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Heritage: Earthquakes shake Romford

PUBLISHED: 15:47 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:15 05 May 2017

Romford High Street in 2010. Back in 1884 it was shaken by an earthquake.

Romford High Street in 2010. Back in 1884 it was shaken by an earthquake.

Archant

Essex has felt its share of earthquakes over the centuries, as PROF GED MARTIN explains

Although we don’t think of Britain as an earthquake zone, the UK experiences hundreds of minor earth tremors each year.

Occasionally, there is a serious earthquake. Canterbury cathedral was damaged by a severe shock in 1382.

There was the Dover Straits earthquake of 1580, and a violent shock across north Essex in 1692.

Around 20 past 9 in the morning on April 22, 1884, Colchester was hit by a major quake.

Its epicentre was a few miles to the south.

Wivenhoe, on the Colne estuary, looked as if it had been shelled by enemy forces. A famous pub, the Peldon “Rose”, was wrecked. The church at Langenhoe was never properly repaired, and was eventually demolished.

Modern research suggests nobody was killed, a miracle given the amount of crashing masonry in Colchester.

The shock wave was accompanied by a rumbling noise. “Great alarm” was felt at Chelmsford, where people thought the gasworks had blown up.

At Southend, there were fears of an explosion at the Army’s artillery range at Shoeburyness. In south Essex, people guessed the government’s gunpowder store at Purfleet had gone up.

Brentwood was probably cushioned by its hilltop location, but a lady having breakfast in bed spilt her coffee. Furniture moved and lamps were upset at South Weald.

But at hilltop Havering-atte-Bower, the earth did not move.

However, in an Ilford hotel, servants scurried around answering bells jangled by invisible hands.

Miss Kate Robinson ran a school for young ladies on the south side of High Street Romford.

“I heard a cracking noise in the north-east corner of the room,” she noted, “the house seemed to sway forwards towards the south.”

For a few seconds, the building trembled, as if a traction engine was passing down the narrow street. A picture rattled against the wall.

Miss Robinson checked her watch. It was exactly 9.20am.

“The shock was distinctly felt in Romford,” an Essex newspaper reported, “especially in the vicinity of South Street.”

That’s intriguing. Romford’s original medieval chapel had stood further down South Street. Probably built close to the river Rom, it was subordinate to the parish church at Hornchurch, and shared its dedication to St Andrew.

It was replaced in 1410 by St Edward’s, in the Market Place. The original location is still remembered as Oldchurch.

As late as 1880, local tradition claimed the chapel had been swallowed by an earthquake. Locals claimed that if you stood at the corner of Oldchurch Road on St Andrew’s night, November 30, you might hear the bells still ringing deep underground!

Was Romford’s first church damaged by the earthquake that hit Canterbury – just 45 miles away – in 1382? Maybe, as at Langenhoe, it was easier in the long run to abandon it than repair the damage.

Romford’s Congregational (United Church) minister, the Reverend Frederick Sweet, saw a message in the 1884 earthquake.

Preaching to a packed congregation, he warned: “All scripture prophecies pointed to a time when the earth should be destroyed, and no one knew how near that time might be at hand.”

Doubtless our borough will one day be hit by another earth tremor. But I don’t expect Romford to drop through the Earth’s crust.

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