The Great Storm of 1703
and the Birth of Mary Williams
In recent months a wave of bad weather has engulfed our country, bringing gales, rain, floods and lots of chaos in it’s wake. In my lifetime I don’t think I have seen so much devastation in England caused by such weather. It often makes me think about how our ancestors managed to deal with such events especially as the technology in our past was less advanced then it is now.
So I decided to look at my family tree to see if I can find any connections relating to the worst Natural disaster that England had ever faced ‘the Great Storm of 1703’
Many of us who can trace our lineage here in England can easily trace their pedigree back to the Great Storm which hit our country more then 311 years ago, the probability is very high that this storm effected our ancestors one way or another.
The Storm of 1703 brought such wide spread destruction that estimates place the loss of life between 10,000 – 15,000 and even the House of Stuart was effected, Queen Anne is said to have hidden in the cellar of St James Palace.
I am aware of two connections in my family tree that place an event around the time the Great storm reached it’s peak in England 26th/27th November 1703, one was the Birth of my 8th Great Grand Aunt ‘Mary Williams’ and the other is the death of my 10th Great Grand Aunt ‘Anne Knight – nee: Burge’ both families lived in the South West of England (although not directly related) coincidentally these are the same areas that have suffered the worst in our recent storms.
I am going to concentrate on the birth of Mary Williams because her story also links directly to one of the most famous haunting’s in Dorset the Ghost of her Great Grandfather ‘Thomas Baker’.
Short Biography of Mary Williams
Mary Williams (1703 – 1710) 8th great grand aunt
Mary was born at the end of November 1703 in Yetminster, Dorset, England she was one of thirteen children from 2 different marriages her father was Robert Williams ‘Alias Robert Baker’ sadly her mother is unknown but it’s likely that she passed away sometime around 1709 shortly after the birth of her sixth child Patience or perhaps during child birth.
Mary’s father Robert Williams re-married on the 16th April 1710 to Katherine Elford and went onto have a further seven children.
Mary’s family were farmers and very good farmers who made enough money to leave wills, money and small holdings. Locally the family were well known and probably very respected. nine years before the birth of Mary her Great Grandfather was murdered along a lane below Bubb Down Hill, the lane was renamed sometime after his death to Murderer’s Lane it is said that his ghost still walks there on the anniversary of his death.
The night of Mary’s Birth, England was gripped in one of the worst storms in British recorded history (see below).
Mary died during childhood at the age of seven years, my 8x Great Grandmother and sister to Mary Williams was named after her in 1711, her name lived on.
The Great Storm of 1703
The below story is sourced from: Wikepedia
Observers at the time recorded barometric readings as low as 973 millibars (measured by William Derham in south Essex), but it has been suggested that the storm may have deepened to 950 millibars over the Midlands.
In London, approximately 2,000 massive chimney stacks were blown down. The lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St James’s Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. On the Thames, around 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, the section downstream from London Bridge. HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chatham. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s HMS Association was blown from Harwich to Gothenburg in Sweden before they could safely make their way back to England. Pinnacles were blown from the top of King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge.
There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristol. Hundreds of people drowned in flooding on the Somerset Levels, along with thousands of sheep and cattle, and one ship was found 15 miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was killed when two chimneystacks in the palace fell on him and his wife, asleep in bed. This same storm blew in part of the great west window in Wells Cathedral. Major damage occurred to the south-west tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.
At sea, many ships (some of which were returning from helping the King of Spain fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession) were wrecked, including on the Goodwin Sands, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland, HMS Mary, and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwins. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall. The first Eddystone Lighthouse off Plymouth was destroyed killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley (John Rudyard was later contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site). A ship torn from its moorings in the Helford River in Cornwall was blown for 200 miles before grounding eight hours later on the Isle of Wight. The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000.
The storm of 1703 caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and their Man of War escorts, the Dolphin, the Cumberland, the Coventry, the Looe, the Hastings and the Hector sheltering at Milford Haven. By 3pm the next afternoon losses included 30 vessels.
The storm, unprecedented in ferocity and duration, was generally reckoned by witnesses to represent the anger of God – in recognition of the “crying sins of this nation.” The government declared 19 January 1704 a day of fasting, saying it “loudly calls for the deepest and most solemn humiliation of our people.” It remained a frequent topic of moralizing in sermons well into the nineteenth century.
The Great Storm also coincided with the increase in English journalism, and was the first weather event to be a news story on a national scale. Special issue broadsheets were produced detailing damage to property and stories of people who had been killed.
Daniel Defoe produced his full-length book, The Storm, published in July 1704, in response to the calamity, calling it “the tempest that destroyed woods and forests all over England.” He wrote: “No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it.” Coastal towns such as Portsmouth “looked as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces.” Winds of up to 80mph destroyed more than 400 windmills. Defoe reported in some the sails turned so fast that the friction caused the wooden wheels to overheat and catch fire. He thought the destruction of the sovereign fleet was a punishment for their poor performance against the Catholic armies of France and Spain during the first year of the War of the Spanish Succession.