Lynmouth Before and After the 1952 Flood
When I visited England in May 2006, one of my favorite coastal towns that we visited was Lynmouth.
Lynmouth is a small harbor town in England that lies at the base of an Exmoor slope while the town of Lynton sits some 500 feet above.
I loved how we took winding narrow roads, and the infamous Porlock Hill, that suddenly lead us out into this quaint little town, a town I soon learned had such an interesting, but tragic and heroic past.
As I stood gazing at the beautiful rushing water beneath the bridge I was standing on, a nearby sign reminded visitors there of the damage once done by these waters. (See the photo below).
I want to share this story of this town with you. There are several events that took place here that make me admire the courage of the people of Lynmouth and make me long to go back to this beautiful place.
This tragedy is remembered in the Lynmouth Church during the annual Flower Festival Week. At a special service the names of those who perished are read out from the ‘Roll of Honour'.
In memory of those who lost their lives in the flood at Lynmouth in 1952:
Ada Barwick, age 60 of Lynmouth
Elsie D. Bowen, age 32 of Lynton
Ronald Bowen, age 37 of Lynton
Kenneth R.F. Bowen, age 9 of Lynton
Derrick Breddy, age 11 of Manchester
Elsie Cherry, age 56 of Highgate, London
Benjamin Coult, age 56 of Durham
Emma Coult, age 52 of Durham
Rodney G. Dimmock, age 8 of Lynton
Mary A. Floyd, age 64 of Lynton
Frederick C. Floyd, age 27 of Lynton
Joyce Hiscock, age 21 of Australia (on vacation)
Hannah Jarvis, age 77 of Lynmouth
William J. Leaworthy, age 60 of Parracombe
Gabriel J. Litson, age 78 of Lynmouth
Charles H. Litson, age 53 of Lynmouth
Gwenda Oxley, age 22 of Australia (on vacation)
William N. Richard, age 30 of Lynmouth
Gwendoline A. Richards, age 32 of Lynmouth
Bernard G. Richards, age 3 of Lynmouth
Ernest W. Richards, age 3 months of Lynmouth
Emily Ridd, age 54 of Lynton
Geoffrey Robinson, age 11 of Manchester
Harold Shaw, age 14 of Manchester
Edwin Smith, age 50 of Lynmouth
Alys Thorne, age 46 of Woking, Surrey
Roger Thorne, age 14 of Woking, Surrey
Maud E. Watts, age 72 of Lynmouth
William H. Watts, age 80 of Lynmouth
One unidentified female
Missing and Believed Drowned:
Stella Bates, age 40 of Lynmouth
David T. Bowen, age 11 of Lynton
Elizabeth Cannon, age 75 of Lynmouth
Jessie Whitbread, age 48 of Lynmouth
1952 Flood at Lynmouth
It was the 15th of August in 1952.
After a continuous torrential rain all day, the East and West Lyn Rivers that converge in Lynmouth began to rise from all of the water draining into them from northern Exmoor above. These two rivers have dozens of streams that feed into them. After 5 inches of rain in one hour and 9 inches of rain in 24 hours it's easy to see how trickles became streams, streams became rivers, and river became rising raging torrents. The raging waters that began to work their way downhill began lifting boulders and rocks. Due to the steepness of these hills leading into Lynmouth, it didn't take long for the boulders to begin smashing everything in their way and bringing it with it. It destroyed houses, roads and bridges along the way.
With 1200 residents and visitors in Lynmouth that day, the weather was certainly a topic of discussion. The locals had seen the rivers rise before but they always subsided so there was little concern early on. But, this day was unusual as many noticed the clouds were shades of deep red and purple. It began to look serious around 7:30 pm that night when the Power Station went out. They had a diesel back-up and were able to restore power until 9 pm. when the rising water forced them to shut it off.
Some 40 guests from the Lyndale Hotel reported waters rising rapidly between 7-9 pm. The hotel sat at the base where the two rivers meet. The raging waters wiped out a chapel, a garage and the Glen Fruit Shop pinning its four occupants against the back wall of the hotel They were pulled to safety by the hotel guests. They evacuated each floor and repositioned themselves higher and higher in the hotel until finally they were on the roof. Around midnight the walls could hold it no more and it came crashing through the hotel.
Once the flood had subsided, it was time to assess the damage. Naked trees stripped of their bark laid strewn across piles of boulders. Piles of mangled debris were mixed amongst buildings and belongings. Roots now sprung from the sides of the banks where once there was no water flow. The river ran its own course that day without regard to what lie in its path. The largest boulder moved by the raging waters was 350 cubic feet.
Nothing had remained unaffected. The entire town was covered in boulders, trees, timber, telephone poles, furniture, mangled cars, and mud. A large amount of debris was carried out to sea, but a considerable amount was deposited on the river beds, which were raised from 6ft to 10ft above their original levels.
Partially filled 500 gallon underground fuel tanks for the local garage that were buried four feet underground were unrooted and swept away, never to be seen again.
An estimated 28 bridges were destroyed or severely damaged when they acted as momentary dams for the raging wall of water and debris that collided with them.
A total of 34 people lost their lives at Lynmouth and the neighboring areas of Barbrook, Parracombe, and Filleigh. Ninety-three houses and buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. One hundred-thirty-two vehicles were destroyed.
Once news reached the rest of the country and around the world, the residents of Lynmouth saw an outpouring of help and generosity. Over 120 volunteers opened and sorted more than 12,000 parcels in 6 weeks, along with 21, 500 letters of sympathy. Some of the gifts sent by those wanting to help were:
- Tinned food from New Zealand
- Money (all in all, 1,336,425 British Pounds !)
- A truckload of slates
- 2000 gallons of disinfectant
- House furnishings and linen
- Sports gear for the youth
- Toys and candy from America
- Ladies' handbags and jewelry
- Oil paintings of Lynmouth
- Cutlery and crockery
- Bushs, shrubs, daffodil bulbs and strawberry plants
- 5 tons of bananas, 5 tons of sugar, 1/2 ton of coffee from Jamaica
The Town Rebuilds
Lynmouth officially reopened on September 13th, 1952 after removing an estimated 114,000 tons of debris. Several bridges reopened in June 1954 and 1956.
As you can see from the photo below, The Glen Lyn Gorge originally opened in 1854, was devastated by the flood in 1952, and reopened again 10 years later in 1962.
Although I don't mention the Cliff Railway in this hub, I have included a video of it so that you can appreciate the height of the cliffs around Lynmouth. In the video, passengers are taking the railway from Lymouth up to Lynton. Below, you'll see cars parked along the banks. We parked in that area when we were there in 2006.
BBC Footage of the Flood
Resource for Stats
A great book on the subject of the flood in Lynmouth is "The Lynmouth Flood Disaster" by Eric R. Dilderfield. It contains 4 maps and 50 pictues of the flood. I utilized this book for many of the stats in this hub.
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- GeoBytesGCSE: The 1952 Lynmouth Flood
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