Christmas a hurricane hit Lancashire

While people everywhere dream of a white Christmas, no one expected the weather to deliver quite the mix of extremes experienced in Lancashire at Yuletide 1852, as local historian Keith Johnson recalls

Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 4:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 4:06 pm
High winds brought down trees in Winckley Square
High winds brought down trees in Winckley Square

When we look back at Christmas past there have been some memorable ones in Lancashire which we cherish and others folk would prefer to forgot. In the latter category would be the Victorian Christmas of 1852, when a hurricane came to call.

It had been a somewhat uneventful year in the history of Preston, the main events being the unveiling of the statue of Sir Robert Peel in Winckley Square (pictured inset), the building of the new Fire Brigade Station in Tithebarn Street and a visit by Queen Victoria for lunch at Preston Railway Station.

The weather had been most unseasonable in December with the thermometer reading 60 degrees out of doors, umbrellas constantly in use and the skates still in the pawnbrokers’ shops. Blooming apple trees, early lambs and other genial anachronisms making it hard to believe the festive season was on its way.

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Extreme weather cause flooding by the Ribble

That Christmas Eve, with festive preparations at an end, the residents of the town settled down to sleep with seasonal thoughts in mind. Alas, the hours of slumber were to be short-lived because as midnight approached violent gusts of wind were rushing through the town.

Within two hours the gale, blowing from the south west, had developed into a complete storm. So fierce was the force of the gale that the word hurricane was no exaggeration. With each passing hour the intensity increased and by 5am on Christmas morning the violent gusts of wind were at their height. Not surprisingly the inhabitants of the town were in great alarm, and in almost every dwelling on the south and west sides of the town the occupants left the upper rooms and took refuge in the basements.

The night was light, the moon shone brightly and scarcely a cloud was visible, yet havoc reigned supreme. Chimney pots, tiles, slates and even lead copings, were hurled along like feathers. Windows of many a house were smashed by slates blown from the rooftops of houses opposite.

Only with the coming of the dawn did the storm abate to leave the residents in a far from festive frame of mind. There was scarcely a house which had not suffered from the destructive visitation. Amazingly there were no reports of loss of life and for this the townsfolk thanked their blessings.

The most serious damage occurred at the junction of Moor Lane and Lancaster Road were a mill in course of construction had been almost entirely demolished. The six-storey building had been nearly complete with only the windowpanes to be added. The howling wind had rushed through the window openings and ripped the roof completely off the structure,

Indeed, wherever property was in course of construction a heavy toll was paid. Cottages in Ribbleton Lane, Peel Hall Street and St. Paul’s Road were all blown down as was the main shed at the East Lancashire railway station where even the iron support pillars were swept away. The residents of Avenham, Ribblesdale Place and Winckley Square also felt the full fury of the gale.

Windows were blown in and skylights smashed while two fine trees were uprooted in the Winckley Square gardens, railings crashed down on Avenham Walk, an ornamental lamp in front of the Mechanics Institute was carried off, and the roof of the engine house on Avenham was blown away.

In all it meant a Christmas Day of clearing up and boarding up and many a planned feast had to be postponed. Indeed many had barely finished battening down the hatches before a flood followed the hurricane. By Boxing Day night the wind had returned with a violent ferocity and with it came the rain.

This combination coupled with high tides was to reek more havoc on the town’s inhabitants. The gales once again took a heavy toll. The public houses had their share of troubles with a large chimney on the roof of the Duke of York in Church Street tumbling down, while the lead was torn off the roof of the Black A Moor Head in Lancaster Road.

Tall trees in St Paul’s churchyard and in Fishergate were uprooted and in most of the timber yards of the town the stacks of planking were scattered by the wind. Such was the tremendous amount of rain which fell that by 4am on the Monday the sewer gratings could not take the deluge and consequently many streets were flooded to a great depth.

The water ran down Church Street in a torrent and at the corner of the aptly named Water Street, now Manchester Road, the depth was more than two feet. Fortunately, the fire crew were close at hand from their new Fire Brigade Station on Tithebarn Street to lend a hand to flood victims.

The very high winds during the forenoon kept the ebb tide in the river and drove the following tide forward. The result was that looking from Stanley Terrace towards the foot of Fishergate and along the Marsh the area resembled an inland sea. The Avenham boathouse, the Bowling Green Inn, the Bridge Inn and the Regatta Inn all felt the force as the flood rose higher than ever known.

No human life was lost but animals were not so fortunate with a dog drowning in the brew house of the Regatta Inn and a calf meeting the same fate in the nearby sail makers yard. When that day’s tide subsided relief was felt all around. Indeed, when news filtered through from further afield it was realised that in many ways the awful Christmas had been shared by others.

Elsewhere in Lancashire the storm and hurricane had spared no one – all the county had been visited by the unwelcome Christmas caller. A Spanish Brig had been wrecked at Southport, a fishing vessel called the Betsy damaged at Lytham, at Fleetwood a barque named the Denisom was stranded at the mouth of the Wyre and even the Dublin-bound mail steamer from Liverpool was forced back by the violent weather.