On Thursday of this week (26 January 2017), it will be the centenary of the great storm that destroyed the coastal village of Hallsands in south Devon.
This lost village has featured in many geography lessons, and is one of my favourite spots in my home county.
From Tuesday (24 January) to Saturday (28 January), an exhibition of old photographs and memorabilia of the village will be open to the public in St Andrew’s Church in nearby Beesands.
On Thursday, the day of the centenary itself, the owners of the two remaining houses are unlocking the gate to the old village to give access to the public from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm. At 3.00 pm, the Lord Lieutenant will unveil a commemorative plaque by the coastal path above the old village, and this ceremony will be followed by a walk to Beesands to ‘re-enact’ the escape made by the villagers when the storm died down. In the evening, a crab supper will take place at the Cricket Inn in Beesands.
So what happened at Hallsands?
The village of Hallsands was one of several small fishing communities dotted along this stretch of the south Devon coast, supporting 128 inhabitants and protected from the prevailing south westerly winds by a large pebble ridge.
But on that fateful January night back in 1917, a storm blew down the English Channel, and as it swung around to the northeast and strengthened, the village became vulnerable. The tide was exceptionally high that night and coupled with the fierce onshore winds the sea came pounding up the beach.
It surged over the pebble ridge and crashed into the village, smashing doors and windows and flooding the ground floors of the houses. The destruction was unbelievable. By midnight four houses had gone. The following day brought another high tide and by its end only one house was left standing. All together, some 29 homes had been taken along with the livelihoods and belongings of the entire village.
But could this disaster have been avoided?
Its origins lay in plans, unknown to local fishermen at the time, to extend the naval dockyard at Plymouth. These plans involved sand and gravel being taken from the seabed further up the coast. Dredging began in the spring of 1897 and during the next four years some 660,000 tonnes of material were removed. Opposition from several fishing villages grew as they saw their shingle beaches being relentlessly carried away, and the dredging was stopped.
It took 18 years from the start of dredging to the final destruction of Hallsands village.
The shingle was deposited thousands of years ago during the ice age, and It was assumed that its removal would be replaced naturally by more material that lay somewhere out in the channel. The ruins of some of the buildings still stand as a reminder of man’s meddling with the forces of nature.
If you want to find out more about Hallsands, log onto:
In this You Tube video, the story of Hallsands is told through music by Katy Grace and the Shindigs. Nice.