When an earthquake rocked Lancashire

It is 75 years since one of the biggest earthquakes to hit Lancashire struck in the dead of night.

One of the biggest earthquakes to hit Lancashire occurred 75 years ago
One of the biggest earthquakes to hit Lancashire occurred 75 years ago

The shock was felt right across the north of England by the tremor, which was the second largest of the 20th century in the region.

Shortly after 1.30am on December 30, 1944, it shook buildings as far apart as Manchester, Darlington, Sheffield and towns and cities 100 miles away.

That day’s Lancashire Post reported: “Preston district felt the quake about 1.36am, when many people were awakened by a perceptible shaking of their homes. The effects of the shock appear to have been most severe in the Higher Walton district where a ‘low rumbling noise’ was heard.

“A resident told a Post reporter that the shaking was like that caused by the passing of exceptionally heavy traffic.At Lea, beds were rocked and at Garstang, ‘the whole place seemed to be shaken’. The effects were much the same at Kirkham and Longridge.

“Awakened by the bedroom door rattling, a Fulwood housewife thought someone was coming into the room and demanded, ‘Who’s there?’ Her husband took up the tale, ‘The bed and room began to shake for a period of several seconds,’ he said. ‘Articles in the room were rattling and there was a sensation of the walls shaking. I thought, for a moment, the house was going to fall.’

“A Morecambe ex-sailor described the effect on his seaside house. ‘The creaking and groaning of window frames and doors was just like the sounds on an old ship in bad weather,’ he said. ‘I thought I was at sea again.’

“The reverberations were clearly felt in Blackpool and at Lytham St Annes. Many people were awakened at 1.37am. Beds shook, windows rattled, and there were reports of ornaments falling from shelves.

“People in Fleetwood, Thornton Cleveleys, Poulton and the Over Wyre district felt the shock. A woman living in Park Lane, Preesall, said the shock was so violent that she thought the walls of the house were going to collapse.

“In Chorley, people tell of bed shaking and doors rattling. A Leyland man, who was working late, said: ‘There seemed to be a rippling of the ground for six or seven seconds. That was at 1.30am.’ ‘The whole house shook,’ is the general verdict in the Clitheroe district. Ornaments rattled and, in one case, a photograph frame fell to the floor.

“In Lancaster and district, the first tremor was felt at about 1.30am, followed - a number of people say - by a second one about two seconds later. Inhabitants described the experience as ‘rather frightening’.”

The earthquake was attributed to the Pendleton Fault, a crack in the strata which stretches for about 20 miles from Bolton along the Irwell Valley through Pendleton to Poynton, in Cheshire.

Stonyhurst College Observatory, in the Ribble Valley, was the main centre for recording tremors in Lancashire but only managed to log the start of the disturbance as the shock was so severe it put the seismograph out of action.

However, a leading seismologist said at the time: “The tremor began slowly and built up for a matter of 45 seconds. It was a severe vibration for this country and indications are that it was the most severe British earthquake for some years.”

The most severe tremor of the 20th century to hit Lancashire took place on June 8, 1931, again in the small hours of the morning. The quake was felt across 50,000 square miles from the south coast right up to the north of England and came after a series of smaller tremors over the previous few weeks.

The Lancashire Post reported: “The tremor was felt sharply at Preston. It came in the form of two quakes, the first accompanied by slight rumbling, and lasting, it seemed, for several seconds.

“The visitation was not of sufficient severity to cause serious alarm, and so far as can be ascertained, very few people were disturbed from their sleep.”

Meanwhile, the Pendleton Fault was blamed for an earthquake of intensity six on the Richter scale which occurred on February 10, 1889 and was felt over an area of 2,500 square miles. And in 1753, it caused a tremor which caused church bells to ring.

Most recently in 2007, it was blamed for a swarm of six tremors in the Manchester area, with the last measured at 2.4 on the Richter scale.