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Pictures of the 1987 Great Storm in Kent

Winds reaching 110mph caused devastation across Kent in the early hours of Friday, October 16, 1987.

What became known as the Great Storm hit most of the south of England and northern France, causing loss of life, widespread chaos and extensive damage.

A tree fell through the roof of a house in Hythe Road, Ashford. Picture: Steve Salter.
A tree fell through the roof of a house in Hythe Road, Ashford. Picture: Steve Salter.

Eighteen people were killed - including four people in Kent - in what was the worst storm since 1903.

Fifteen million trees were brought down, roads were blocked and many railway lines had to be closed because of wrecked power lines.

Why did it happen?

The storm occurred when a cold front in the Bay of Biscay was given immense power by the collision of warm air from Africa meeting cold air from the Arctic.

Where the two air masses met, a frontal system developed, with the warm air being forced to rise above the cold, creating a drop in air pressure.

Large quantities of water vapour condensed to cloud providing an enormous release of heat energy, driving the winds of the storm and deepening the central pressure.

The deep depression veered north along the north coast of Cornwall and Devon, across the central southern midlands to the Wash, catching out the weather forecasters.

Michael Fish and THAT forecast

BBC weather presenter Michael Fish is forever linked to the Great Storm because of a notorious lunchtime broadcast on Thursday, October 15.

The meteorologist stated: "Earlier on today apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she'd heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't."

The clip is still played regularly, invariably followed by footage of the ensuing devastation. It even featured in the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics in London.

But Mr Fish claims he has been unfairly treated over the forecast.

He said his remarks referred to Florida and were a link to a news story about devastation in the Caribbean that had just been broadcast.

He said: "The phone call was a member of staff reassuring his mother just before she set off there on holiday.

"I wish I had a penny for each time that clip has been broadcast, I'd be a millionaire!"

Sevenoaks becomes Oneoak

Six out of the seven trees at The Vine, Sevenoaks, said by many to have given the town its name, were brought down by the storm.

Later seven new ones were planted.

Jill Davidson, a councillor at the time, said: "We've been known around the world now as Oneoak because of the iconic picture of Sevenoaks' one remaining tree meant we'd change our name overnight."

The Sevenoaks Society wrote on the 25th anniversary of the Great Storm: "Our town is enveloped and ennobled by its trees. Several are older than some of our ancient buildings.

"Many are far more pleasing on the eye and worthy of respect than certain specimens of modern construction. Despite the ravages of nature and the luckily rare instances of human atrocity, they remain our pride and joy and a powerful symbol of survival and regeneration.

"Of especial significance of course are our oak trees. Arguably the up‐rooting of six mighty oaks on the Vine did more than anything to put Sevenoaks on the map."

Raising millions

The National Trust’s Storm Disaster Appeal raised more than £3million in six weeks after the storm.

Thousands of trees were uprooted or badly damaged at Trust properties in Kent, including those at Sir Winston Churchill’s former home and land at Emmetts Garden and Toys Hill.

A 93-acre woodland sitting on the highest point in Kent, Toys Hill lost 98% of its trees.

The scene at Scotney Castle after the Great Storm. Picture: National Trust/Mike Howarth.
The scene at Scotney Castle after the Great Storm. Picture: National Trust/Mike Howarth.

Further east at Knole, sweet chestnuts and other traditional trees were lost.

Meanwhile, at Scotney Castle, near Tunbridge Wells, 400 to 500-year-old sweet chestnuts were lost, some of which narrowly missed the house.

Remembering the damage on a previous anniversary, Tom Hill, National Trust trees and woodland officer in the South East, said: "It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the damage. The statistics – though stark - can’t do justice to the heartache of our rangers, gardeners, volunteers and local communities as they woke up to a scene of chaos on October 16, 1987.”

Capturing the devastation

One dramatic image of the Great Storm was the Sealink passenger ferry Hengist beached at Folkestone.

The dramatic picture of the 5,500-ton vessel was taken by photographer Paul Amos, then a freelance.

The Sealink passenger ferry Hengist beached at Folkestone after the storm. Picture: Paul Amos.
The Sealink passenger ferry Hengist beached at Folkestone after the storm. Picture: Paul Amos.

He remembered: “At daybreak I headed out and photographed the storm damage, trees, bins, cables and so on. Everything was all over the roads and you had to be careful driving. The weather was still very windy.

“I eventually made my way to East Cliff, Folkestone, to photograph the beached Hengist.

"I had to lay down as the wind made using the long lens needed a little bit tricky. After shooting the stranded vessel I then drove to The Times in London who used this picture on their front page.”

The Hengist had been forced to put to sea on the night of October 15 when its lines kept breaking from its mooring at Folkestone Harbour but the sea was so rough the waves almost capsised it.

Falling machinery damaged the alternator, causing it to lose all electrical power and the Hengist then drifted before being driven ashore below The Warren. It remained beached for nearly a week and was not fully repaired until January the following year.

What else was happening in the country at the time?

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for eight years, having won her third general election as Conservative leader in the June.

Football league champions were Everton while Coventry won the FA Cup that year, beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in a dramatic final. England's football manager at the time was Bobby Robson.

Margaret Thatcher, pictured during a visit to Medway earlier in 1987, was Prime Minister at the time of the Great Storm.
Margaret Thatcher, pictured during a visit to Medway earlier in 1987, was Prime Minister at the time of the Great Storm.

The 15th James Bond film, The Living Daylights, starring Timothy Dalton as 007, had been released in the summer.

Films showing in British cinemas at the time included Fatal Attraction and Dirty Dancing.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was won by Nigel Mansell, driving a Williams-Honda, beating Brazilians Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.

Earlier in October, the Swedish home furniture store Ikea had opened its first ever UK store at Warrington in Cheshire. The year also saw the first appearance of US cartoon The Simpsons.

The number one single at the time of the Great Storm was You Win Again by The Bee Gees, having overtaken Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S earlier in the week. The album chart that week was topped by Michael Jackson with Bad.

The best-selling single of the year was Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.

On television the night before the storm, viewers might have enjoyed the comedy Blackadder The Third, starring Rowan Atkinson with Hugh Laurie as Prince Regent, or an episode of BBC Question Time presented by Sir Robin Day with MPs Menzies Campbell, Harriet Harman and David Mellor.

The Great Storm was followed days later by the worldwide stock market crash known as Black Monday, on October 19.

For all the forecasts, warnings and weather related news, click here.

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