Robert Brown's article published in The Gazette November 21, 2003

OVER the past few weeks nature has decorated the trees with a host of colours, as the autumn leaves changed from one hue to another.

It is rather ironic that the first date, on November 26, falls on the 300th anniversary of the greatest storm in British history, in 1703, which blew in from the Atlantic Ocean and destroyed thousands of trees across the countryside The force of that wind was greater than the storms of October 1987 and January 1990. It passed over Britain and France to Holland, Germany, Sweden, Russia and Siberia, causing immense damage in each country.

In this country the violence was felt mainly in the southern part of England, where it uprooted trees, carried away buildings, and left a trail of death and destruction.

Hundreds of houses were wrecked, at least 400 windmills were blown away, hundreds of thousands of cattle swept away, and tens of thousands of trees destroyed.

At least 8,000 people lost their lives during the night of the 26th, when the storm was at its height.

One of the worst incidents was the loss of the first Eddystone lighthouse, off the port of Plymouth, where its creator was staying the night with the men who were in charge. Henry Winstanley designed the structure and saw its construction in 1696, but he was to die in his lighthouse when hurricane winds blew it down.

Basingstoke had been suffering from gale force winds for weeks before the great storm loomed up, and the residents were already replacing chimney-pots and roof tiles that had been blown off. Then during the day of November 26, the wind began to blow even harder, and by midnight, the greatest fury reached the town when the occupants heard a “booming of the wind, like thunder aloft” as one person recorded. “Tiles, coping stones, chimney-pots, and other objects, flew about in such a profusion that it was dangerous to be out of doors,” so he wrote.

The bell on the top of the Mote Hall, in the Market Place (the Town Hall of that time) was blown about on its support, and people all over the town heard it tolling its grim message to everyone.

By the morning, the wind had died down to allow people to leave their homes and gaze at the damage done to the town.

The Mayor of Basingstoke, George Prince Junior, assembled his councillors to receive news of how the storm had affected the town, and the first thing he found out was that all roads into Basingstoke were blocked by fallen trees. No stagecoaches could get in or out so he ordered workmen with large saws to remove the offending obstructions.

Several barns had collapsed, many roofs on the houses facing the wind on the west side of the town were blown away, and a great deal of hay and straw had been blown into the streets from the nearby fields.

From that day onward, for several months, there was no more wind, and the winter was calm and dry. It was, as one man put it, “as if the storm had blown itself out”.

The storms of recent years may have been rough for us, but the one in 1703 was the king of them all.