Remembered: the great storm of 1987, which ripped through Havering 25 years ago this month

PUBLISHED: 18:00 10 October 2012 | UPDATED: 13:31 12 October 2012

The great oak tree at the Drill roundabout, estimated to be at least 600 years old, was felled in the storm

The great oak tree at the Drill roundabout, estimated to be at least 600 years old, was felled in the storm


October 16 is the 25th anniversary of the great storm of 1987, which saw hurricane-force winds tear through Havering, uprooting trees, toppling walls and fences, crushing cars and blocking roads.

Stalls blew down in Romford marketStalls blew down in Romford market

Incredibly, the 100mph winds that battered the borough inflicted few injuries and initially caused no deaths, with the Recorder’s eight-page coverage describing the miraculous escape of dozens of families.

Recorder photographers Barry Kirk and Peter White were on the scene that day.

“It was mayhem,” remembered Barry, now 66. “I don’t think there was a road in the whole of Havering that didn’t have a tree down.

“By one o clock I’d virtually run out of film. It really was phenomenal – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

This plaque and a young oak tree commemorate the 600-year-old tree that blew over in the great storm of 1987This plaque and a young oak tree commemorate the 600-year-old tree that blew over in the great storm of 1987

The worst injury was sustained by 40-year-old librarian Sandra Murray. A falling branch in Upper Rainham Road, Hornchurch, fractured her skull and left her with blood clots on the brain.

And the storm took its first life a few days later when 61-year-old Hornchurch recluse Gordon Dales – who had been “obsessed with trees” – hanged himself. The coroner said Mr Dales’ “horror” at the devastation wrought by the storm was “probably the explanation for his final act”.

Initially, predictions of bad weather were tempered, with few reports of gale-force winds on the evening news on Thursday October 15.

But by the morning the true extent of the damage was apparent, and would eventually cost insurers billions of pounds nationally.

The Recorder's front page on October 23 1987The Recorder's front page on October 23 1987

“I had good police contacts,” photographer Peter, now 70, said, “so I’d find out what was going on, but had a job getting there because roads were blocked and trees were down.”

Young Harold Wood mum Joanne Parker told how she’d grabbed her 16-month-old son Lee and dived under a mattress in the hall as a chimney stack came through her roof.

And the Whitney family, of Emerson Park, had to rush outdoors at 4am as the winds sucked out part of the side of their home.

The authorities were quick off the mark, setting up an emergency control room in Hornchurch. A team of council officers and police took distress calls and coordinated emergency services on the ground.

One casualty was an oak tree in Manor Avenue, Gidea Park, believed to be between 600 and 900 years old. A plaque and a young tree are now in its place on the Drill roundabout – but the six brand new cars it crushed at the East Park Motors garage are not commemorated.

Stalls in Romford market were blown to the ground, advertising hoardings were damaged and roof panels were lifted from the ice rink. Fifty schools were hit, with windows smashed and roofs blown off. In all, 5,000 highway trees across Havering were uprooted.

Pick up the paper this Friday (October 12) to read some of your memories of that night, put together with the help of StreetLife – along with exclusive photographs from the Recorder’s archives.

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