- Poole, Dorset

Poole Harbour, Dorset, in Victorian times

At Poole "the tide had risen to such an astonishing height as to overflow all the quays." The houses in the Strand were inundated to 1.2 to 1.5 m. (Le Pard, 1999).

1824 -- Parkstone, Poole, Dorset

A ship the Purveyor was in ballast with two anchors down in South Deep, the channel to the northwest of the South Haven (Studland) Peninsula and southwest of Sandbanks. The consequence of the extraordinarily high surge level and the hurricane winds was to rapidly transport this ship (and its smuggled brandy) northward and inland onto a sea-flooded turnip field in Parkstone. Later a special channel had to be dug from the dry field at Parkstone to the harbour to refloat the ship. See Le Pard (2000) for the full story which comes from Hardy (1907). The exact location of the flooded turnip field is not known but it is clear that the low northern margins of Poole Harbour were well under water at the height of the storm.

1824 -- Sandbanks Peninsula, Dorset

Sandbanks Peninsula from the air, old photograph

Comparison of Weymouth and Sandbanks sand spits, Dorset

There seems to be no information about Sandbanks in the 1824 hurricane and storm-surge. As the map above shows it was not been a developed place until recently, and therefore does not have as much recorded history as that of the similar sand spit at Weymouth. Note that the heavy development of Weymouth and expansion towards the Radipole Backwater tends to obscure the fact that the northern end was originally a narrow sand bar ("The Narrows") like the neck of the Sandbanks peninsula.

Sandbanks may be safer than Weymouth in a 1824-type hurricane, but it not possible to be sure. It has some fairly high sand dunes in the southern part, is to some extent sheltered by the Purbeck Hills and may suffer somewhat less from being further east down the English Channel. Maps as old as 1610 show the peninsula as having the same general form so it has not been changed drastically (except for some possible retreat of the southeast corner over the years), but as far as I know there is no detailed information available. The shipwreck at Parkstone, the flooding of Poole and comparison with the Weymouth sand spit does suggest that some parts of the peninsula were probably under water in the 1824 storm, but there is no proven evidence of this.

1824 -- Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

View southeast down the last part of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire. Castle and lighthouse are seen with the Isle of Wight beyond.

Incidently, the 1824 Great Storm had a drastic effect on another shingle bank, the Hurst Castle Spit. Sir Charles Lyell, the famous geologist and geological tutor of Charles Darwin wrote some time later, in 1835 ( Lyell, 1835) that "in the great storm of November 1824, this bank of shingle [the Hurst Castle Spit] was moved bodily forward for forty yards [roughly 40 metres] towards the northeast [i.e. landward]; and certain piles which served to mark the boundaries of two manors were found, after the storm, on the opposite side of the bar." Thus at Hurst, rather than just washing the top of the bank over to the back, the whole beach was moved backwards in one storm perhaps something like 40 to 100 times the usual annual rate of retreat of Christchurch Bay in general (maximum about 1 m per annum at Barton, but less elsewhere). Note that the sturdy Tudor castle at the end of the spit survived this storm and many others during its life of nearly 500 years.

1824 -- Brighton, Sussex.

On the 23 November 1824 the Pool Valley, Brighton was inundated ( History of early storms in Brighton (before 1987). It has also been reported that a storm in 1824 swept away the toll booth of the Chain Pier but the pier itself survived until a storm on the night of December 4th 1896 ( Storms Wrecked the Chain Pier ). John Constable painted "A Storm Off the Coast of Brighton 1824." It is oil on paper and in a private collection. It is possible that the effects of the 1824 storm were less severe at Brighton, further east, than in Dorset.

1824 -- Ramsgate

The storm affected places further east. It hit Ramsgate, with wind-direction southwesterly:
See the full account in this website: Literature and Place - Samuel Coleridge. -
Extract: "23rd November 1824. The gales have been tremendous – at this moment the Waves at the mouth of the Pier look like a surf-cliff, and it is fearful to watch the Skiffs.. . The Breakers were clearly visible from our window; and with a glass had the appearance of a very high & bold Coast. No boat could possibly approach to her: and if the Crew are saved, it will be little short of a miracle. …The Night but one after, it blew great guns the whole night – and last night up to the present moment the South West Wind has let Bedlam loose on the air.. "... continues

1824 contin - Further Notes on the 1824 Storm and the Chesil Beach

Groves (1875) stated that the supply of flints at the present day is greater than the loss caused by attrition, and so the Chesil Beach is very gradually creeping up to the height it had acquired at the date of the "Outrage", when the ridge was equally steep on either side and the present eastern expanse of pebbles had no existence. If these comments on the eastern pebble spread are correct then the magnitude of the 1824 event must have been of very rare occurrence (or an earlier pebble spread would have visible), and this was, perhaps, a storm in a thousand years. If the beach was lowered to the extent referred to above by the rector, then it must have been more vulnerable to further overtopping for a long period of time. In the Great Gale, the sloop Ebenezer, of 50 or 100 tons, ran up on the crest of a wave so high that she was subsequently launched into Portland Roads. This was mentioned both by Damon (1884) and by (Strahan, 1898). The stranding occurred midway between Ferrybridge and Chiswell. The reduction of the beach to about half its usual height to some extent explains this. See Le Pard (1999) for more information on the 1824 Great Gale.

1824 - contin - Effect of the 1824 Hurricane and Storm Surge on the Fleet

When this great storm lowered the beach crest and overtopped the beach so substantially, as noted above, it raised the level of the Fleet lagoon by 22 feet, 8 inches (6.9m) at Abbotsbury. The Chesil Beach in fact, according to Arkell (1947) was, at the date he wrote, 22 feet (6.7m) above high-tide level at Abbotsbury. It seems clear that by constant overtopping of the bank by waves at some stage in the storm the Fleet Lagoon was filled with seawater to the top level of the Chesil Beach, at least at the Abbotsbury end. Probably most of the Fleet Lagoon was filled to spillover level. This is not suprising. Any huge storm or tsunami that can feed a substantial quantity of water over the bank into the many kilometres of the long narrow Fleet Lagoon is bound to raise the lagoon to near beach-top level. The seawater cannot escape quickly enough out through the Smallmouth gap to keep the level down. A further complication, though, is that the storm surge that was able to flood much of Weymouth would have appreciably raised the water-level in Portland Harbour (the topic is discussed further below).

The torrential outflow from this almost dammed lagoon to Portland Roads (now Portland Harbour) at Smallmouth destroyed the east sandbank and Smallmouth became four times as wide as it had been previously. The Ferry House leading to Portland was washed away and the ferryman drowned. Smallmouth changed so much that it was too wide for a ferry after this great flood discharge.

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1836 - Westerly Storm in Channel - 23 and 27-29 November

On the 23 Nov 'a heavy westerly gale' was reported in the Channel and 'a dreadful storm at Calais'. From the 27 to 29 there were 'continued heavy gales from the west' in the Channel. On the 28 there were 'heavy gales' over southern England and near Plymouth there was 'storm all night and all day'. Details from Lamb (2005) p. 129.

Keyhaven, near Hurst Spit, was inundated in November 1836. Mr J.J. Greenwood drew attention to a record in the diary of Col. Peter Hawker (Payne-Galloway, 1893).

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1838 - Major Storm wrecks Dorset Vessels

On Wednesday, 28th November, 1838 a major storm took place and 24 hours later wrecked vessels were scattered all along the Dorset coast (Atwooll, 1998). I do not know of any reports of damage to the Chesil Beach.

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1839 - "Gale of Great Violence" - Nine Ships on Chesil

In a gale of great violence, nine vessels foundered or wer driven on the Chesil Beach between Portland and Abbotsbury, with the loss of all on board, excepting one ship of 500 tons which rode in on the top of a wave high on the bank (Damon, 1884). There is no specific mention of damage to the beach or of flooding.

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1841 - Ground Swell causes Kimmeridge Clay Exposure at Chesil Beach

This year a ground swell "laid bare for miles" the blue Kimmeridge Clay beneath the pebbles of the Chesil Beach. A strong north-easterly wind had swept the shingle from the clay, and the pebbles were not pushed back until the next south-westerlies (Legg in: Barnes and Legg, 1976). Beachcoming led to discoveries of material from ancient wrecks. Roman coins, especially the third bronze of Constantine, were "most numerous". There were also antique rings, seals, silver, gold ingots and other coins.

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1846 - 20-21 October - Relic of Tropical Hurricane

"Violent storm in Ireland, thought to have originated as a tropical hurricane" affected the Channel coasts and southwest England (Lamb ,2005, p. 133). The winds reported in Ireland and England were generally westerly on the 20th, later backing SW or S. An observer near Plymouth reported strong westerly winds all day on the 21st, and gusty, sometimes with heavy showers and in the evening with continuous rain. It became 'very stormy by night'.

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1853 - November - Storm Depletion of Chesil Shingle

"In November 1853 it was estimated that more than four million tons of shingle were swept into the sea during storms" (Legg in: Barnes and Legg, 1976).

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1865 - December - Percolation Flood, Chesil Beach - Railway Undermined

2 December, 1865. Percolation flood. Railway undermined Williams and Hardwick (1996).

(Monday - Middle of November 1865. A fierce gale during which a Cork schooner, the Black Diamond, was washed ashore on West Beach at Bridport and totally wrecked (Legg, 1999).)

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1866 - February Hurricane Uproots Elms at Studland

I do not know of any record concerning a storm in this year at the Chesil Beach, but the following is given in case information is found later. (Note: There was a severe storm at Studland, Dorset, on the 11th February, 1866. The direction of the wind is not known but there is reference to ships being blown out to sea, so perhaps it was from the southwest or the west. "A fearful hurricane levelled 99 large elm trees... This memorable gale practically swept the whole district, for at sea it played great havoc, and in Studland Bay alone 14 or 15 vessels were either wrecked or blown out to sea and sunk. The number of lives lost was never correctly known... " (Hardy, 1910) .)

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1867 - January - Head of Bournemouth Pier Demolished

A "hurricane" in January 1867 demolished the head of Bournemouth Pier, built in 1861.

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1868 - 23 April - Calm Weather Waves at Lyme Regis - A Tsunami or from a Distant Storm?

On the 23rd April, 1868, abnormally large waves appeared in calm weather (Anonymous, 1868). They were 6 to 9m (20ft to 30ft) high at Lyme Regis where they rose above the Cobb harbour wall and came ashore with a deafening roar. Burton Bradstock near the western end of the Chesil Beach was inundated as the waves came over the beach. The road to Bridport became impassable. Although the weather was calm Bridport also received flooding. Was this some result of a storm in the Atlantic or was it, in fact, a tsunami?

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1872 - The Royal Adelaide Gale - Chesil

November 25, 1872. There was a shipwreck during a gale of "great violence" with much noise from the backwashing shingle.

"The 'Royal Adelaide, a new iron ship, with passengers for Sydney, was wrecked on the beach near the Ferry Bridge. For the first time, the rocket apparatus was successfully applied, under the direction of Capt. R. V. Hamilton, of H.M.S. Achilles, all but twelve persons being rescued. The gale was one of great violence. The noise of the breakers and that of the recoiling shingle made it impossible to carry on conversation. Being night increased the confusion. Tar-barrels were ignited to illumine the shore and give hope to those on the wreck, to whom the scene was, as described by the survivors, one of great terror.

A crowd had assembled on the beach whose uplifted faces were made visible by the weird light of the flaming casks, added to which was the excitement when the basket returned for its living freight. The dread of being first pulled through the successive seas that rolled from the wreck to the shore, made many prefer to meet their end rather than encounter so terrible an ordeal.

A large quantity of watches, jewellery, and plate was on board as cargo, and passengers' baggage, but how much of this has been recovered will never transpire, as persons known to have such property in their possession would either be dispossessed of it or brought under the conditions of recent legislation. A portion of the ship's framework still remains submerged, where it interferes with fishing-operations." This record is from (Damon, 1884).)

See also: Smith (1995) for more details of the Royal Adelaide shipwreck.

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1876 - Storm caused collapse of the main part of Bournemouth Pier

The main part of Bournemouth Pier collapsed in a storm. It was replaced by an entirely new pier.

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1877 - January - Storm Surge Floods Southampton and Lymington

On the First of January, 1877, a southwesterly storm associated with an exceptionally high tide caused a storm surge that flooded parts of Southampton. At Northam the Chapel was under two feet of water, in the Glebe Road area garden walls were demolished by the water, and Redbridge Causeway was under five feet of water. There was flooding at Southsea and Cowes and the Hayling Island connecting bridge was blown down. The same storm surge caused a tidal flood at Lymington (Davison et al. 1993).

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1878 - The Eurydice Squalls - Isle of Wight

A very cold Arctic airstream with thermal instability produced northwesterly to northerly winds from 22 March to the first days of April. Hail showers and squalls. Sinking of the the naval training ship HMS Eurydice off the Isle of Wight with the loss of everyone on board. See Lamb (2005), p. 139. No information regarding the Chesil Beach and probably no major effect.

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1882 - The Alexandrovna Storm

On Saturday, 29 April, 1882, there was in the morning a fresh breeze and a falling barometer, presaging a gale. A great hurricane blew in the afternoon. The great ironclad frigate Warrior shipped sea after sea but escaped unharmed. The sailing ship Alexandrovna of Liverpool was completely destroyed in the foam-covered sea at the Ragged Rocks west of Tilly Whim Caves, near Swanage with the loss of all crew. See the Anvil Point to Blackers Hole Webpage for details.

In this storm sea-salt was blown more than a hundred miles inland, and trees on the coast were stripped of their green young leaves.

I have no information of any effect on the Chesil Beach.

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1883 - Gale with Overtopping of the Chesil Beach

3 September, 1883. Southwesterly gale. Overtopping of the Chesil Beach. Williams and Hardwick (1996).

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1884 - Report of landslide, "recently" at White Nothe

"Recently there has been a landslide at White Nore, covering several acres and bringing down masses of chalk from the upper part of the cliff" (Damon, 1884, p. 131). The exact date is not known to me (if you know, please inform me - many thanks)

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1886 - 8 December - Severe Gale in the English Channel

Force 12 severe gale from the SW was reported in the English Channel and elsewhere. Extreme low pressure near the depression centre, 927 mb at Belfast (Lamb, 2005).

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1891 - 9-10 March - Severe Gale with Heavy Snowstorm

Severe gale with heavy snowstorm in English Channel and southern parts of England and Wales. Wind northeasterly. Trains were buried by snow in Devon, Cornwall and Sussex (Lamb, 2005).

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1896 - Chain Pier at Brighton Destroyed

The Chain Pier at Brighton was destroyed by a storm on the night of December 4th 1896 ( Storms Wrecked the Chain Pier ). I do not know of any record regarding the Chesil Beach.

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1896 - Rousdon Hurricane, South Devon

There was a record of very high velocity winds at the Devon-Dorset border. I am not aware of any special effects on the Chesil Beach.
"...Up to now, however, the highest velocity which has been reliably recorded in a squall occurred during the very destructive gale of March, 1897, which did so much damage all over the south-west of England, and particularly over the southern parts of Devon. On that occasion the anemometer at Sir Cuthbert Peek's observatory at Rousdon [in the Landslip area west of Lyme Regis], a few miles to the east of Sidmouth, an instrument similar to the one the Corporation have erected upon the Smeaton Tower, recorded a hundred miles in a gust. The pressure of the wind in that gale was sufficient to unroof houses, blow down trees and walls, and to strew the whole countryside with evidences of its power; and we are inclined to think it is a 'record' with which those who remember the gale will be content, without desiring to further compete for the honour with other parts of the kingdom." (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903).

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1897 - March - Solent Storm

On Wednesday, 3rd March, 1897, a great storm caused devastation on the south coast and in the Solent (Davison et al. 1993).

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1898 - The Ernst on Shingles Bank in Storm

On November 23rd 1898, a 70 mile an hour SSE gale wrecked and destroyed the schooner Ernst on the Western Shingles Bank, between the Isle of Wight and the Hampshire Coast. Medland (1995). I know of no record regarding events at Chesil Beach.

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1899 - High Winds and Percolation Flood

13 February, 1899. A high velocity of wind was recorded at Smeaton Tower, Plymouth Hoe. The anemometer showed 85 miles per hour, which until 1902 was the highest recorded there (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903). I do not know the direction. At the Chesil Beach there was a percolation flood of water coming through the bank. There was little damage. Williams and Hardwick (1996).

The Preston barrier beach that protects Lodmoor was overwhelmed in 1899 (it had already been set back 60 feet between 1860 and 1890) ( Groves, 1889; Arkell, 1947).

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1900 - Destruction at Southbourne, Bournemouth

A storm of exceptional ferocity swept over the country on 28th December 1900. At Southbourne the sea wall was breached and the pier damaged severely; further storms in January extended this damage. Still more damage was done to the undercliff in 1902. The Undercliff Parade was abandoned and the pier dismantled in 1907 (Young, 1989).

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1902 - In Devon - the Eye of a Relict Hurricane?

There was a violent storm at Plymouth and it was bad elsewhere in Devon with very heavy rain on Saturday 8th November, 1902. There was sheet-flooding on NW Dartmoor. In gusts the wind reached 86 miles per hour at Smeaton Tower on Plymouth Hoe, a record. I am not aware of any effects on the Chesil Beach, (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903). Between gusts the speed was 50 mph. The wind was from SSW veering to West.

"From seven until ten the gale at Starcross [in the southern part of the Exe Estuary, near Exeter] raged with great violence and rain fell heavily. .. Fortunately it was nearly neap tide. Had it been spring tide Starcross and those houses facing the river would have been swamped. As it was the waves dashed over the jetty and against the railway banks, and the wind catching the spray carried it along in blinding sheets."

The eye of the storm, perhaps the relics of an Atlantic hurricane, now passed over Starcross, probably with a storm-surge at Dawlish Warren due to the low atmospheric pressure. "Just about ten o'clock the wind veered [from SW] to W. and N.W., and in an almost incredible time the river was as unruffled as a millpond. Those who live close to the river can hardly remember such a sudden change. At the same time an unusual sight was noticed - the waves in the Channel could be seen rising high above the Warren Sand hills [the coastal sand bar]." This resembles the events at East Fleet in 1824 when the sea was seen to rise above the coastal bar there. In this case the combination of the neap tide, the coastal morphology here and the offshore wind were not likely to produce a hazardous on-shore storm surge.

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1903 - Flood - Chesil Beach

No details available.

("Unusual Event in 1903 - Ball lightning enters a house: "The neighbourhood of Budleigh Salterton was visited with a heavy thunderstorm on Wednesday afternoon, which passed from east to west. It approached rapidly, and about a quarter to four the storm broke. A slight rumbling of thunder was followed by a deluge of rain which lasted about twenty minutes. In the midst of this downpour the picturesque little thatched cottage in the West Hill Road, owned and occupied by Mr. James Sanders, was struck by lightning and considerably damaged, while a side of an adjoining house was also seriously damaged... From what can be gathered there seems to have been only one actual eye-witness of the incident, a man named William Pratt, who was standing under some trees on the opposite side of the road for shelter. He saw something like a ball of fire pass right over his head and strike the house of Mr. Sanders. Immediately bricks, laths and plaster, etc., were flying in all directions. The side of a coalhouse, belonging to Mr. Sanders, and a pantry adjoining, belonging to Mr. Hillman, were blown completely outwards. The front wall of the kitchen has a hole through it, while the plaster across the ceiling, for about three yards, is blown down. Just over the fireplace is a round hole of about an inch and a half [4 cm] in diameter, pierced through the chimney breast. In this room Miss Eveleigh was sitting close to the window. Several panes of glass were broken by the shock. She says it seemed as if a ball of fire came into the room, ripped up the ceiling, swept all the crockery off the dresser, and disappeared, leaving a smell like burning brimstone behind..." [continues] This is not connected with high winds or stormy sea and just mentioned out of interest. (Committee on Scientific Memoranda, 1903).)

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1904 - Chesil Beach overtopped by Long Period Waves

February, 1904. Significant overtopping by long-period waves. Flood depth - 4 m. (13 feet).

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1910 - Flood - Chesil Beach

February, 1910. Two floods occurred. Percolation and overtopping Williams and Hardwick (1996).

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1911 - Huge Waves at Dawlish Warren

1911 - 11 December, Saturday night and Sunday morning. Eighty mile an hour winds drove huge waves onto Dawlish Warren. Much destruction. The sea cut away, in many places, the banks of sand and wiregrass and made channels through from the sea shore to the little bay, which at high tide, divides the popular side of the Warren from the golf course. Bungalow destruction at the Outer Warren ( Barber, 2001).

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1912 - Flood - Chesil Beach

(no details)

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1914 - Flood - Some overtopping of Chesil Beach

13 February 1914. Overtopping.

14 March 1914. Some overtopping. Mainly percolation. Little damage. Williams and Hardwick (1996).

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1916 - 16th February - Storm Surges on Danish and German Coasts.

Gales in the English Channel. Major Sea floods on the German and Danish North Sea coasts (Lamb, 2005).

[addtional note]

It is not known what affect there was on Hurst Spit or Chesil Beach or elsewhere. The 1916 Atlantic Hurricane Season (USA etc) is discussed in: Wikipedia - 1916 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The local sea flooding at Mudeford, might be related to the remains of Atlantic storms.

See also: Wikipedia. "Storm Tides of the North Sea. 1916, January 13 - 14, Zuiderland flood Netherlands, 16 casualties and about 300 square km flooded around the Zuiderzee. This flood led to the construction of the Afsluitdijk, creating the IJsselmeer."

Notes from newspaper re Mudeford Spit, Dorset, England - after Hoodless, W.A. (2005). Hengistbury Head (book).

"Raging seas tearing over low sandbank." "Beat high over Haven Inn". "Enterprize Tea Room completely demolished and swept away." "Water beating against houses at the Haven" "Waves breaking all around making it impossible for inmates to venture of doors. Mrs Cutler and three children unable to get out of the door owing to raging surf sweeping around the house."

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1917 - Destruction of Hallsands Village, Devon

Hallsands, a village near Start Point, had been built on a raised beach that was lower than the main cliff line. It was destroyed in southerly gales aggravated by a spring tide. There seems to be no record of any effects on the Chesil Beach.

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1924 - January - Lord Clyde Inn Flooding, Chiswell

January 1924. Severe flooding Williams and Hardwick (1996).

There is a photograph record in Morris (1989) of flooding at Chiswell in 1924. The Lord Clyde Inn was towards the north end of the village with its back to the beach. Floodways were built beneath the floor and flood ducts were opened to allow the seawater to gush out from beneath the public bar. The inn was closed after bomb damage in the Second World War and the remains cleared away in 1962 (see Morris, 1989, fig. 19). As usual there was flooding in Brandy Row (see Morris, 1989, fig. 20).

Sidmouth was also flooded in 1924 (Sidmouth Museum (2000).

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1928 - 16-17 November - Gale Damage in Southern England

Gale affected the English Channel. 81 knots recorded at the masthead of the Cardington airship field. Westerly winds (Lamb, 2005).

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1931 - 9-11 November - Western Isle of Wight Separated

Southerly and southwesterly gales on the 10th - 11th conincided with exceptionally high tides along the south coast of England and therefore caused much damage by coastal flooding and battering of houses along the shore by the waves. At Shoreham, Sussex, bungalows were considerably damaged. In Littlehampton streets were flooded to 60 cm.

Part of the Isle of Wight temporarily became a separate island. Sea floods covered the flood plain of the Western Yar between Yarmouth and Freshwater Bay cutting off the area to the west. See Lamb, (2005) for further information and meteorological map. I am not aware of any record regarding the Chesil Beach, but with such drastic effects on the Isle of Wight it would surprising if Dorset was totally unaffected.

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1936 - Flood

A postcard view of the Chesil Beach in quiet conditions in the early 1930s, with the card sent in 1936

11 November 1936. Overtopping causing damage Williams and Hardwick (1996). The Chesil Beach is quiet condition is shown in the postcard above which was sent in 1936, but presumably with a photograph of about 1933 or 1934. There is no sea wall at Chiswell and the Cove House Inn can be seen on the top of the beach.

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1938 - 1 June - Shingle driven back at Lodmoor, Weymouth

After a gale [probably from the south] on June 1st 1938, shingle completely blocked the road at the Preston barrier beach, protecting Lodmoor. The concrete wall was subsequently doubled in height (Arkell, 1947). No mention was made of Chesil.

"This summer gale of 1-2 June was described as attaining 'a violence unprecedented for the time of year since systematic wind measurements began'. Gusts of 76.4 knots were measured at Calshot on the south coast, 69.5 knots at the Lizard .. The wind averaged 53 knots over a whole hour at the Lizard.. A small, but intense depression moved about 600 miles in the 24 hours from 13h on the 1 June northeast across England from the mouth of the Channel.. There were gales near the centre, S force 8 being reported on the Brittany coast already at 13h on the 1st.. This intense development in late spring/early summer clearly owed its occurrence to the unusual temperature contrast existing.." (Lamb, (2005) p. 166.

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Huge Waves Over the Chesil Beach (13th December 1942)
- More than a Hundred Houses Inundated


Flooding of Chisel, looking south, as result of huge waves on the 13th Decemember 1942 Chesil Beach storms, Dorset

This was a major event, not so much of storm winds, but of huge waves hitting the Chesil Beach. One of these was estimated as being about 60ft. or 18m. high. A wave went through the windows of the Cove House Inn above the beach. It was, even at this height, powerful enough to slam a person against the bar, fortunately with only minor injury.


13 December 1942. Severe flooding for three tides. 150 houses damaged Williams and Hardwick (1996).

A detailed description has been provided by Rodney Legg (1976) in Barnes and Legg (1976). The extracts below are not complete and it is recommended that reference be made to the original publication which also has photographs of the flood damage:

"Lower Portland endured one of its greatest floods on Sunday 13 December 1942 when tremendous waves smashed over the Chesil Beach for a distance of more than a mile and inundated over a hundred houses in Chiswell. All road and rail communications between Portland and the mainland were dislocated. The stout stone wall which runs beside the beach road was reduced to rubble at many points and the railway line was breached for several yards; sleepers were swept away and rails buckled. ..A trail of mud, clay, shingle and boulders were strewn across the low-lying part of Chiswell when the sea receded...

In both 1824 [the Great Gale] and 1942 the sea first percolated through the Chesil Beach and then as the gales intensified the waves swept over the beach and skimmed off immense quantities of pebbles.

Shortly after 11 o'clock on that December morning in 1942 the water began to seep through the great wall of pebbles. At midday the first waves poured over the top: and within a short time the slight layer of water across Victoria Square had risen to over five feet...The first buildings to be flooded were the remains of houses on the west side of Chiswell and Big Ope. These had been reduced to ruins by the flood of 1824 and many were never repaired. Some have now been converted into workshops, or cleared away in the making of the esplanade, but others can still be seen today.

Mr. R. Flann of 109 Big Ope told reporters that many people had put flood-boards to their doors when the sea started seeping through the Chesil Beach. But the tide had "pitched off" and everyone was surprised when the first waves came over the bank. He continued:
"I had just got into the Cove House Inn, which is on the highest part of the beach. There wasn't much of a wind blowing although the south-south-easterly storms had been piling up the water in the bay. The sea was making a terrific roar as huge ground swells swept up the beach. Then I heard an even louder roar and a sea hit the side of the house. It must have been sixty feet high. The front door of the inn was shut but the wave rushed through the window and caught me square in the chest. I was thrown up against the bar, but I got away with only a cut on the back of my hand. I was lucky; I have never seen such waves in all my life."

Chesil Beach, Dorset in the 1970(?) before construction of the modern sea-defences. Note Cove House Inn on the top.

The Cove House Inn, Chesil Beach, Dorset, with additional protection against storm waves, 2004.

The Comben family, the landlords of the inn, took refuge upstairs. They came down three hours later to find the till filled with water, windows smashed, and glasses and cigarettes swept from the shelves. The frontage to the inn was washed away and the Combens spent the afternoon clearing up the mess.

Mr. J. Galpin, a fisherman of Three Yard Close, saw the waves hit the Cove House Inn and watched water pour down the roof and walls. He commented: "The people who built that place must have known what they were about. I was on the cliffs watching. Chiswell was covered in a cloud of spray. I saw the first great wave come rushing in across the bay. A two-ton logwood which came out of the old Rand, a sailing ship wrecked many years ago, was picked up like a straw. The logwood smashed into my hut, which contained five tons of old iron saws, and took it through a stone wall as if it had never been there. The remains of the hut were thrown down several yards away. An old boat was swept over three six-foot walls right out into the road a hundred yards away. The hut, as you can see, is just matchwood..."

One of the homeless was 75-year old Mr. L. White who had gone to sea in sailing ships and remembered the wreck of the Norwegian barque Christiana at the end of the last century: "I was then washed out of another house on the beach. But it wasn't as bad as this. There hasn't been such a bad day since 120 years ago, when a lot of people were drowned." Mr. White was told that his cottage, in a little alley close to the beach, would have to be demolished. Silt and yellow clay was a foot deep on the floor..

National newspapers sensationalised the floods with stories that the Chesil Bank had been either "breached" or "washed away"... Nothing of the kind had happened; the sea started by filtering through the 42 foot high bank and later came over the top as well. Some pebbles washed down into Chiswell but there is no evidence that the sea has ever torn a gash through the Chesil Bank." [end of extract]

[text location: Chesil Storms - 1942 end]

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1949 - Flood affects Railway Embankments, Chesil.

Railway embankments subsided. Flood depth 0.6 m. (2 feet) Williams and Hardwick (1996). 1953 - North Sea Storm Surge and East Coast Floods - 31 Jan, 1st Feb.

A major storm surge occurred in the North Sea on 31 January and 1st February. It does not seem to have affected the Dorset or Devon coast.

"The greatest surge on record for the North Sea as a whole occurred on 31 January and 1 February 1953. Its amplitude reached 2.74 m at Southend in Essex, 2.97 m at King's Lynn in Norfolk and 3.36 m in the Netherlands. Almost 100,000 hectares of eastern England were flooded and 307 people died. In the Netherlands, 50 dykes burst and 1,800 people drowned. The flood covered nine per cent of all Dutch agricultural land and three per cent of the dairy country. The sea reclaimed over 200,000 hectares of polder country. ( Flood Alert, Meteorological Office.)

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1954 Storm - 27 November - "Chesil Beach Breached"

A severe storm raged over southern England for two days in November 1954. In the nine o'clock news on the BBC radio on the 27th November 1954, it was said that:

"Chesil Beach had been breached in 30 places" (Arkell, 1956). The storm began about 7am on 26 November 1954, and increased in violence all day. The Shambles light-ship recorded winds of gale force 8. The Dorset Daily Echo for the 27 November states that by 11pm on the 26th "Boiling seas, surging over and up through the Chesil Beach swamped the main road.. A stretch from Ferry Bridge to Portland Square lay under water up to a depth of 4 ft. in places... Wyke coastguards counted 30 holes where the seas had worked through the Chesil Beach... A stretch of wall about 40 ft in length skirting the oil tanks was smashed down."

Arkell argued that the beach was not actually breached but that water burst out from the back of the bank from what are locally known as "caverns". Wave tops and spray spilled over the top but most of the water came through. One of the caverns was 10 ft deep and 100 ft across (Arkell, 1956) . These are discussed further in a section below on seawater springs.

Dr Arkell seems to have been somewhat upset by a newspaper article attributing comments to him. Arkell said in his 1956 paper " A national daily newspaper, some days after the 1954 storms, published preposterous mis-statements about the likely future of Chesil Beach and attributed them (with quotation marks) to me: and these statements were copied in various versions by some of the local press. Despite protests, no correction was published in the national paper, though the reporter who invented the statements was discharged."

Here is an extract from a newspaper article of about that date:

" Tides may sweep away the oldest sea-barrier

Britain's Chesil Bank, the world's most remarkable natural sea-barrier, may soon be swept away by the rising Channel tides. So believes Dr. W.J.Arkell, of Sedwick Museum, Cambridge, an authority on coastal geology. The 17-mile Chesil Bank, running from Dorset's Portland Bill to Burton Bradstock, is a beach of shingle which protects the low-lying South Dorset villages from the sea. It has stood for centuries unharmed by storms. But during the hurricanes in the Channel last week the bank was breached for the first time in 30 places. Dr Arkell is now collecting evidence of the breaches. He has long been watching with concern the caverns that have been appearing in the bank in recent years, and he says that they are gradually getting larger. He writes in a letter to the assistant curator of Dorset County Museum: " The recent storms have confirmed the theory that the days of the world-famous bank are numbered. There is nothing to stop the sea's eventual victory, and in the end the shingle of the bank will be scattered into Portland Harbour. Portland itself will become an island completely cut off by the sea" It has long been known to geologists that the land at the western corner of England has been tipping seawards [in fact it is the south and southeast, not so much the southwest which is tipping down]. In Dorset, Devon and Cornwall local authorities have had to face ever-increasing coast erosion problems, which are getting worse each year."

The quotation here, attibuted to Arkell, may well represent the situation, in spite of the denial, but in the longer term (i.e. in geological time) not necessarily in the short term. It is the "soon may be swept away" which, no doubt, caused the dispute and the sacking of the reporter! But just what is "soon"?

Also flooding on 1 December, 1954. Quite severe flooding reported by Williams and Hardwick (1996).

The 1954 storm affected other areas. At Lymington, Hampshire from 26 to the 30 November 1954 the sea came over the west bank of the harbour five nights in succession. There is reference to Spring tides, an east wind and much rainwater. Tidal flooding to 2 and a half feet of water was noted in the semi-basement of the "Smugglers Haunt". The floor of the Lymington Town Sailing Club was covered with 2 inches of water (see Chitty, J. 1983, The River is Within Us: A Maritime History of Lymington, Belhaven Publisher, 250 pp.)

There was damage to Hurst Spit, Hampshire. The following newspaper report presumably refers to this storm. Anonymous (1954). Houses destroyed by floods: terrific seas burst through Hurst Shingle Bank. New Milton Advertiser, 4 December 1954, p.1. Article not seen, but referred to by Delair (2007).

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1957 - Summer Storm at Lulworth Cove

"We were actually at Little Bindon for the huge summer storm of July 1957, which resulted in cliff falls and wrecked almost every boat moored in the cove." (Comment kindly provided by Giles Pepler, grandson of Sir George Pepler of Little Bindon, Lulworth Cove).

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1962 - Flood - Chesil Sea Wall Undermined

18 January, 1962. Severe overtopping. Sea wall undermined (Williams and Hardwick, 1996)

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1968-1982 - Very Rapid Recession of Hurst Beach

The recession of Hurst Beach, the main part of Hurst Spit, increased significantly after 1968, attaining a maximum rate of 3.5 metres per annum in the period 1968-1982 Nicholls and Webber (1987b). This represents two to three times the previous rate. It is not clear whether it is entirely due to increased shingle starvation because of the Milford sea defences, or whether some change in wave conditions has been a factor.

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According to (Williams, 1992) there were at least seven floods in the 1970s with record levels in 1974, 1978 and 1979.

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1974 - Flood

A two-day storm and percolation flood (Williams and Hardwick, 1996).

(Note: In this year there was storm surge at Plymouth. It was detectable as far east as Portsmouth. I do not known if it is related to this percolation flood of the Chesil Beach. I repeat some notes given above, in partial explanation of the 1824 hurricane.

Barbican, Plymouth Storm Surge of 1974: It is relevant to consider a more recent storm surge at Plymouth that has been studied hydrographically. See the interesting paper of George and Thomas (1976). Here is a brief extract regarding Plymouth.
"The "Barbican" surge of 1974 February 11: High spring tides at the Barbican, Plymouth, are liable to wash over the quayside. .... On the morning of February 11 .. the sea level rose to 6.3m. The sea surged over the now unprotected Barbican and caused the worst flooding in living memory; the predicted height of high water at the time being only 5.5m. The meteorological conditions for this period are shown in Fig. 5. During February 10, the depression to the west of Ireland (Low H) continued its north-easterly movement and became slow-moving off the north-west of Scotland. A secondary depression to the north of the Azores ( Low J) deepened and rapidly moved to a position south of Ireland. This depression further intensified over southern England and was eventually absorbed by the primary low to the north of Scotland...
Between midnight and 1800 on February 11, the winds over south-west England backed from the S.W. to become prolonged southerly gales (force 8), before veering and dying out. These steady gales, together with the low pressure, were the cause of the storm surge during this period... The surge is of the single positive type, and is detectable at St. Mary's, Devonport and Portsmouth. The maximum surge height was 0.8m at Devonport...[continues].")

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1976 Flood

15 October, 1976. Percolation flood (Williams and Hardwick, 1996)

Storm on Chesil Beach, 1976

This photograph, from Stuart Morris' (1990) book - Portland Camera - and reproduced here by permission of the Dovecote Press, shows seepage and some overtopping during a 1976 storm (see also the other interesting publications of the historian of Portland, Stuart Morris). This was of the type which may occur every five years or so. The flooding does not seem major at Chiswell but, as happens from time to time, it has cut off the island by flooding the road along the east of the bank. The entire road was raised by 1.5m in 1988 to reduce the number of occasions when it may be closed by storm action (Morris, 1990) . Notice that the Cove House Inn on the top of the bank does not seem to be much affected. Notice also the cars at the back of the beach. Perhaps cars from here are the ones damaged in the 1979 storms, as shown in newspaper cuttings below.

Gibbs (1982) referred to this storm: "On the 11th October, 1976, hurricane force winds were recorded in the area. Severe waves overtopped the beach and caused flooding in Chesilton. Flood water was over 1 m deep near the Naval oil tanks (SY 676745). Shingle was carried over the sea wall and deposited in Chesilton. There were no reports of any 'breaches' in the beach, thus flooding was due to overtopping and seepage. The seaward slope of the storm ridge was modified to 45° at Chesilton, and was at approximately the same angle for 3 km to the west, whereas previously it had been 22°. Areas of clay exposed on the beach at the base of the storm ridge were re-covered with pebbles over the next few days during constructive wave conditions."

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1977 - Severe Rainstorm

12 July 1977. Severe rainstorm (Williams and Hardwick, 1996)

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1978 - February - Flooding at Chiswell

Rescue from floods at Chiswell, Portland, Dorset in February 1978

On the 18th, 19th and 26th February, 1978, heavy seas and high tides, particularly on the 26th February, combined to cause flooding at Chesilton, again due to overtopping. Again, there were no records of 'breaches' in the beach. At the other end of Chesil Beach the village of West Bay also suffered, the sea wall and car park being destroyed Gibbs (1982).

13 December 1978. Severe overtopping of beach and sea wall (Williams and Hardwick, 1996)

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1978 - 13 December - Flooding at Chiswell; Chesil Beach Lowered in Height

The sea flooded over the bank into Chiswell on December 13 1978. According to Gibbs (1982) on the 13th December, 1978, gale force 9 winds and high spring tides caused the worst instances of overtopping for several years. Waves breaking over the sea wall at Chesilton damaged buildings, swept away boats and carried shingle into the main street. The end of the sea wall was damaged, and the height of the storm ridge was lowered in two places (SY 683735 and SY 681738), allowing more overtopping. Water flowing across the main road washed part of it away, exposing the island's main gas supply pipes and electricity cables. The shingle was lowered at Chesilton exposing the steel foundations of the sea wall, and areas of clay were uncovered. Seven natural seepage cans developed along the back slope of Chesil Beach where it borders the Fleet (SY668754), 2 km west along the beach from where the storm ridge was lowered. The spacings between the cans varied between 7.6 m and 38.4 m, and each can had a shingle spread at its base. The width of these cans varied between 1.5 m and 24.9 m.

(A reference in (Williams and Hardwick, 1996) to overtopping on 13 February 1979 (13.02.1979) is probably an erroneous reference to the same event above. They refer to long period swell, severe overtopping and extensive damage.)

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1979 - 13th February - Waves from a Distant Depression Advancing Eastward cause Flooding of Chiswell.

Tide of fear, 1979

Terror wave, 1979

Gigantic wave, 1979

Newspaper cutting, 1979

Flood at Chiswell, 1979

Flood details, 1979

Flood details, 1979

There was drastic overtopping of the bank at Chiswell on on February 13, 1979. According to Gibbs (1982), a high spring tide combined with a storm surge from a disturbance far out to sea, caused massive waves to overtop Chesil Beach and cause extensive damage to Chesilton. It was reported that there was little wind, and no warning. Lamb (2005), p. 183 provided a meteorological analysis maps which shows a low advancing eastward along the English Channel and passing south of the Isle of Portland. He reported that the gradient wind strengthened over the English south coast to about 100 knots and was still of that strength over Kent until noon on the 14th.

At the Chesil Bank eyewitnesses reported that huge waves came over the bank at about 6.15 in the morning. At that time the low was out far to the west in the Western Approaches to English Channel. Seen from the sea wall the waves were not the normal type of storm wave. "They rolled in about 200 hundred yards [about 200m] apart, long unbroken humps of water disappearing into the mist." In the months before the flood the beach had been seen to decrease in height by the view of oil tanks in the distance. After this flood the beach top was lower and more oil tanks were visible. The newspaper cuttings provided here give some details of events.

Extract from the Daily Mirror, February 14 1979: "Tide of Fear: Families flee as 60ft waves engulf their homes."

"The tide-tortured people of Portland trembled in their beds last night - numb with terror at the mountains of water shattering their lives. Only the brave stayed put after a barrage of 60 ft waves roared into their homes... Wave after wave crashed over the beach, pounding cars into rows of crumpled wrecks and swamping homes with 6 ft of water. Screaming victims jumped from windows as the sea swept upstair, reducing some houses to the point of complete collapse."

It was 6.15am and the conditions were relatively quiet with just a gently dawn breeze blowing in from the sea. There was no extreme wind. It seems that rather suddenly a very heavy swell, with a certain wave development, overtopped the beach.

Something similar happened further east down the coast at Hurst Spit. A brief report in the Southern Evening Echo for Thursday 15 February, and by Keith Bloodworth was entitled:

Cruel Sea Breaches Hurst Shingle Bank

"Hurst shingle bank at the entrance to the Solent was breached by heavy seas yesterday and bulldozers stood by in case of any further break-throughs. Twenty foot waves rolled in from the Christchurch Ledge" and lunchtime's high water was the highest of the week. Huge waves crashed over the spit. Flooding was reported along the Milford sea front near the Marine Cafe and shingle was hurled into the road."

(Also - January 4, 1979 - Torcross, Start Bay, Devon. "300 evacuated as huge seas pound village". The Daily Telegraph, Friday, January 5, 1979, by Gerald Bartlett. "Nearly 300 distraught and shivering Devon villagers wre being evacuated from their homes last night as mountainous seas propelled by force nine gales smashed through walls and windows, reducing some buildings to rubble and floating planks of wood. As villagers in the South Devon resorts of Torcross and Bessands battled with "the worst sea storms and onslaught in living memory" the morning high tide picked up massive boulders in 30 ft waves and hurled them at the helpless seas communities. With water pounding several feet deep through many homes, residents in both villages battened down windows and moved furniture and carpets to the relative safety of upstairs rooms. But the force of ice-cold sea proved to much to cope with. In Beesands 200 people were evacuated to friends homes, initially, as men from the fishing community stayed on to try and salvage what they could. An early casualty was a £70,000 house - completely destroyed - and builders were trying last night to save another by shoring up walls smashed by pounding waves... Weeping women in Bessands recalled last night that the "sister" village of Hallsands was completely engulfed and destroyed by the sea in 1917 - in southerly gales which like yesterday's were aggravated by spring times.." [continues].)

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1982 - Change in Wave Climate and Effects at West Bay

Wave climate changed in 1982 and accretion ceased on the east side of the harbour, and depletion of the western part of the Chesil Beach commenced (now in 2005 it is becoming a significant problem). See Bray (1992) and Hydraulics Research (1979-1991).

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1986 - Flood Alleviation Scheme Implemented.

In 1986 a Flood Alleviation Scheme was implemented at the northern end of Chiswell. A 550m long drain was laid down under the pebbles to collect seawater seeping through the pebble beach and so to prevent it from flooding part of Chiswell. The diagram above shows (not accurately to scale) a cross section through the Chesil Beach a short distance north of the Cove House Inn. An 18m deep barrier of steel sheet-piling was driven down (very noisily apparently!) at the back of the beach. This is not visible, but a timber capping of is obvious. [More information, and a diagram, is given in a section on Chesil Beach sea defences towards the bottom of the webpage, after this listing of events.]

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1987 - 16th October - The "Hurricane" of TV Weatherman Michael Fish

This was a famous storm that caused much damage on land but surprisingly does not seem to have had any notable effects on the Chesil Beach.

"The great storm of October 1987 was the worst to affect the south east of England since 1703. After the storm had passed the landscape was changed - some 15 million trees were felled and whole forests decimated. Buildings suffered severe damage and ships were driven on to shore. 16 people died as a direct result of the storm damage." (The Great Storm in South East England - October 1987) .

"Winds rapidly strengthened over southern England after midnight. The strongest winds attained between 2h and 6h, produced gusts of probably 100 knots at Shoreham on the Sussex coast and over 90 knots at at least six places with anemometers between Thorney Island, Herstmonceux, Ashford (Kent), and Sheerness in the Thames estuary. Gusts over 80 knots occurred in central London and at places from Jersey in the Channel Islands (85 knots) to Gorleston on the east coast of Norfolk (85 knots). Gusts somewhat exceeding 95 knots were measured in the Gorm field in the eastern North Sea. The strongest winds in most places were from about SSW."

"The total cost to the insurance industry due to losses and damage in England was estimated at £1000 million at 1988 prices. This figure cannot be regarded as the total cost of the storm since it leaves out losses that were not insured.

Newspapers and radio media were quick to suggest comparability of this storm with the great storm in 1703. since such events are rare in the extreme south and southeast of England. The 1987 storm produced its damaging effects in much of the same area of England as in 1703. Return periods of over 200 years were suggested on the basis of twentieth century wind measurements for the extreme gusts produced by this storm in England southeast of a line from Southampton through London to Norwich." Lamb (2005) .

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1989 - December - Storm with Serious Damage to Hurst Spit

On 16 and 17 December 1989 southwesterly storms combined with a surge of excess of 1 metre flattened an 800m length of Hurst Spit (Wright, 1998). In a matter of hours the spit was rolled back up to 80 metres and 50,000 tons of shingle were pushed into Mount Lake by the rollover process, or lost offshore. Before repairs could be started the flattened remains of the Spit were cut through by channels down to low water level and large areas of saltmarsh were eroded by wave action. I am not aware of serious effects on the Chesil Beach.

On the 16th - 18th December, 1989, a depression caused strong winds gusting over 80mph. Waves over 20 feet in heigh were reported in the English Channel and there were huge tides, presumably as a result of a storm surge Davison et al. 1993.

The most severe damage to Hurst Spit occurred in the winter of 1989, particularly the 16th - 17th December. The storms not only overwashed and broke though in individual locations, as in 1979 above, but overwashed on a large scale as "sheet overwash". The top of the beach for a considerable distance was washed over to the saltmarshes behind. The beach was flattened so as to be no longer a barrier. This disastrous sheet overwash is also referred to as "sluicing overwash".

At this stage Hurst Spit was almost in its death throes. Sea defence work to repair it for short term survival cost £440,000. The five million pound stabilisation scheme which took place in 1996-7, was a follow-up to this near loss of the spit.

Davison et al(1993) wrote:
"After seemingly endless blue skies, hot summer sunshine and a benign autumn, severe gales struck in mid-December, 1989. Winds blew with ferocious force from far out in the Atlantic and a combination of this long fetch from the south west, where waves were reported 20 feet in height, strong winds gusting over 80 mph and huge tides, led to massive flooding along the Hampshire coast and on the Isle of Wight. The depression responsible was code named Low "A". The far west in Christchurch Bay took a heavier pounding than on the night of the Great Storm of 1987. The Borough Flood Protection Officer, Frank Tyhurst, was amazed to find the tide two feet above an average spring tide, the highest level in recorded history, an entirely unexpected occurrence. Water flooded into Bridge Street and Wick Lane and the entire Mudeford Quay was inundated...

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Storm - 1990 - January - Cove House Inn Damaged

Severe storm. Cove House Inn Damaged (Williams and Hardwick, 1996).

Exposure of the blue clay at Chesil Cove, Isle of Portland, Dorset, in February 1990, photographed by Stuart Morris

On the 25 January 1990 a great southwesterly storm was severest over southern England; gusts of wind exceeded 87 knots in places. There were other storms on 3 February and 26 February. There were major insurance losses. See Lamb (2005), pp. 193-194. As shown above, the beach at Chesil Cove was depleted of pebble and the blue clay beneath was exposed in February 1990. The photograph is by Stuart Morris. See below for a similar event in February 2014.

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1991 - Beach Damage near Lepe in West Solent

See: New Forest Coastal Management Plan, February 2004. C7, Zone 7: North West Solent Shore. Available on the internet at: North West Solent Shore.. See the following comment:

"Similarly, the shingle beach north of Stansore Point is relatively unstable despite the timber groynes and revetments that have been constructed. The beach was breached extensively in 1991, resulting in damage to the cross Solent Isle of Wight gas mains. Parts of the heavily wooded foreshore, which forms part of Cadland Estate, have been lost over the last 50 years."

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2004 - October - Cornwall, Waves and Flooding

"High winds, huge waves and flooding on Wednesday 27th October means that for the second time in three months Cornwall's suffering the after effects of appalling weather." BBC webpage - Cornwall battles against the storms. "The far west of the county had the first taste of the powerful winds combining with spring tides after they had hit the Isles of Scilly on Wednesday..In Penzance the combination of spring tides and gale force winds from the south east sent huge breakers crashing over the Promenade - many properties in the surrounding streets were flooded. There was also two feet of water on the tracks at Penzance station. The 70-mile-an-hour winds moved along the south coast from Penzance causing flooding at Flushing where forty houses were under water and at nearby Penryn. At Looe waves crashing on the front and the rapidly rising tide lead to road closures and people being evacuated from their homes into the church hall. The force of the water blew manhole covers into the road and sea front furniture was washed up Looe River. The floods caused many roads to be closed to traffic and brought southern parts of the county almost to a standstill..."
I am grateful to Michael Shouler of Plymouth University for drawing my attention to this record. He mentioned that Swanage, with an east-facing sea-front, suffered some flooding due to the strong south-easterly wind.

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2005 - Depletion at Western End of Chesil Beach

The depletion of the western end of the Chesil Beach on the eastern side of West Bay harbour continues to be a problem. There are effects at least as far east as Burton Bradstock. See photograph below. Some artificial embankment of the shingle on the east side of West Bay is now (2005) taking place as a precaution.

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset

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2005 - 3rd November - Lulworth Cove Tragedy

On November 3 there was a severe gale, not of hurricane proportions, but which produced a very rough sea and large waves. It caused some partial flooding of the Weymouth-Portland road according to media reports. There seems to have been no mention of major overtopping of the Chesil Beach or of serious damage at Chiswell or elsewhere behind the Chesil Beach. There was little major effect inland. Unfortunately, there was the sad loss of two boys at Lulworth Cove, washed away by the waves, and there were many media reports concerning this. Some details of the effects of the storm are given below.

"Huge waves crash on to the sea front at Lyme Regis, Dorset, yesterday. Strong winds and a dangerous tide combined to cause chaos along the south coast with flooding in Weymouth and flood warnings in Hampshire. (The Guardian Newspaper, Friday November 4, 2005, p. 5., with photograph of waves crashing on the seafront at Lyme Regis).

Lulworth Cove - "Three boys from the village, Matthew Myburgh, 16, Charlie Morrell, 15 and Richard Lawrence, 15, decided to head down to the waterfront to watch the force of nature first hand. It was early evening but already dark when Matthew and Charlie climbed up on to a cliff ledge on the western point of the cove. They were watching the sea batter the cliffs below them when a sudden wave swept them off their feet and out into the raging water. The boys were swept off cliffs on the western point of the cove. Richard, who had been standing at a higher ledge, jumped after them in a desperate attempt to rescue his friends." (BBC - news report - Village Heartbreak over Lost Boys).

Richard Lawrence swam ashore and survived but sadly the bodies of the two boys swept off the lower ledge were washed up on the east side of the cove about a week later. Reports stated that winds at Lulworth Cove had reached 70 mph. The Reverend Naylor said the storms were the worst he had experienced in his six years in Lulworth. "The sea was just boiling."

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2005 - 2nd December - Severe Wind Storm, Portland and Channel

Michael Shouler of Plymouth University has drawn my attention to a severe storm with a deep depression centred in the western English Channel. Apparently the weatherstation at Portland recorded a top wind gust of 80 mph, probably one of the strongest gusts since the 1987 storm. Michael mentioned that this did not produce a major storm surge and he suggested that limitations on fetch were perhaps responsible for this. Certainly the meteorological analysis map which he sent me suggests that the depression centre might have been further south than that of the disastrous 1824 storm; the latter seems to have had a long southwesterly fetch at the time when the flood waves broke over the Chesil Beach.

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2006 - 22 September - An Atlantic Hurricane dissipates off Ireland

A hurricane faded out in an area northwest of the English Channel and seems to have had no major effect on the Chesil Beach or other parts of the Wessex coast. Waves at Shannon, Ireland, however, were 50 feet (15 metres) high, according to newspaper reports, and were used for a special surfing competition. The highest part of the Chesil Beach is about 14 metres high, but fortunately it requires a very specific and unusual hurricane track to cause waves like this to reach the Chesil Beach and, thus, overtop it. As noted above, the worst occurrence known of a hurricane entering the English Channel was in November 1824.

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2006 - December 31

Plastic debris littering the Chesil Beach, near Chiswell, Dorset, as seen in stormy conditions on 31 December 2006.

There were stormy conditions on the Chesil Beach on 31 December 2007, but no overtopping or unusual effects. It should be noted, though, that the beach is littered with plastic debris in the Chiswell area, as shown in the photograph above.

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2007 - Storm in the English Channel on the 18 January

The effects of a storm, as observed at Milford-on-Sea at the western end of Hurst Spit, Hampshire, on 18 January 2007

There were several gales during the winter of 2006-7. A major storm, probably of about 1 in 19 years type, took place on Thursday 18 January and the preceding night. There was a very strong wind from the west. A wind force of 90 mph was recorded at the Needles, Isle of Wight. As shown above, the effects were significant at Milford-on-Sea but the Hurst Spit was not breached (I was not able to photograph the Chesil Beach at this time).

The 62,000-tonne, 276m. long, container ship MSC Napoli, was holed in the storm of the 18 January. It was then intentionally run aground about 1 mile south of Branscombe, near Beer, Devon following serious structural failure. The ship listed badly and 103 containers fell into the sea. Several were washed ashore at Branscombe Beach, close to Beer Head. Hundreds of scavengers descended on the beach at Branscombe after 50 of the ship's containers washed ashore. Beachcombers took away goods that included BMW motorbikes, wine, face cream and nappies. Oil pollution affected many seabirds; about 1000 being rescued on the beaches. This pollution disaster took place at the western end of Lyme Bay within the area of the World Heritage Coast - the Jurassic Coast. At the time of writing the attempt to remove oil from the ship is continuing and there are plans to remove the containers by floating cranes.

There is the risk of very severe littering of the Chesil Beach with debris from the containers of this ship. It is to be hoped that they are mostly removed unbroken. If they are dispersed and broken then their contents is likely to be transported to the Chesil Beach by the prevailing southwesterly winds. Oil pollution could also affect the beach.

Coastal problems caused by the storm include the loss of large quantities of beach sand at Highcliffe, Dorset.

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2007 - Flood levels at Portsmouth - 10 March 2007

Flood levels at Portsmouth on 10 March 2007 were a 15 year event!
"Research by PhD student Ivan Haigh with Prof. Robert Nicholls (Civil Engineering) and Dr Neil Wells (NOCS) shows that while not exceptional, the recent coastal floods were an usual event. At Portsmouth the sea reached 5.5 m above Chart Datum, which Ivan estimates is roughly a 1 in 15 year event, or more formally has an annual probability of 7%. However, rising sea levels are making such events more common – 100 years ago the same flood level as observed today would have occurred less frequently than once in a 100 years. Ivan's PhD concerns sea levels in the English Channel, including extremes from 1900 to present. Posted 11th March 2008 by RJN."

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2008 - 10th March - Storm and Storm Surge
(0.9m. at Southampton)

Views of the northwestern part of the Chesil Beach from Burton Cliff, Dorset, in normal and storm conditions, 2008

The  Fleet Laooon raised by infiltration of the Chesil Beach and flooding out at Ferrybridge, Wyke Regis, Dorset

The Fleet Lagoon raised by storm infiltration and near road level at Ferrybridge, Wyke Regis, Dorset

A deep depression over southern England with westerly winds in the English Channel caused a moderate storm surge coinciding with a high spring tide. The effects were not extreme but there was major wave action and localised sea-flooding around the English Channel, particularly at a caravan park on Selsey Bill. There was flooding of the Sandbanks road, and with the ferry at the south end out of action, the end of the Sandbanks peninsula was temporarily cut off from the mainland.

The Chesil Beach was quite strongly attacked by storm qaves with a high water level. There was some overtopping and much infiltration.

Effects of the storm could be seen at Ferrybridge, where the road crosses a bridge southward to the Isle of Portland. The storm had caused seawater to overwash and infiltrate into the Chesil Beach. This added floodwater to the Fleet Lagoon and raised the level. The head of water then flooded out at Ferrybridge, almost reaching the level of the road. It flooded the Ferrybridge car park.

Adrian Bicker, who was photographing the storm effects wrote to me that:

"The height of the water in the Fleet surprised me as the tide should have been falling for 2+ hours. Then I remembered a previous visit to the Fleet at Abbotsbury, where I watched sea water running out of the shingle along the back of the beach and flowing into the Fleet. The higher the tide on the outside of the beach, the greater the volume of sea water entering the Fleet - along its whole length!"

This near-flooding happened with a moderately bad storm. Sooner or later an extreme hurricane like that of 1824 will occur again, although, of course, it might be in the distant future. When the sea comes over the Chesil Beach on a large scale, as it did then, the bridge may hardly be visible. There was a huge amount of water to flow out at Ferrybridge, although there was no obstructing bridge at that time. On November 23rd 1824 the Fleet water was standing 22 feet, 8 inches (6.9 metres) on the alluvial meadows of the Decoy near Abbotsbury ( Arkell, 1947). It is not known when this will next happen, but the situation at Ferrybridge and Wyke Regis during such an event should be given advance consideration.

Recent rapid increase in erosion at Chilling Cliff near the Brownwich valley, northwest of Hill Head, Hampshire, Solent coast

Partial collapse of lookout building, Chilling Cliff, near Fareham, Hampshire, Solent Coast, with Scott Mills, 17th March 2008

In the Solent the storm caused much erosion at Chilling Cliff near Lee-on-the-Solent and Fareham. This area has been retreating quite rapidly since 2005 and seems to be a major area of erosion now. It is not clear as to why this is happening just here.

Further information comes from the CCPEM, Southampton University:

Storms and surges at Southampton Monday 10th March 2008
"A very intense storm event (central pressure of 965 mb) coincided with high spring tides at lunch time on 10th March 2008 (12.20 GMT) resulting in a very high sea level at Southampton. The water level at Dockhead was 5.6 m above the chart datum at 12.10 GMT, whilst the predicted high water level from the tide tables was 4.7m. The surge of 0.9m was quite extreme for this area of the coast. The storm intensity and track itself was well predicted 24 hours ahead, together with the winds on the south coast. The storm surge also appears to have been well predicted by the environment agency at Southampton and Portsmouth. The unusual coincidence of a very deep depression and extremely high winds in the English Channel, with high spring tides is the cause of the high water levels... "[continues]
Dr Neil Wells, School of Ocean and Earth Science University of Southampton.

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2009 - November 14th - Storm without Major Damage Effects

Impact on the Chesil Beach, Dorset, of waves from the storm of 14th November 2009, photo by Alan Holiday

Very strong winds from the SW and S were predicted for the Dorset and Hampshire area on the 14th November 2009. A storm surge of about 1 metre on top of high tide was expected for the Solent at about 9 am. However, the winds arrived later in the day, than expected, and at a time when the tide was low for most of the region; the storm did not last long. A velocity of 70 mph (113 km/hr) was recorded at Brixham in Devon. Winds of 100 mph (160 km/hr) were recorded at the Needles, Isle of Wight, a particularly exposed site. Power lines were blown down in Devon and Cornwall. Alan Holiday visited the Chesil Beach during the storm and kindly took photographs and reported on the situation. Waves were very large but there was no overtopping of the Chesil Beach. The open drainage channel at the back contained water. Water was not seen draining out of the caged culvert outflow. (In the Christchurch Harbour area there was flooding, but this was probably mainly the result of very heavy rain in the previous few days).

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27th June 2011 - Seiche hits Cornwall to Hampshire

The effects of a sudden rise in sea level of about 40 to 60cm. were observed from Penzance to Portsmouth. This happened at about 10.30am on Monday the 27th June, 2011. These were recorded in various press reports (29th June 2011 etc). Tidal gauges from Cornwall to Hampshire showed that a rapid rise in sea-level from west to east. During the event the tide line (not the height) changed in places by up to 50 metres for a short time. A small wave travelled upstream against the flow of the River Yealm in Devon and photographs of this were published.

The event was not a tsunami because it did not coincide with any recorded earthquake (according to the British Geological Survey). One theory put forward was that it was the effects of an underwater landslide, but no specific evidence of this is known. It was suggested that something had occurred off the Irish coast, about 400 km away from observed locations on the south coast of England.

Dr. Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton University, considered that the wave was not a tsunami but was a seiche, an oscillatory wave system that had built up further west in the Atlantic. Storm-induced seiches in the English Channel have discussed by Wells and Baldwin (2002).

(For newspaper and online journalistic accounts Google the subject matter for about June 2011 and, in particular, see: "Daily Mail, June 30th: Underwater landslide causes 'hair-raising' tsunami ... off the coast of Cornwall." See also Wikipedia "Tsunamis in the United Kingdom")

For more details see:

Simon (2011). Small Tsunami hits Devon/Cornwall - posted by Simon, June 30th, 2011. Apparently a reproduction of a Daily Mail report.

Daily Mail Reporter. 2011. Underwater landslide causes 'hair-raising' tsunami ... off the coast of Cornwall. Daily Mail Newspaper.

"A massive underwater landslide 200 miles off the coast of Cornwall caused a series of mini-tsunami waves and tides on Monday. Holidaymakers, fishermen and conservationists were stunned when the tide suddenly shifted up to 50 metres [laterally on the shore] in a matter of minutes. The rapid drop in tide led to a perceivable shift in air pressure which remarkably created so much static that it caused people's hair to stand on end.

... The mini-tsunami was recorded on tidal gauges from Cornwall to Hampshire which revealed the 2ft high column of water moved from west to east. .. Dr. Martin Davidson of the University of Plymouth, said that the wave was probably caused by a sand or mud slide at sea. .. It was probably not due to an earthquake, which is the normal cause of a tsunami. This one was probably caused by a landslide. ... The huge volume of water which was described as "a mill pond" seconds earlier - shifted at around 10.30am on Monday morning." ... (continues with photographs of the small surge wave).

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These storms were severe and caused widespread damage, flattening Hurst Spit and causing new and major erosion, at Milford on Sea (behind the sea wall, just west of the White House). Numerous beach huts were destroyed, and their remain removed at Milford-on-Sea in particular (and probably elsewhere). The Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited flooded parts of the Milford sea front. See Hurst Spit and Milford Webpage for details.

2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chiswell

Introduction - Storm of 6-7th January 2014.

A major storm with very large waves from the Atlantic on the night of the 6th to the 7th January 2014 was of importance because it damaged the Chesil Beach quite appreciably. This was a major storm with a storm surge of about 2.5m.Photographs of the affects of this are shown below. Although this storm was fairly severe it was not on the scale of the 1824 November hurricane. It was characterised by very large waves coming in to the English Channel from the Atlantic Ocean. The main effect on the country was very heavy rainfall and consequent severe flooding which continued for some days afterwards. Drains burst and roads were blocked. There was a national flooding crisis, with flood water a more important problem than wind action. This was not just an isolated storm. Depressions, driven by a very active jet stream, kept coming in from the Atlantic bringing windy and wet weather. The centres of the depressions were generally over Scotland and they did not enter the English Channel.

There seems to have been some effect from the large, and probably long wavelength waves, on the Chesil Beach on the 6-7th January 2014, but it was not disastrous. The smaller, but similar Hurst Spit was eroded and steepened appreciably, but was not flattened or broken through. The Chesil Beach was not flattened or significantly overwashed, but waves did reach the top. At the height of the storm, in the night, some residents of Chiswell were evacuated and the Chesil Beach alarm signal went off at this locality. The Chesil beach was apparently steepened in the Portland area and the steep slope may have moved closer to the land. The drainage ditch behind the Chesil Beach was taking out water (I thank Alan Holiday for both photographs and for information). The storm seems to have reshaped the Chesil Beach to some extent, but it was not a disastrous flattening or overwashing. Around the region the flooding by rainfall was a much more serious matter. Erosion of cliffs undoubtedly took place in the region and rockfalls and landslides are expected, particularly because of the heavy rainfall. This was significant loss of beach material at Burton Bradstock and the Chesil Beach was effectively shortened, at least with regard to its high tide topography.


The Chesil Beach just northwest of the Cove House Inn, 5th January 2014, after bad weather but before the main storm of the 6th-7th January, photograph by Alan Holiday


Large waves strike the Chesil Beach, Dorset, in the daytime prior to the major storm of the night of the 6th to 7th January, 2014; sea defence flood gates are closed


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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chiswell

After the Storm of 6-7th January 2014 - Landward Retreat


Comparative photographs of the Portland end of the Chesil Beach, Dorset, in 2012 and in 2014 after the storm of 6-7th January


The hard sea defences in the vicinity of the cafe at Chesil Cove, Chesil Beach, Isle of Portland, Dorset, 17th January 2014


A comparison of the location of the Portland end of the Chesil Beach at Chesil Cove, in June 2005 and after the storm of the 6-7th January, 2014


The Portland end of he Chesil Beach on the 19th January 2014, showing the extent of landward retreat


Retreat of the end of the Chesil Beach in ten years to 2014, Chesil Cove, Isle of Portland, Dorset


Although it has been argued that the Chesil Beach may temporarily retreats landward after major storms and then build up again, there is evidence for progressive permanent retreat. This can take place at irregular intervals, and as mentioned above the Chesil Beach seems to have be retreating at about 0.13m per annum on average. This is only an approximate estimate and was made in the past. The rate is not easily established as a precise figure because after major storms the beach front may retreat appreciable, but then build up again, at least to some extent. However, the far southern end of the beach does undoubtedly show some retreat. The curved sea-wall near West Weare was once at the back of a pebble beach for most of its length. Then there was some landward movement of the front of the shingle beach and at the southern end the steel sheeting underlying the concrete was appreciable exposed. To deal with this an additional, low, concrete sea wall was built at the southern end, down at the beach, well below the the main wall. This solved the problem of exposure of the steel sheeting. The newer structure can be seen in the photograph above.

However, this was not the end of the landward movement of the front of the beach. Comparison of the photographs above shows how the pebble beach is being progressively lost from this southern part with the curved sea wall. Sooner or later (and not much later) this sea wall near West Weare will not front the Chesil Beach at all. The beach will end somewhere near the cafe or further north.

The retreat of the Chesil Beach would be a normal process. The rate is extremely slow but it should increase to some extent with the progressive but slow rise in sea-level - about 2mm per annum at present). Chesil Beach is much more stable than Hurst Spit (the second largest shingle spit in the region), which has long been retreating and was actually destroyed in a storm and has been artificially rebuilt with dredged gravel. Needless to say, that is under attack by the sea again, and has lost much of its width. The Chesil Beach has not deteriorated to anything like the extent of the Hurst Spit; there has been no repeat yet of the great storm of 1824. The photographs here are for comparison with the past, and also for comparison in the future, whenever further changes take place.

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Comparisons of the Chesil Beach at the Cove House Inn - 2005 to 2014.


Compare the next three photographs of the Chesil Beach at the Cove House Inn, as shown below. They are from 2005 and early 2014.


Comparison of the Chesil Beach at the Cove House Inn in 2005 and January 2014, oblique views from the promenade, Chesil Cove, Dorset


The Chesil Beach at the Cove House Inn on the 7th August 2005, at 6.41pm, Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset, to show the situation before the erosion of early 2014

Major erosion and loss of pebble beach, part of the Chesil Beach, at the Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset, 8th February 2014, after two damaging  storms


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An overview of part of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell after the storm of 6-7th January 2014


Storm damage on the Chesil Beach in the vicinity of the Cove House Inn, as seen on the 17th January 2014 by Ian West, with a rainbow after a squall


Cones of pebbles with imbrication, upper part of the Chesil Beach at the Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Isle of Portland, 17th January 2014, after the storm of 6-7th January 2014


A trash line near the Cove House Inn,   Chesil Beach, Chiswell, Dorset, showing the limits of particular storm activity, Dorset, 17th January 2014


Loss of the natural platform of beach pebbles in front of the Cove House Inn, Chesil Beach, Dorset, after the storms of early January, 2014, photograph by Ian West


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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chesil Cove

The Hard Sea Defences after the Storm of 6-7th January 2014.

Under the seawall at Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset, in January 2014 after the storm of 6th to 7th January 2014


Minor undercuting of the stepped concrete sea defences, Chesil Cove, Chesil Beach, Isle of Portland, Dorset, 17th January 2014


The hard sea defences, the concrete seawalls etc., were not damaged in the storm of the 6-7th January 2014. There was some minor exposure of underlying sheet iron at one place. In general, however, they seem to have unaffected, unlike the cheaper and less robust, gabions. (Incidently the white substance with medium-size pebbles stuck in it, and placed on the concrete, might be ambergris. I collected this specimen just here.)

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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chesil Cove

The Hard Sea Defences after the Storm of 2nd February 2014.

Further loss of pebbles and more exposure of the hard sea wall at the Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset, photograph by Alan Holiday, 2nd February 2014

There were repeated depressions and storms travelling across the Atlantic Ocean westward to Britain in late 2013 and early 2014. This led to much flooding (including a substantial part of the Somerset Levels) and severe gales on the coast. The southern end of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell was, as shown above, badly affected by the storm of the 6-7th January 2013. Details are shown above. However, this was not the end of problems and on the 2nd February there was further loss of beach material in the area of the hard sea defences (i.e. sea-walls) at Chiswell. Further loss at the Cove House Inn is shown in the photograph above (by Alan Holiday).


The sea walls in a storm at what was once the southern end of the Chesil Beach, near West Weare, Isle of Portland, 8am, 2nd February 2014, Alan Holiday photograph


Profiling a small part of the Chesil Beach using machines; work by the Environment Agency, north Chiswell, Dorset, 4th February 2014; photograph by Alan Holiday


Students from Plymouth University use satellite methods to determine a cross-section profile of the Chesil Beach near the Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Dorset


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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chiswell -

Gabions and Sea Defences after the Storm of 6-7th January 2014.

Gabions are rectangular baskets of wire containing pebbles. They are one of the cheapest forms of sea defence, and are often used in environments where there is minor to medium wave action. Eventually they can rust, but at any stage in their life, in locations very exposed to storm action they can be damaged or broken up completely. The gabions used on the Chesil beach, northwest of the Cove House Inn are high on the beach and therefore not usually attacked by waves. Most of them are, in any case normally buried under beach pebbles. However, the storm of the 6th to 7th January 2014 was very severe and removed much beach material. It damages, quite violently some of the lower, exposed gabions. It also removed pebbles covering some concealed ones. Some of these have now been either mishapen or broken open. Photographs are shown below. The recent movement of beach pebbles by machines of the Environment Agency may be part of an effort to protect undamaged gabions.

A general view of the damaged gabions of the Chesil Beach, on the 17th January 2014, near the Cove House Inn, and after the storm of the 6-7th January 2014


Gabions burst open by the storm of the 6-7th January 2014, Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset


Damage to gabions that are usually concealed under pebbles of the Chesil Beach, Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset


The front of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell has retreated to the gabions but the back has not accreted; the beach here is now in decline, photograph Alan Holiday, 8th February 2014


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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach

Chiswell, not flooded by the Storm of 6-7th January 2014.

The village of Chiswell behind the Chesil Beach at the Isle of Portland end, Dorset, was undamaged by the storm of 6-7th January 2014


The village of Chiswell, behind the Chesil Beach, at its Isle of Portland end was not directly affected by the storm of 6-7th January 2014, other than the fact that the evacuation alarm was sounded in the night. On the promenade, above the pebble bank, a little further height is provided by flood walls and gates. In any case this storm was a major one, but not the full disastrous type of storm. The village seems to be able to survive this major type of storm, but has not been tested by a great hurricane since 1824. There is much more advance information available now so it is unlikely that the village would be caught by surprise by a great storm. The risk of a large tsunami is not well understood, but tsunamis of any type are rare in this region. Only small ones seem to have been recorded in the region (Chesil Beach and Hurst Spit). So nothing disastrous happened here in early January 2014, only a steepening of the seaward side of the beach and an apparent loss of a proportion of pebbles.

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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach

The Stuart Morris Film of the Storm - 5th February 2014

An illustration from the Stuart Morris Film of the Chesil Beach storm, 5th February 2014

An example photograph from the film of Stuart Morris on Utube, showing the storm of 5-6th February 2014 with a wave breaking spray above the Cove House Inn, Chesil Beach, Dorset

Click the link below to run the film (skipping adverts) :


[The film is on Utube with the full reference:


Stuart Morris is the expert on the Chesil Beach and lives nearby on the Isle of Portland. He has long been involved with the Chesil Beach. He has supervised the engineering works, including the infiltration drainage scheme, on the beach ridge near Chiswell. He is well-known for his books on the the Isle of Portland and its history:
Morris, S. 1985, Portland, An Illustrated History;
Morris, S. 1990. Portland Camera;
Morris, S. 1992. Isle of Portland (Easton and Weston) 1927. Old OS Map of Dorset;
Morris, S. 2006. Portland Then and Now;
Morris, S. 2013. Weymouth and Portland;

He took the following film is extreme storm conditions and it is remarkably good in showing not only the incoming storm waves, but also the wave pattern, including waves reflected from the hard sea defences.

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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach - Chesil Cove

After the St. Valentine's Storm of the 14-15th February 2014.

(Photographs by Alan Holiday)

Severe downcutting at the southern end of the Chesil Beach after the St. Valentine Storm of the 14th-15th February 2014


The blue clay and the steel sheeting exposed at the end of the Chesil Beach, at Chiswell, Isle of Portland, Dorset, 16th February 2014, photograph by Alan Holiday

A very severe storm with very large storm waves hit the south coast of England on the night of the 14th to 15th February 2014. It caused extensive damage, including the loss or damage of about 600 beach huts around the south coast. There was washover on Hurst Spit, which was significantly affected in places. At Chiswell the beach front has further retreated, by many metres, perhaps, tens of metres. Steel sheet piling and the underlying blue clay has been exposed. This is far more serious damage than has been seen in past years. The situation has become worse in a short period of time as a result of several consecutive storms. The St. Valentine's Day storm was probably the worst, exceeding in terms of damage a typical 1 in 40 year storm. The Chesil Beach has been overwashed quite extensively and the Carr memorial stone was washed out of place, together with other position markers. Cans (outflow gulleys) have been extensively developed on the landward side. Not surprisingly the road to Portland was closed for quite a period of time.


Comparison of Blue Clay Exposure, 1990 and 2014

Exposure of the blue clay at Chesil Cove, Isle of Portland, Dorset, in February 1990, photographed by Stuart Morris

The loss of pebbles and the exposure of the blue clay at Chesil Cove, Chiswell, in February 2014 was not unique. It had happened previously, in February 1990, as shown here in a photograph by Stuart Morris.

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2013-2014 - Winter Storms - Chesil Beach
Burton Bradstock End


The end of the Chesil Beach is now at unstable cliffs, Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 9th January 2013, Alan Holiday photograph

Dangerously overhanging cliffs, that have been undercut by the sea, eastern Burton Cliff, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 9th January 2014, photograph by Alan Holiday


The photographs above show the western end of the Chesil Beach at Burton Bradstock, where it has (in early January, 2014) lost much fine shingle. At high tide, at least, the end of the Chesil Beach is now at Burton Hive Beach. It does not continue as the Chesil Beach in front of Burton Cliff. Much beach sediment has been lost from there. Undercutting is taking place at the eastern end and rock-falls are occurring further west. There is a well-defined shortening in length of the Chesil Beach. Not long after the above photographs were taken, on about the 17th January 2014, there was a major rock fall in the area.


Two rock falls, one of them very broad at Burton Cliff, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, as photographed by Alan Holiday on 19th January 2014


A short time after the major storm of 6-7th January 2014 the consequences of undercutting by the sea took place. There were substantial rocks falls. Two of these, kindly photographed by Alan Holiday are shown above. One of these is very broad and is almost entirely in Bridport Sand Formation. The further one has a debris cone which seems to contain large blocks of Inferior Oolite. Alan Holiday reported that good ammonite remains with gas chambers were found in the debris.

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2014. Meteorological Office. Severe Winter Storms, January - February 2014.
Winter Storms, January to February 2014.
[www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/interesting/2014-janwind]. Winter storms, January to February 2014.
The UK experienced a spell of extreme weather from late January to mid-February as a succession of major storms brought widespread impacts and damage to the UK.
Around 6 major storms hit through this period, separated by intervals of 2 to 3 days. The sequence of storms followed an earlier stormy period from Winter storms, December 2013 to January 2014. Taken individually, the first two storms were notable but not exceptional for the winter period. However, the later storms from early to mid-February were much more severe. Overall, the period from mid-December 2013 to mid-February 2014 saw at least 12 major winter storms, and, when considered overall, this was the stormiest period of weather the UK has experienced for at least 20 years.
Strong winds and huge waves made conditions extremely dangerous around exposed coastlines - particularly in the south and west, and caused widespread transport disruption. There were major flooding problems, with the Somerset Levels continuing to be inundated with floodwaters from the New Year period. Severe flooding also occurred along sections of the River Thames.
The photographs below provide some indication of weather impacts experienced from these storms. [Photos, include Porthleven, Somerset Levels, Dawlish Railway Line]
[The major storm events of the beginning of 2014 were responsible for serious damage to Hurst Spit, which was flattened and overwashed but not permanently broken through, to Milford sea front with loss of many beach huts, to the Chesil Beach and to many other places. Flooding and/or erosion took place on the West Solent coast at places such as Pitts Deep and Tanners Lane areas. The January 2014 storm was of great note.]

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2000 and what? - Possible Future Flattening or Future Breakthrough

Possible Use of Rock Armour? - Discussion


Chesil Beach, Dorset, comparison with Hurst Spit, Hampshire

The Chesil Beach has no pebble supply. It is recognised as a "fossil beach". It can only loose and not gain material, except for artificial replacement. Authors, such as Arkell, seem to have suggested that it will be broken through sooner or later. Because there is no major resupply of pebbles from the west this seems probable. However, so far it is still survives unbroken. It is clearly weakened, though, and has lost shingle recently, although it has not lost height significantly. Even if broken through it will not disappear but in due course it may no longer be connected to the Isle of Portland. Indeed, the comments of Leland, and the presence of what appear to be old cliffs at Chiswell, suggest that it might have broken through in the past, and subsequently repaired itself. This is not proven though.

Comparison could also be made with Hurst Spit, Hampshire, shown in the illustration above. This has not broken through but it was almost completely flattened for a large part by storm waves in 1989. Go to the webpage: Hurst Spit and see the similarities and differencies in relation to the Chesil Beach. Hurst Spit, though, has been directly damaged by human activity cutting off the supply of pebbles by sea defences at Barton-on-Sea and at Milford. The Chesil Beach has been affected in the past to some extent by the construction of the harbour at West Bay, Bridport, but the human interference is less obvious that in the case of Hurst Spit.

Once such an important coastal feature as a major shingle spit has been serious damaged, then there may be human activity to try to repair it. Thus Hurst Spit was rebuilt artificially in 1996-97. Although it under attack again, now, and has lost a substantial part of its width it has survived for some years after the work. An interesting aspect of Hurst Spit is the use of the hard, igneous rock, larvikite. The rock is very resistant and the part of the reconstructed beach consisting of it has not been damaged in the recent storms. See the photographs above. On the Chesil Beach it is possible that, in theory, Portland Stone could, in theory be used for rock armour on the open sea front (it is used in the harbour). However, it is not resistant to abrasion by pebbles in storms, and it may last in some cases only for about 20 years. Larvikite or French microgranite, as used at Bridport Harbour, is much more resistant.

However, if larvikite was used on a large scale to replace the shingle beach between Ferrybridge and Chiswell it may not be welcomed, because of its colour and its contrast with the natural materials. It is, of course, is only one of several possibilities. For example continuation on a much larger scale of the hard concrete embankments, as at north Chiswell now , is another possibility. Perhaps, with good fortune the Chesil Beach will survive unbroken for a long time. However the natural expansion of the English Channel will continue, as it has, in general, over the last 10,000 years. Unfortunately the Chesil Beach has no natural source of re-supply and cannot merely roll landwards very far in an intact state, because it looses pebble while so-doing. In years ahead and in the last resort, if there is large Chesil Beach failure, perhaps a top cover of very large blocks of Portland Stone could be used to conceal larvikite or other obtrusive, igneous rock.


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Future - Sea Level Rise

Future sea level rise estimates for the Wessex coast

The table here is from the very important publication by IPCC (2007) on the effects of global warming. It provides an indication of possible rates of sea level rise over the next hundred years. Something like half a metre of relative sea level rise seems probable in this region, but the real figure could be higher (there has been recent discussion about the possibility of at least 1 metre sea-level rise in 100 years). There is some local downwarping in the Wessex area resulting from isostatic rebound (melting of the ice in the north, with uplift in northern UK, and downwarping in the south). This increases the relative rate of sea level rise in the local area.

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Possible Future Tsunamis - Southern England

A small-scale tsunami affecting the coast of southern and southwest England is mentioned above. To consider the future risk the record of major tsunamis hitting this region see: Wikipedia - "Tsunamis in the United Kingdom". Tsunamis do occur in the British Region and could occur again. The oldest record of a tsunami is that of 6100BC, in Mesolithic times, on the east coast of Scotland. The wave estimated to be 21m high was initiated by the massive underwater Storega Slide off Norway. In the Montrose Basin there is a tsunamite of 0.6m. of deposited sand. Although a tsunami of this size could easily overwhelm and destroy the Chesil Beach (at 14m high maximum) it is obviously an exception rare event. Tsunamites have not been recognised on the south coast of England.

The major Bristol Channel Floods of the morning of January 30th 1607 (new style date scheme) have been suggested to have been the result of a tsunami or a storm surge. Eyewitness accounts suggest that this was a tsunami. Cornwall was hit by a 3m high tsunami on the 1st November 1755, caused by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. Such waves would not have had much effect on the Chesil Beach.

The Cumbre Vieja Volcano in La Palma, Canary Islands has seemed unstable in part and could pose a tsunami risk to Britain if a large landslide took place. This might result from a future eruption. The waves will take about 6 hours to reach England and would be about 10 metres high. Even though the highest part of the Chesil Beach is, as mentioned, at about 14m most of it is lower. Such a tsunami could certainly flatten and break and the Chesil Beach. However, Deflt University research suggests that the volcanic island is more stable than previously believed and that and than thousands of years are needed for the island to grow large enough to be a serious danger. [for more information see Wikipedia- Tsunamis in the United Kingdom.] Do not, however, think that it is impossible for giant waves of tsunami or other origin to strike the Chesil Beach in a seriously damaging manner. It is unlikely but it could happen.

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Coastal Erosion Problems - Solidarity Fund and Leasing Discussion

For some new discussion about coastal erosion and compensation see Nowell (2008) - Coastal land is only leased from the sea, Guardian Newspaper, April 21, 2008. David Nowell, a Fellow of the Geological Society, has noted that there is no solidarity fund to compensate people in Britain from loss of houses due to coast erosion or sea-flooding. He has suggested that any land likely to disappear within a century should become leasehold and the time stated on the title deeds. He considers that there should be a solidarity fund. More details regarding the suggestion are in his letter. It is a brief but stimulating article and should provoke discussion on policies for dealing with the expected effects of future erosion and sea-flooding on the British coasts.

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History of Storms - Overview

The known history of the effects of storm and other waves on the Chesil Beach is too limited. The beach retreats landward only slowly in normal circumstances and shows relatively few changes. Moderate storms causing some overtopping and seepage through the beach are common.

According to Williams (1992) Three generalised types of flooding affect the area (Arkell, 1954 ; Gibbs, 1982; University Southampton, Geography Department):

(i) Percolation type floods, eg 1974. These are minor floods with a 0.5 year return period, occurring during most winters. (ii) Storm surge type floods, eg 1978. serious with a 5 year return period. These are more serious with a 50 year return period. (iii) Ocean swell type floods, eg 1979. These are very serious with a 50 year return period.

Really major events, over and beyond the three types above, seem to be at intervals of hundreds of years, but their average frequency is not known. Recent sea-defences are designed to raised the top of the beach by a relatively small amount and this can reduce the effects of moderate storms like the 50 year ones. The drainage scheme can help to remove overtopping, seeping and spray seawater from moderate storms and thereby effectively reduce the number of floods at Chiswell. However, note that a large part of the Chesil Beach has always had a drainage channel; it is, of course, the Fleet Lagoon. This shallow but large channel removes surplus water in moderate storms. Unfortunately, it failed to cope with the surplus water of the 1824 Great Gale, it rose high, flooded adjacent land and widened and scoured the Smallmouth or Ferrybridge outlet.

Although storm have affected the beach height and made some minor changes, it is only the 1824 storm that has been recorded as significantly changing the coast here (at Smallmouth). Although that was the one devastating storm at Chesil that is well-recorded, similar events must have happened many times in the past and will again in the future. The average repeat time is not known but it is obviously not frequent and likely to be of the order of hundreds of years. An analogy in some respects is the wave risk on the Pacific coast from Oregon through Washing to British Columbia. The wave and flooding risk there relates to tsunamis, the last major one of which was found to have taken place in about 1700. The coast has been relatively quiet since then. A study of tsunami records in Japan, combined with an investigation of salt-marsh sediments on the North American Pacific coast suggested that these earthquake-driven events repeat every few hundred years. The knowledge of the risk has led to more research and more precautions in relation to the next major wave onslaught on that coast.

Thus the 1824 hurricane and storm surge is the true warning for the Chesil Beach and clearly warrants much study (although, of course, a greater wave onslaught is always possible). However, it is not known, of course, when a similar event will happen, and, given some good luck, it might not occur for hundreds of years. The reader might like to examine carefully the historic record above so to make an individual assessment of the problem.

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Outflow spring of seawater at a cann or can on the landward side of the Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury, Dorset

Caverns at Abbotsbury

More caverns at Abbotsbury

As Arkell (1956) noted, gullies were formed by water washing out landward through the bank in the 1954 storm. The coastguard at Wyke reported "30 points at which the sea bored through the Chesil Beach". Such seawater springs have probably been active in all the major storms. The photographs above show examples of "canns", cans" or "caverns" at Abbotsbury. One that was active after the storm of 10th March 2008 is shown. Old example that have become much vegetated over the years, are also illustrated.

Here is further information from Arkell (1956, p. 142-144) about the activity and formation of caverns in the 1956 storm. "Mr Hutchings of the Strangeways Estate Office, Abbotsbury, confirmed that, at the Abbotsbury end of the beach, wave-tops and spray spilled over the top, but that most of the water came through, and he was able to throw some light on the nature and mode of action of the process of penetration. At the back of the beach, near the bottom of the shingle slope and running up into it, there is a series of ravines or gullies, separated by spurs or ridges of shingle. At the narrow, upper end of the ravines, sea-water bursts or pours through, forming what are known locally as "caverns". One such cavern was said by Mr Hutchings to be about 10 ft. deep and about 100 feet across after the storm of November 1954.

On 4th December, a few days after a second storm had subsided, Mr Dalton and Lt.-Col. C.D. Drew inspected the back of the beach at the Portland end, from Small Mouth bridge towards Chesilton. Mr Dalton reported numerous 'ravines' at intervals of about 20 feet, and in one case two nearly adjacent examples had coalesced at their common delta. He describes the ravines as follows. "The highest point of each ravine was a sub-conical pit, up to 10 feet in diameter at the top, and up to 4 feet deep. Initially slightly narrower than the diameter of its pit, each ravine gradually broadened till it formed a delta at the creek (The Fleet). The dimensions of the ravines in general were about 2 ft. across and about 2 ft deep in the centre. Their bottoms were of washed pebbles embedded in mud. In one case a considerable amount of pebbles had been carried out beyond the delta, forming an island of about 15 ft. in diameter and projecting about 1 ft. above the water. From our observations I consider that the sea had forced its way through the Chesil Bank in many places, chiefly at the base, but also at higher levels."

Mr Dalton described at one point below the concrete wall "a hollow about 30 ft. across in which two pits had been formed. These pits were somewhat similar to miniature Culpepper's Dishes [dolines in Chalk and Tertiary strata in Dorset], with diameter about 6 ft. and their axes tilted. Below the level of the ruins of the pits, and a few feet away on their north-easterly side, were fresh sand patches which seemed to have been washed out of these pits. There was no visible sand layer from the sand could have come, and I assume that it was washed from below the bank through the ostium of a pit".

Observations Four Months Later: On the 11th and 13th April 1955, in company with Prof. P. Allen, F.G.S., I inspected the back of the beach for a bout a mile eastward from the Abbotsbury end, from from near the Small Mouth bridge car park towards the oil tanks. the ravines and pits were still clearly visible, and from the relative freshness or discolouration of the pebbles and from the absence or presence of vegetation, it is clear that they date from different times and that many are ancient and have not been in action for many years, while others are fresh. Likewise the ravines and "coombe head" pits vary greatly in size. We nowhere found a "coombe head" containing a depression more than a few inches lower than the floor of the ravine, any such depression, as seen by Mr. Dalton, having become filled with pebbles rolled down from the steep slopes that surround them on three sides. We did, however, notice some further features of interest.

Many of the ravines have twin runnels in the floor, separated by a tongue of fresh shingle, raised a few inches above the runnels on each side. These tongues vary in length. Many end at various distances in the ravine, while long ones fan out beyond the ravine and encroach on the Fleet. Fresh examples are composed of cleaner and more evenly sorted pebbles than the surrounding spurs and ravine sides, and in at least one short example we noted a longitudinal orientation of the pebbles and a tendency for the longer axes to be tilted down seaward and up Fleet-wards [i.e. imbricate, showing flow from the seaward side]. There can be no doubt that the pebbles composing these tongues have been ejected from the 'pit' at the head of the ravine, but at the Abbotsbury end there is no proof that they have come from below, rather than from infall from the sides of the pit during its formation.

At the Portland end of the beach, however, this point is not in doubt, for, as noticed by Mr. Dalton, sand has been brought up from below the shingle. In this stretch the back of the Chesil Beach is overwhelming dunes of blown sand. It is clear that water has burst up from below, carrying sand and clean pebbles with it. At one point we found what appeared to be the relic of an initial upburst of sand close to the back of a buried dune. It consisted of a mound of sand studded with clean pebbles and forming an ellipse 7 ft. 6 ins. by 5 ft., and 1 ft. 6 ins. high, rising from an old discoloured pebble surface and not at the head of a ravine. Presumably if water had continued to use this outlet a ravine and pit would have been formed.

Near the Abbotsbury end we also found one ravine with a shallow, broad pan at its head, in the centre of which was a circular, bun-shaped mound about 18 inches in diameter of mud studded with pebbles, suggesting strongly and extinct miniature mud-volcano."

Arkell (1956, p. 144-145) offered some conclusions regarding the caverns or seawater springs. He said that past statements that the Chesil Beach is 'breached' or 'cleaved asunder', or that 'gaps are hammered in it' are probably false, or at best unproven. The landward retreat or "creep" is effected by: 1. the carrying of shingle from the front of the bank over the top and for varying distances down the back by large waves; 2. the washing out of shingle, from in and on the lower part of the back slope, by water that had penetrated from the front and top. Mapping of inland geological seepages, such as occur at the junction of a pervious water-bearing sand and an underlying impervious clay, shows that the water flows out more freely as springs at certain points corresponding to sags in the surface of the underlying clay or to slight bay-heads or re-entrants in the contours. Once a spring is initiated it tends to be self-enlarging, owing to washing out of fine particles and to lowering of the clay floor, both of which processes provide a clearer and more defined channel for the water and tend to fix the site of the spring. By analogy, Arkell inferred that when the Chesil Beach is saturated, water will first find outlets at the points where the beach is narrowest, that is at the bay-heads in the back of the bank. Such narrow points will lie between spurs or swells formed of pebbles from the front and crest thrown over the back by out-size individual waves. One a seawater spring has formed it will grow, for the reasons just mentioned, and effluent water will cut a ravine on its way down to the Fleet.

Arkell argued that the upward movement of water could occur when the cover of pebbles reaches a certain thinness so that the water can force its way upwards more easily that it can penetrate laterally the remainder of the apron of pebbles. These aprons can become consolidated on the lower backslopes by rain-washed dust, sand and plant growth. He did not know whether flow from the pits or 'ostia' was steady or episodic during storms. Observations were needed during such unusual weather events. If sporadic, then the extra tonnage of water thrown on by an outsize wave could cause outbursts.

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Infiltration Barrier System of 1986 (Flood Alleviation System)


A schematic cross section of the Chesil Beach, just north of the Cove House Inn, to show the Flood Alleviation Scheme of 1986, which still operates, Isle of Portland, Dorset


Students walk along the top timber above the steel sheet-piling that hold back infiltration seawater, at the Chesil Beach at the northern part of Chiswell, Dorset

[Above - students are seen walking northward on the timber capping above the steel sheet pile that is a cut-off for infiltration seawater. The students are heading for the open drainage channel or ditch]


The flood water channel at the back of Chesil Beach in action while large storm waves wash up the beach and supply infiltration water, 6th January 2014, photography by Alan Holiday


[A brief summary of information on Chiswell in general, and including a brief account of the Chesil Sea Defence Scheme is given in the Chiswell Leaflet, published by CH.i.P.S. (Chiswell in Partnership with the Sea). This includes a large scale map and some illustrations including a cross section of the Sea Defences; a redrawn and modified diagram above has been based on this (the original version was apparently based on a diagram in Construction News, 1986). The text is by M. Somerville of the Chesil Gallery with assistance from Stuart Morris, Simon Williams and Magie Martin. Acknowledgement is made to this brief but useful source of information; some introductory text that follows is based on part of the it, and further information from other sources will be added.]


In 1986 a Flood Alleviation Scheme was implemented at the northern end of Chiswell. A 550m long drain was laid down under the pebbles to collect seawater seeping through the pebble beach and so to prevent it from flooding part of Chiswell. The diagram above shows (not accurately to scale) a cross section through the Chesil Beach a short distance north of the Cove House Inn. An 18m deep barrier of steel sheet-piling was driven down (very noisily apparently!) at the back of the beach. This is not visible, but a timber capping of is obvious. In a photograph above, students are shown walking along the timber capping at the top of the sheet piling. The drain is 1m by 3m near the Cove House Inn. The cross section is 3m square further north. The captured seawater then flows into a large open ditch further north. This open ditch, and the connecting area between the concealed drain and the open stretch, is shown in various illustrations above. The open drain is a kilometre long and discharges into Portland Harbour. Usually it is dry but in any storm conditions it seems to contain water. After major storms it can be quite full. An usual feature is that high tide on the Portland Harbour side is two hours later than in Lyme Bay on the west side of the Chesil Beach. So at high tide the water is actually lower in the harbour.

This system, put in place in 1986, seems to work quite satisfactorily in major storms, including the fairly severe storms of about 1 in 40 years. It is not likely to be adequate in the case of a 1 in 200 year (approximately) storm, like that of 1824. It is expected that then the Chesil will be severely overtopped and the small-scale, hidden barrier may be of little relevance. It is sensible that this matter has been considered by the authorities and there is, therefore, a flat area, a type of water escape channel, across into Portland Harbour at the helicopter terminal. All the new buildings around this area (at the site of the former Mere) are obliged by the authorities to have sloped, protective banks around them. They are quite noticeable from the road. Thus they have additional flood-prevention measures which should be valuable when the great storm (i.e. the 1 in 200 or thereabouts) next takes place.

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Gabion System to Prevent Washover, of 1986

A view of the gabions used in sea defences at the Cove House Inn, southwestern end of the Chesil Beach, Dorset

Walking on the gabion mattress of Chesil Beach, at Chiswell, Dorset, 17th April 2008

Gabion mattresses containing pebbles, on the beach crest near Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset, April, 2004

Sea defences have been constructed at intervals at the Portland end of the Chesil Beach to try to alleviate the overtopping and flooding problems, and fairly recently a flood drainage channel scheme has been dug. Artificial changes to the world-famous, natural geomorphological feature of the Chesil Bank have strongly opposed, but, nevertheless, the existence of a village behind a beach which the sea at intervals overcomes has inevitably resulted in the engineering developments. The existing housing has been present there for a long time and needed some protection, but any further housing development in the area will undoubtedly result in due course in further damaging and costly sea-defences. The area at the back of the beach and the region of the former lagoon or the Mere is likely to flood at intervals which might be less frequent than in the past. If future building is on higher land, away from the Chesil Beach much trouble can be avoided.


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Sea Defences - General

Backwash of pebbles near the Cove House Inn and sea-wall, Portland end of the Chesil Beach, Dorset

Southern end of the Chesil Beach sea-defences at Chiswell, Portland, Dorset

Relatively early sea-defence work includes the construction of a sea defence wall at Chiswell between 1958 and 1965. This was in a bid to prevent flooding at Chiswell and in addition to stabilize the easily-erodable cliff or bank at the southeastern end of the Chesil Beach, and at the northern end of West Weare, grid reference SY 683 734 (Williams, 1992).

The sea defences at Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset, seen to be lower than the natural beach crest further to the southwest

The main sea-wall, southeast of the Cove House Inn, and shown above, was constructed in 1959 on the site of the diminishing bank. According to Morris (1990) this was on clay but it is more likely that it was of clayey clasts or pebbles. There are two walls joined by concrete beams and stone fill over which the promenade was formed (see Morris (1990) photograph 39).


Notes on the Sea Defence Scheme after the 1978, 1979 Floods
(from a handout - original source unknown)

"Following a severe flood event at Chiswell in December, 1978, C. H. Dobbie and Partners were commissioned by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and Wessex Water Authority to prepare a report outlining the causes of the flooding and making recommendations to alleviate major flooding in the future. A further flood event occurred in February, 1979 and the consultants brief was broadened to include the causes of that event.

Topographical, hydrological and site investigation surveys of the site were carried out together with studies of the meteorological conditions leading up to the event. The Hydraulics Research Station was commissioned to carry out mathematical modelling of storm events in an attempt to identify the conditions that led to the storm, in order to allow the Consulting Engineers to make recommendations for design parameters. The results of the mathematical study indicated that the 'design' storm produced a wave with a significant wave height of 6.5m and a mean crossing period of 12 seconds. The consultant assessed the statistical return period of such conditions to be 5 years, producing serious flooding by seepage of water through the beach. The flooding of February 1979 had not, however, been caused by a storm of this type but rather by very long period waves of greater heights. The return period of those conditions was assessed as I in 50 years.

The consultants report was submitted in July 1980, and made four specific recommendations:
1. The beach crest should be raised over a 1600m length
2. The existing sea wall should be modified to withstand the design storm
3. An interceptor culvert should be constructed
4. The Weymouth Road should be raised
In September 1981 a 150m-long trial length of gabion beach protection was installed in order to assess means by which the beach height could be satisfactorily increased. In March 1983 the recommended modifications to the sea wall were carried out. These included the installation of a wave return wall on the landward side and to a higher elevation than the existing wall and the construction of a reinforced concrete stepped apron to the seaward side, with toe piling to prevent possible future undermining. Since completion, accretion of beach material has occurred to such an extent that the stepped apron is completely buried.

From computer analysis of the results it was established that a flow of 50 cumecs could be anticipated at the Weymouth Road culverts in the design storm, with a corresponding flow of 19 cumecs at the end of the portion in culvert. The design of the precast concrete units was carried out to provide these capacities. To optimize the design three basic cross sections have been adopted with in situ transitions between each."


These modern sea-defences were intended to raise the level that the sea must reach to overtop the beach. It is surprising that now the undefended stretch to the southwest now has a crest which is higher than the promenade and sea defences. Perhaps it would be better not to build them. At the back of the beach the culvert and drainage channel has been constructed so as to carry away floodwater quickly. Back in the past there was direct drainage from the back of the bank into the Mere lagoon, now reclaimed and under the former helicopter station. Development held back the quick runoff of floodwater and the drainage channel should reduce the problem. There have not been major flood problems since the sea-defences have been built but serious storms may be at 50 or 100 year intervals, so they have probably not been fully tested yet.

We can look at the scene here before and after the sea-defences were constructed. See the photograph above again for details in 2005.

End of Chesil - comparison photos

End of Chesil Beach, old photo, 1960s?

End of the Chesil Beach, 25.02.01

Comparison of the photographs above, shows changes associated with sea and flood defences at Chiswell. The older images are from a copy of photograph of unknown date and origin, but probably from the 1960s, or possibly 1970s. The bottom one is a relatively newer photograph taken in the year 2001.

Gabion mattresses at the crest of the Chesil Beach, Chiswell, Dorset

Steel gabions filled with pebbles at the Chesil Beach, Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Dorset

Students study gabions that contain typical Chesil Beach pebbles, near the Cove House Inn, Chiswell, Chesil Beach, Dorset, March 2011

In 1981 a 150m-long trial length of steel gabions (strong, large, boxes of thick wire) filled with Chesil Beach pebbles have been placed on the summit of the beach from the Cove House Inn to the northwest. These can be seen in the photographs above. This is meant to prevent or reduce overtopping of the beach northwest of the Inn. Additions have been made to the sea-wall near the Inn, with barriers with gates to keep out flood water. This work took place, after some protest, to try to prevent major flooding at Chiswell.

The Chesil Beach or Chesil Bank, Dorset, a general view northwestward from the Portland end. The flood drainage channel is visible on the right

Flood drainage channel at Chesil Beach, Dorset Flood drainage scheme at Chesil Beach, Dorset

In addition to the sea defences a major drainage channel has been excavated between the Chesil Beach and oil-storage tanks. The upper photograph shows the location, on the right. A large pipe can take overtopping seawater from back of the bank at Chiswell and direct this into the large channel, that is shown. The grilles at the northern end, the start, of the channel are visible in the photograph above. The channel can conveys percolation and floodwater away to Portland Harbour, provided it is not in extreme quantities.

Drainage channel at the Portland end of the Chesil Beach, Dorset

Drainage channel at the Portland end of Chesil Beach, Dorset

These photographs show the drainage channel or culvert with some water in it after a storm on the 3rd January, 1999. It was not dealing with a major flood and the water was mostly present in this northern part shown, near the outflow to Portland Harbour. The photographs have been taken after the main storm but you will notice that sea-spray is still blowing over the beach.

Incidently, the great fans of shingle sloping at low angles towards the east, and visible in photographs above, have been attributed to the hurricane of 1824, referred to above. It has been said that prior to this the beach was equally steep on both sides, but there is no certainty that this is correct.

Chesil Beach, Dorset

Shown above is another development. There is an engineered flood flow path with bunding at the former Osprey Quay helicopter base. Large quantities of overwash and seepage seawater at Chiswell that may be too great for the relatively small culvert and flood channel on the margin of the beach can wash away into Portland Harbour down this broad open trough. The matter was referred to briefly in section 4.2.9 of the Weymouth and Portland Local District Plan Review (Revised Deposit May 2003). See also section 4.2.15 which states "At the former Royal Naval Air Station (Osprey Quay) a major flood flow path is required to allow floodwaters overtopping Chesil Beach to escape to Portland Harbour. This flow path will be [now is] augmented by landscaped bunds provided in conjunction with the redevelopment of the area that will provide protection from a 1:200 year tidal flood event."

Notice that although this is designed to provide protection a tidal flood event there is no claim that it will provide protection against a hurricane storm surge. If an 1824 type storm surge took place the waters of Portland Harbour are likely to rise to level at which they flooded Weymouth. This means that the broad outflow will probably be flooded from the harbour without counting the additional wash from the Chesil Beach. However, it will still be an important channel to take away some excess floodwater. However, when the disastrous 1824 Chiswell flood took place there was at that time no serious obstruction here at all. The Mere, a marshy lagoon had direct outflow to Portland Roads and yet the sea overwash still caused all the damage and deaths. Look at this in the two images which follow. The original natural flood outflow channel here was deeper, actually below sea-level, and should therefore have been more effective than the new engineered flood path. When the hurricane and storm surge next strike (and with good luck this could be a long time ahead) it is not realistic to expect the situation at Chiswell to be better than in 1824, unfortunate though this may be.

Old map of Portland and Chesil

Old view of Chesil Beach

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Slow coastal retreat at West Weare, Portland, Dorset

The southeastern end of the Chesil Beach is almost fixed to the coast of the rocky Portland massif. It is not locked and has presumably moved northeast in relation to the west coast of Portland. Nevertheless it is worth enquiring about the rate of coastal retreat at West Weare because this will have major influence on the location of this end of the barrier beach.

Williams (1991) estimated the retreat here from 1927 to 1978, with some additional information from an aerial photograph of 1987. The results of the average coastline retreat per annum for the period were tabulated in her report. Williams (1991) calculated the average retreat from 1927 to 1978 as 0.13 m per annum .

This is an expected and normal figure for the relatively hard-rock coasts of Dorset at the present quiet time. It absurdly slow, though, in comparison to the Flandrian Transgression and the 10,000 years of post-glacial time. After all that the whole English Channel has been flooded up from minus 140m. during that interval. In other words coastal retreat here has practically stopped; now indeed, except on clay cliffs, the coast erosion process is almost dormant. Of course, there is likely to be a real eruption of the sea sooner or later, and rapid retreat of the coast. Whether this is likely to be in the distant future or in the near-future as a result of global-warming is not known.

Merely as a basis for discussion, very round estimates of mine (based only on general background knowledge of specific retreat rates for various places) for the present-day Wessex Coast retreat in general are given below. The retreat from the English Channel about level with Lands End to Portland (about 250km) is used for the Flandrian Transgression and all Holocene (10,000 years) Do not use these as exact figures.

Present day retreat:

Clay, sand and gravel coasts - O.6 m. per annum
Limestone, hard sandstone - 0.15 m. per annum

For the Flandrian Transgression and all Holocene, (English Channel dry to flooded):

Overall, very roughly - about 25 m. per annum

Consider the future prospects regarding general erosion on the Wessex Coast further, bearing in the mind the doubling of sea-level rise since 1947 and the recent increase in wave height. Note that there is likely to be a delayed response to increased sea activity because there is accumulated debris and beach material at the foot of cliffs to be removed before oversteepening results in cliff falls. The future of the Chesil Beach, as opposed to the cliffs, is a difficult matter that will be discussed later.

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Chesil Beach - Losses at the Western (Bridport, Burton Bradstock) End

(These notes are from the Burton Bradstock webpage. See also the Bridport, West Bay, East Cliff webpage.)

Diminishing Chesil Beach and undercut cliffs of Bridport Sands with Inferior Oolite above, at Burton Cliff, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 3rd March 2008

Loss of beach material and exposure of fallen limestone at the western end of Burton Cliff, Dorset, in 2008, shown in comparison with an earlier photograph

Comparison of the southeastern end of Burton Cliff, Dorset, from 1996 to 2005

Erosion and loss of beach material at the southeastern end of Burton Cliff, near Burton Hive, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, from 1996-2008

The beach here, near the western end of the Chesil Beach, is fine shingle. It mostly consists of Cretaceous flint and chert (from the Upper Greensand) with a variety of unusual pebbles, including quartzites from the Budleigh Salterton pebbles beds of the Triassic of Devon. The small pebbles are generally fairly well-rounded. Notice that although most of the material is well-sorted, there are some larger pebbles scattered on the surface.

When the beach was observed in April 2005 it seemed diminished in size. By March 2008, as shown by the comparative photographs above, there had been substantial loss of beach material at Burton Cliff. The fine shingle (granules) move from west to east by longshore drift as a result of prevailing southwesterly winds. Supply of beach sediment from the west is prevented by the harbour piers (now extended) at West Bay, Bridport. Sea level is rising at an increased rate and in general the low water mark is moving landward along the coast of central southern England.

Possible erosional problems regarding the western end of the Chesil Beach at Bridport and Burton Bradstock, Dorset, as shown on a geological map

In the longer term the beach at Burton Cliff will probably be lost and this will become a rocky coast with the sea breaking onto the Bridport Sands. Fortunately, fallen blocks of limestone from the Inferior Oolite may provide some natural rock armour (armourstone) that may retard the rate of cliff erosion. It may become a headland, resistant in contrast to the relatively rapid retreat of the Fullers Earth clay cliffs to the southeast (from Burton Hive Beach towards Cogden Beach). The soft cliffs will erode easily once the main part of the shingle beach is lost and the area becomes sediment-starved (cf. Naish Farm at Highcliffe, Christchurch Bay).

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SEA DEFENCES continued:

More on the Sea Defences at Chiswell

Extract from synopsis of paper read by Dr A.P. Carr at the Royal Geographical Society on Monday, 2nd November, 1981:

"Chesil Beach has probably always been overtopped from time to time with resulting slow, local, recession of the crest and flooding inland notably at Chiswell, Portland. However, flooding appears to have been more frequent in recent years. Whether this reflects more awareness, greater economic importance of the Portland-Weymouth road link, or the effects of land reclamation at Chiswell, Portland, has been the subject of dispute. Flooding can occur both by seepage through the beach and overtopping, and either as a result of locally generated storm waves or, atypically, long-period swell.

Evidence shows that over the period 1955-1978 little change occurred in detailed form of the beach crest but marked vertical changes (up to 2.7m) took place during the 1978-79 winter, principally on 13 February 1979. This reflects the contrast between the storm waves and the long period swell. The February event resulted in modifications of the same order as the net changes which occurred between 1852 and 1968/9 and suggest that the 1852-1968/9 changes could have been brought about almost entirely by the extreme long-period swell event of 1904.

Measures to ameliorate flooding and protect the beach crest and coastline have been proposed at both ends of the beach, Chiswell and West Bay, Bridport. While most of these are acceptable and inevitable in a geomorphic context the large-scale deployment of gabions along the crest near Chiswell and the concept of the introduction of atypical grades and geological types of beach material must be viewed with concern. The conflicting interests between community and national (even international) scales and short-term engineering solution v long-term scientific and educational interests needs extended examination."

Extract of letter from the Nature Conservancy Council, 25 June 1981:

"I regret to have to inform you that, despite every effort by the Nature Conservancy Council and its expert advisors (listed overleaf), a planning application has been approved by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council for the construction of a gabion mattress across the crest of Chesil Beach; imported stone will be used to fill a proportion of the gabions. Despite our advice to the planning authority and Department of the Environment that the proposed works would be scientically damaging to Chesil Beach, construction of a 150m "trial length" of gabions is due to begin in early August. ...... the possibility still remains that, some time in the future, application may be made to extend the protection of the beach crest to the full 1,600 metres recommended in the consulting engineers report. .."

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Was the Chesil Beach Once Breached?

"In exceptional storms, the sea seems to have gained access somewhat freely to the Fleet. Leland, writing in 1546, speaks of the south-eastern winds breaking through the bank (see below).

Camden, in 1590, says: the Chesil Beach: " when the south wind rises, gives and commonly cleaves asunder."

In the 1824 storm the crest of bank in places was washed over the back and many fishermen's cottages at Chesilton were destroyed killing 50 to 60 people. On another occasion, in January 1853, a vessel was lifted by a wave and perched on top of the bank two miles from Small Mouth, and everyone aboard was saved (Arkell, 1947).

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Hurst Spit - Comparable Shingle Bank

View southeast down the last part of Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire. Castle and lighthouse are seen with the Isle of Wight beyond.

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|Hurst Spit.

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Questions Regarding the Chesil Beach and Storms, Sea Defences etc.

Here are some general geomorphological and environmental questions for students and general readers. Please examine the comparative images and answer the following:

1. Refer to the Weymouth and Portland Borough Council Local Plan Designate Chiswell Extreme Tidal Flood Risk Area and associated and other documents. Discuss this map in the light of the history of floods from overtopping or overwashing of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell, and with regard to sea defences and the flood drainage scheme. (Essay question)

2. Compare and contrast the risks and possible effects of overwashing of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell and overwashing of the sand spit of Weymouth. Amongst other literature and maps refer to Dorset County County Council documents . Consider the 1824 storm surge and the recent discussion about the liability or not of the Park area of Weymouth to flooding. See the Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Review Inspectors Report - Natural Environment.

3. Discuss an outline of basic emergency and evacuation measures for Chiswell, low parts of Weymouth and other local areas should a hurricane and storm surge of 1824 type appear to be imminent.

3. Has the row of gabion matresses effectively stabilised the summit of the Chesil Beach at Chiswell?

4. Has there been any overtopping of the beach-top gabions at Chiswell since they have been placed there?

5. Have the beach-top gabions changed the general environment of this part of the Chesil Beach significantly, and if so, what are the changes?

6. Why has the Cove House Inn on the top of the beach been damaged less than some houses at the back of the beach? What type of damage do you think that the Inn sometimes receives? (Do you know how they reduce this? Have a pint of beer there to find out!)

7. For roughly how long is the raised wall on top of the promenade likely to cope with rising sea-level and possible global warming?

8. Is sea-level rise the main future problem of flooding to be dealt with here, or in the long term is there another one of greater importance? If so, what is it?

9. So far true tsunamis, as opposed to Atlantic storm waves, do not seem to have been a major problem here. Why is this?

10. If you had available to you, early photographs of this same area from the 19th Century, just how would you use them to estimate the rate of coastal retreat here. (If you have access to the right pictures, as in "Portland Camera" by Stuart Morris you can try this. There are photographs in that book from about 1895. I suspect that coastal retreat is very limited at this part of the beach. It is quite possible that the coast is moving northeast by erosion at not much greater a rate than it is moving east by plate tectonics. Although precise figures are not available there is clearly a great contrast with the rate of recession of Hurst Castle Spit. Other parts of the Chesil Beach may be retreating more rapidly.)

11. The land at the back of the Chesil Beach seems safer in terms of coastal retreat than that behind some shingle beaches. What is the fundamental reason for this?

12. In terms of human activity what differences are there at the back of the beach from the earlier photograph to the present one?

More Questions for Students on Dorset Storm Surges

Here are some further questions about details of a possible new storm surge on the Dorset coast.

1. If the water-level in the Fleet was at near 7m at Abbotsbury, what was its level nearer to Smallmouth and Wyke Regis? In other words, just how severe would be the flooding here?
2. Would the present Ferrybridge with its relatively narrow channel and associated road tend to dam up to a large extent the waters of the flooded Fleet Lagoon?
3. Would the bridge and road resist or be destroyed at least partially by the floodwaters?
4. If there was a flood break-out in this area, would it be mainly south of the bridge over the Chesil Beach centre, and would there be any breach north of the bridge at the original Smallmouth site?
5. Is there risk of the back-up floodwaters of the Fleet Lagoon breaking out over the lowered crest of the bank and cutting an outflow channel or channels somewhere within the stretch of the Chesil Beach? This does not seem to have happened in 1824, but a more open overflow route at Smallmouth might have helped. Is the probability of this low, and even if it happened would the bank naturally repair the gap by longshore drift?
6. In 1824 the Portland breakwaters, the Portland Harbour walls, had not been constructed and the floodwaters discharged into the open Portland Roads. At the time the general sea-level was high as a result of the surge. If these 1824 conditions were repeated with the harbour walls now further restricting outflow to what extent would the water level in Portland Harbour rise above the general surge level?
7. Would the existing sea-defences and flood drainage scheme cope with 1824-type hurricane and storm-surge conditions at Chiswell?
8. Should any future development in the Chesil Beach, Fleet Lagoon and Portland Harbour area be designed to cope with at least an 1824-type hurricane and storm-surge and its effects? Perhaps the great storm model is already taken into account in present development plans.
9. A major tsunami may seem much less likely to occur in the near-future than an 1824-type hurricane and storm-surge. Nevertheless the large wave-attack might in some respects provide a model for the consequences. Would a large tsunami deplete the beach shingle by backwash more than a huge wind-blown storm and therefore have a more serious long-term effect on the Chesil Beach? Apart from the obvious risk at Chiswell would a tsunami cause the same outflow damage at Ferrybridge?
10. Weymouth and Sandbanks in Dorset both have urban developments on low sand-spits at the mouth of harbours, although there are also higher areas at both localities. Weymouth has a longer history of development and sea-floods are recorded there. Little is know about Sandbanks. Compare and contrast the coastal geomorphology of these sand-spits, and discuss the extent to which they may be affected by and the extent to which they are protected from the effects of a possible English Channel hurricane and storm surge. Discuss whether the lack of a known Return Period for the 1824-type hurricane and long time interval since it has happened, means that it can be safely ignored for the present.
11. To the coastal areas of Dorset, the prospect of a break-through of the Chesil Beach is a less serious threat than the return of an 1824-type hurricane and storm surge: Discuss.

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I am very grateful to staff of Weymouth Museum for information on the Tempest Stone of Weymouth and other matters. Doreen Smith, a great source of information on Dorset geology, has kindly pointed out to me the exact site of the Tempest Stone, and I am obliged to her for this. Tonya West helped with photography. I am most obliged to Michael Shouler of Plymouth University for helpful information on storms that I had missed. I thank Mr Giles Pepler, grandson of Sir George Pepler, for information on the 1957 storm at Lulworth Cove. I am particularly grateful to Alan Holiday, Chair of Dorset DIGS Group and Dorset G.A. Group for excellent photographs of the Chesil Beach during storms, and for useful information from time to time. He regularly photographs the Chesil Beach in its various states and in various weather conditions. I thank the various staff and students of field parties that have visited the Chesil Beach and may be shown in photographs. I particularly thank Professor Gunn and Paul Sandford. I much appreciate a number of informative emails and important photographs and video from Stuart Morris, the Isle of Portland historian and author and retired Chesil Beach civil engineer. I am very grateful to Stuart Morris for permission to reproduce his video and photographs of storms on the Chesil Beach.Emails from the Chesil Beach geomorphological specialist, Dr. Malcomb Bray of Portsmouth University, have provided information on the retreat of the Chesil Beach in the February 2014 storm and on other matters which is much appreciated. Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager of Jurassic Coast, has provided various information and, and with the Environment Agency, overseas policy on Chesil Beach coastal Protection activities

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Copyright © 2017 Ian West, Catherine West, Tonya Loades and Joanna West. All rights reserved. This is a purely academic website and images and text may not be copied for publication or for use on other webpages or for any commercial activity. A reasonable number of images and some text may be used for non-commercial academic purposes, including field trip handouts, lectures, student projects, dissertations etc, providing source is acknowledged.

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Dr Ian West, author of these webpages

Webpage - written and produced by:

Ian West, M.Sc. Ph.D. F.G.S.


at his private address, Romsey, Hampshire, kindly supported by Southampton University,and web-hosted by courtesy of iSolutions of Southampton University. The website does not necessarily represent the views of Southampton University. The website is written privately from home in Romsey, unfunded and with no staff other than the author, but generously and freely published by Southampton University. Field trips shown in photographs do not necessarily have any connection with Southampton University and may have been private or have been run by various organisations.