THE hurricane of 1987 which damaged hundreds of buildings and uprooted thousands of trees across the south of England was, apparently, nothing compared with the storm that lashed the region on November 27, 1703.
More than 8,000 people were killed, animals were hurled through the air before experiencing a merciful death, church spires tumbled to the ground, homes and other buildings were reduced to rubble and ships were either sunk or forced to crash into each other.
The original Eddystone Lighthouse, which had helped to save so many lives during its five years’ existence, couldn’t resist the storm and its designer, Henry Winstanley, died inside it.
Two new books detail the events of that horrific night. In The Greatest Storm, Martin Brayne provides us with the first comprehensive report of the night of carnage and destruction since Daniel Defoe wrote an account a year after the big event.
As well as giving the reader a vivid pen picture of the tempest itself, Martin attempts to discover the source of the catastrophe. Martin also defends Winstanley whose structure had already survived several winters but couldn’t resist what was probably our worst storm in 600 years.
The structure and its designer are reflected in even greater detail in Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse written by Adam Hart-Davis and Emily Troscianko.
Winstanley, who rose to a creditable position in the king’s household at the magnificent Audley End in Essex, had been inspired to create the beacon for ships at sea after losing two of his own vessels in the area.
Before Winstanley, no one had ever tried to build a lighthouse on a bare rock in the open sea. It gained royal approval but even though no ships floundered while it existed the Plymouth puritans, among others, continually forecast the structure’s demise.
Winstanley declared that his crowning wish was to be in his lighthouse for the greatest storm that ever blew in God’s heaven.
Cruelly, he was granted his wish when he visited Eddystone for the last time to effect some urgent repairs. Both he and his masterpiece were swept into the sea, never to be seen again.