Water, water everywhere: The great storm of 1958

People and a dog, who are marooned in upper rooms, look down on a watery scene in flooded Friars Roa

It wasn't only Havering that flooded during the 1958 storm as this picture in Chelmsford shows. - Credit: PA

During the early evening of Friday, September 5, 1958 a storm moved north-easterly across the south of England. Torrential rain pummelled the area for some hours, inundating the fields and overwhelming drainage systems.

Flooding occurred over a wide area and wrought destruction in its wake.

A serious situation occurred when Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, became cut off to the world, its telephone lines severed. It took until Sunday 7th for them to be restored. Harold Wood Hospital also suffered power cuts.

The River Rom overflowed its banks causing houses to be flooded with water and muddy sludge to a depth of around 5ft. Thousands of pounds worth of furniture and carpeting were destroyed in homes surrounding the flooded area.

Stock was ruined on the Bassen Industrial estate, at Webb’s Garage, at Betterware and other business premises. The old people’s homes in Cedar Avenue became flooded and residents had to be evacuated by boat.

Houses in Collier Row had to be evacuated and children caught fish in the streets. The fish had escaped from nearby fishponds.

A resident of Mawney Road awoke to find water lapping around his bed, whilst another had to be carried out through two feet of water.

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In Harold Hill, homes in Taunton Road, Barnstable Road and North Hill Drive were badly affected, with some residents asked to be rehoused rather than return to their flooded homes.

On the railways, trains were halted at Gidea Park, due to flooding at Brentwood and line subsidence at Chelmsford. Army lorries conveyed around 2,000 passengers to their destinations with delays up to five hours.

Local farms incurred heavy losses as fields were awash over a significant area. An estimated million pounds worth of agricultural damage had been caused. Livestock was lost and carcasses were found a week later along the banks of rivers, whilst crops that had been gathered were washed away or destroyed.

Large numbers of road repairs became necessary where extensive damage had occurred.

Cranham fared particularly badly, as large volumes of water poured off the fields to the north overwhelming drainage ditches and causing a wall of water several feet deep to surge along Front Lane. A 6ft high wall at Brookmans Close was smashed down and vehicles swept along by the raging torrent.

In Heron Way a Ford Thames van lay on its side, completely submerged, with the remains of a traffic island, uprooted from the junction of Front Lane and Moor Lane. Newly laid footpaths were destroyed, leaving nothing but rubble.

Plover Gardens was under 3ft of water and the electrical supply failed over a wide area.

The Thatched House cellars flooded, requiring 40,000 gallons of water to be pumped out and a similar situation occurred at the Masons Arms. Raw sewage overflowed into the streets, causing a stench for some while afterwards.

The A127 was severed by a landslide. Shopkeepers in Front Lane had to be rescued by boat and customers at the Thatched House were recorded swimming away from the premises.

In Upminster, Lloyd’s Bank was unable to access its basement strong room as there was over four feet of water there. It took the whole of Saturday to pump out the floodwater. A similar situation occurred in Barclay’s, with staff requiring wellington boots to deal with customers.

Long queues of railway passenger were stranded at Upminster Station, lining Hall Lane whilst awaiting army lorries from Warley barracks to convey them onwards. The line was suspended due to a landslide severing the line between Pitsea and Laindon. It took until midday on Saturday to partially reopen the line.

Upminster Bridge became completely submerged by the swollen River Ingrebourne with cars abandoned in the flood water. The cellars of the Bridge House were flooded and broken bottles and glasses littered the bar. Half barrels used outside as tables were carried away by the river.

1958 was one of the wettest years recorded.

* More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford Memories Facebook group