Weather reports for January (and a “tidal wave”!)

James Stevens recorded local January weather in his Diary…

1895  Tuesday 8th – Snowy  :  Monday 21st – Hard north wind, two fishermen drowned at St. Ives  :  Sunday 27th – Six inches of snow.

1899  Sunday 1st – Rough weather :  Saturday 21st – Very rough.

1907  Sunday 27th – Last Sunday I saw a little snow on the beacon that fell there 24 days before.

But he also wrote…

Great tidal wave on the east coast, Scarborough etc., doing great damage to piers etc. (Monday 9th January 1905)

Here are some extracts from a report in The Times newspaper on that day…

A north-westerly gale raged in the North sea in the early hours of Saturday morning… The high wind kept the outgoing tide in the Thames and Medway estuary, and at dead low water in Sheerness Harbour on Saturday morning there was 8ft of water above the normal height at this stage.

At Dover the wind blew with the force of a hurricane… Following this at midday there was a high tide in the Channel, the water rising 7ft above the normal. There were some remarkable scenes round the docks, where the water flowed over the quays into the roads… Some of the landings at the piers were practically under water, and the shipping presented a curious spectacle riding high above the quays.

The tide at Lowestoft yesterday morning was the highest experienced for years. Huge waves broke over the sea-wall, and houses were flooded to a depth of 3ft and 4ft, so that people had to be rescued from upper windows in boats. In one house a woman lay dead and the water reached the coffin.

At Cleethorpes the tide broke down parts of the new sea-wall of concrete, carried away large quantities of sand-backing, twisted rails, scattered wagons, and broke up scaffolding. It swept over the old promenade, flooded the shops, and tore up the surface of the carriage-drive. A codfish was caught in Dolphin-road. The new sea-wall which is being constructed between West Harlepool and Seaton Carew has been partially wrecked, several portions, varying in length from 30 to 100 yards, being broken to pieces like pie-crust.

The damage at Scarborough was very severe. The gale began on Friday evening, when the wind blew with such force from the north-north-east. As the night advanced the wind veered round to the north-north-west, and caused a very heavy sea, the full effect of which was felt between midnight and 5’oclock on Saturday morning when it was high tide. With such a sea it was expected that the North Promenade Pier, in its very exposed position, would suffer somewhat, but people were not prepared for what daylight revealed. It was then reported that the pier had been swept away. Thousands of people quickly visited the North Foreshore-road, where an extraordinary scene awaited them. All that remained of the North Promenade Pier was the pavilion end. The intervening stretch of 800ft of deckway had been bodily lifted apparently by a sea of gigantic strength and had been dashed to pieces. The sands were strewn with the wreckage – timber and iron framework – and many poor people were quickly gathering sacks, baskets, and aprons full of firewood. It was a godsend to them, but a serious matter to Mr. William Morgan, the mayor of Scarborough, who bought the pier by public auction for £3,500 last September and had not got it insured. Only recently, it is stated, he refused £6,000 for his bargain. (From: ‘Gale and High Tide’. The Times. Monday 9th January 1905, Issue 37599, page 5)

So not exactly the “tidal wave” James reported, but probably what we’d call a ‘storm surge’ today. 

Visit Stories from Scarborough to read more about the Pier, and to see some ‘before and after’ pictures.











The death of Queen Victoria

On this day in 1901 James Stevens wrote in his Diary…

Queen Victoria died on Tuesday evening in this week at 6.30 p.m. aged about 81 years and near 8 months and reigned more than 63 years.  (Friday 25th January 1901)

and a couple of days later…

At Church twice. Heard Queen’s funeral sermon preached.  (Sunday 27th January 1901)

Then on 2nd February he wrote…

At a Memorial Service to our late Queen Victoria in Sancreed Church. Suitable Psalms and Hymns. Prayers and Address were given by the Rev. Stona Vicar. The Parish Councilors walked in procession from the schoolroom to Church headed by the Churchwardens. A great many people present.  (Saturday 2nd February 1901)

Here are a few facts about Queen Victoria…

She was born on 24th May 1819 at Kensington Palace in London, the only child of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (4th son of George III) and Marie Louise Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and was christened ‘Alexandrina Victoria’. Victoria’s father died on 23rd January 1820.

Victoria ascended to the throne on 20th June 1837, on the death of her uncle, William IV. She was 18 years old. Her coronation took place on 28th June 1838.

On 10th February 1840 she married her cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha (born 26th August 1819). They had 9 children, 5 girls and 4 boys…

  • Victoria (1840-1901)
  • Albert Edward (‘Bertie’) – the future Edward VII (1841-1910)
  • Alice (1843-1878
  • Alfred (1844-1900)
  • Helena (1846-1923)
  • Louise (1848-1939)
  • Arthur (1850-1942)
  • Leopold (1853-1884)
  • Beatrice (1857-1944)

Prince Albert died on 14th December 1861 at the age of 43.

Victoria died, aged 81, on 22nd January 1901 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. On the 4th February 1901 she was interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum in Windsor.

Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and 7 months. She is the second-longest reigning sovereign in British history (surpassed on 9th September 2015 by Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne on 6th February 1952).

Mr. Stona’s hayrick – a case of arson

On this day in 1903 James Stevens wrote in his Diary…

Mr. Stona’s hay rick got burnt last evening willful. At Penzance and Honor, bought new shovel, two division pigs trough at 4s and new chip and fittings for plough at 4s 10d. Insured the ricks of hay and straw and cornrick and about 50 bushels corn in barn at £100 at the Northern Insurance at 7s 6d.  (Thursday 15th January 1903)

Then the following day James recorded…

Two policemen here trying to find out who burnt the parson’s hay rick.  (Friday 16th January 1903)

… but there’s no mention in his Diary if they ever found the culprits!

Rev. John Stona had become Vicar of Sancreed in 1900, following the death of Rev. Reginald Basset Rogers.  According to Peter Pool…

… in the early years of his ministry there he encountered problems over and above those which were perhaps inevitable when he replaced his predecessor’s easy-going regime. He was unable to maintain good relations or even mutual tolerance with the Methodists, and discord was especially bitter about educational matters concerning both the Church School at Sancreed Churchtown and the Board School at Newbridge. In 1901 he was returned at the head of the poll in an election for the Board School committee, but his popularity waned rapidly and in 1903 James Stevens recorded that the parson’s hayrick had been wilfully fired (his reaction being to hasten to Penzance and insure his own).  (From: Introduction – A Cornish Farmer’s Diary.  Edited by P.A.S. Pool. 1977)

But relations did improve for Rev. Stona and he continued as Vicar of Sancreed until his death in 1945, becoming one of the most respected clergy in the area.


The grave of Rev. John Stona and his wife Catherine is in Sancreed churchyard – the inscription reads:  In loving memory of Catherine Amelia Stona, wife of John Stona, Vicar of this parish, died December 8th 1936, aged 78 Years. On her hath the light shined.  Also of John Stona M.A., died April 18th 1945, aged 85 Years.  Rest in Peace

For more about Rev. Stona, see Ireland versus Stona – an accusation of “slander”.







Explosion at Hayle dynamite works

On this day in 1904 James Stevens wrote in his Diary…

Explosion at Hayle dynamite works heard at Sancreed and other places, 4 or 5 men killed and many wounded. Estimated £1000 damage done at St. Ives in broken glass etc., the east end window of the Church completely smashed.  (Tuesday 5th January 1904)  

On Thursday 7th January The Cornishman newspaper reported…

Terrible explosion at Hayle

The most serious accident which has taken place at the National Explosives Works, Gwithian, near Hayle, occurred on Tuesday morning.  Just before eleven o’clock the whole of the inhabitants of West Cornwall were started by a sudden shock of the ground and in many places windows were smashed. At first it was thought it might have been an earthquake but it was soon found that this was not the case, but that the shock and sound was the result of an explosion at Hayle.  At once the utmost consternation was felt, and the wildest rumours rapidly spread. Over 700 men are employed at the works, and it was at once seen that an explosion would not but have terrible results. In many a home in St. Ives, Hayle, and neighbourhood, and Penzance – the residences of many of the employees – the dull, hollow boom sounded like a death signal.

And so it proved, for four men in a fraction of a second had been blown to pieces, and four homes had been rendered desolate.  At once a large crowd set out for the towans, on which the buildings stand, and many an agonised wife looked for a husband, and many a terror-stricken father and mother for a son.  From the works a black cloud, so dense as to surround everything like a pall, gradually swept over the sand-hills and town, adding horror on horror to the terrible uncertainty, a dread uncertainty which is almost too much for the loving heart to bear.  Not knowing if there was danger still, and if another explosion might not speedily follow, these loving ones pressed on to the works and thence to danger area, near which strangers are not allowed to go, and it was soon found that here the accident had happened. It had occurred in the very centre of the danger area, in two of the nitro-glycerine rooms of the missing house. The greatest care had been taken that if an explosion took place in one of the wood-houses, in each of which two men work, and which are about 60 yards apart, protected by a mound of sand, the other parts of the building should not be endangered, and it was only the excellence of these precautions which prevented what must have proved one of the most awful calamities of modern times.

The exact way the accident happened cannot be ascertained, and it may be that the true solution will never be found. By some means in one of the sections of the nitro-glycerine portions of the danger area an explosion occurred, and two men were killed by this. Almost immediately afterwards another shed blew up, and two others were also instantly killed.  The names of the deceased are:-

  • Andrew Curnow, Connor Downs, about 50 years of age, married, leaving wife and two children;
  • Willie Luzmoor, Gwithian, a young married man;
  • Simon Jory, 22, Mount Pleasant, unmarried;
  • Wm Clift, jun., Gwithian, about 21, single.

All were terribly dismembered, the sheds being blown to matchwood, and the scene was a terrible one.

In the other sheds the immense force of the explosion was felt severely, in spite of the defence afforded by the mound of sand. A Swede named Oscar Shaholme, who had not been very long at the works, was so much injured by the shock and internal injuries received the being thrown violently down, that his life was despaired of, and he died that afternoon. Most of the other men sustained more of less nasty cuts and bruises, principally from the wreckage of the sheds, four of which were left standing. The courage of promptness which these men showed is worthy of the greatest praise, for though they knew the nature of the peril which threatened them and that at any moment they might be blown into a thousand pieces, they did all they could to prevent danger in their own shed.

The effect at St. Ives – The Church damaged

Although between three and four miles off and the sea separating the places, the shock was so bad that the damage to glass alone is estimated at hundreds of pounds.  The beautiful east window at the parish church is entirely destroyed.  High-street suffered very badly, several of the plate glass windows being smashed. In Fore-street the damage was considerable…. Private houses also suffered severely and people were terribly frightened.

It was later reported…

Notes on the explosion – Hayle, Tuesday Night

The explosion did not originate in a mixing house as at first reported. It was either in a filter house, to which the nitro-glycerine goes after it has been nitrated and washed; or in a temporary storage house, also within the danger area. These two houses were connected by means of a lead-lined conduit, through which the liquid explosive runs. Both houses were utterly destroyed, and only the surviving banks indicate their site.  There were three men in the filter house and one in the storage house, where usually the nitro-glycerine is only kept for a short period, about twelve house.  How the explosion happened can only be surmised. A man may have upset a bucket, or a small quantity may have been spilled and struck by something; but all the men were provided with the nailless boots, the use of which is compulsory.  The factory was started about fourteen years ago. Including this accident nine lives have been lost.  Two old men who were on top of the sulphuric acid tanks in one of the buildings, cleared the two flights of twenty steps in two jumps, and were uninjured.

According to the FreeBMD, the victims were registered as…

  • Andrew Bowden Curnow – aged 53
  • Walter Luzmoor – aged 26
  • Simon Jory – aged 22
  • William John Cliff – aged 20

I couldn’t find a record for Oscar Shaholme.

The website Upton Towans & the National Explosives Company is a great source of photos and information about this area.  There’s also an interesting ‘on this day’ post about the explosion by the Penwith Local History Group.  

Seeing the Towans in the 21st century, viewed across the bay from the St. Erth to St. Ives train (which, on a sunny day, must be ranked as one of the most beautiful trains journeys in the Country), it’s hard to imagine it was such a dangerous place at the beginning of the last century.