Historian Roger Bingham recalls some of the biggest floods and tempests around the Kent Estuary.
Tide’s in’t Ship!’ This alarm, uttered when the New year festivities at The Ship Inn at Sandside were flooded out, is familiar to all who know the Kent Estuary.
‘The Ship’, originally one of many taverns serving the port of Milnthorpe, may well have been named after Captain Greenwood’s ship ‘The Isabella’ which, on New Year’s Day 1831, was ‘driven ashore high and dry at The Milnthorpe Sandside’.
Half a mile up the estuary, at Dallam Tower, ‘four pigs were drowned in the farm yard and, in the park, 23 large trees bowed their heads to the sweeping fury of the blast’.
On another New Year’s Day, in 1852, ‘within two hours the tide had overflowed the whole marsh between Milnthorpe and Lyth’.
The wind unroofed houses at Sampool, while at Foulshaw, in Alexander Webster’s farmhouse, the water rose to within a few inches of the ceiling.
‘Five feet waves tore away the porch, broke the doors and windows and the round parlour table was found washed into Milnthorpe’.
Ignoring the lesson of King Canute there followed (as now) demands ‘to hold back the sea’, and soon ‘a great number of men were at work repairing the sea banks’.
These defences held in 1874, when the water rose higher than in 1852.
Nothing, however, could halt the storm in 1903, which destroyed the peach-house at Arnbarrow, carried away slates and roof timbers at Sandside and, in Milnthorpe, ‘people were rocked in bed by the wind’.
The greatest disaster came with the Mothering Sunday floods in March 1907.
Two miles of the banking were swept aside between Fishcarling Head at Milnthorpe and Ninezergh, near Levens Bridge.
At College Green, farmer Lancaster lost 59 lambing ewes while his neighbour John Handley, of Heversham Hall risked his life when, after sailing across 60 acres of his flooded farmland, he was swept out into the sea.
But in the nick of time he was blown ashore at The Ship – and was still telling the tale 60 years later!
Almost as devastating were the floods in 1927, which extinguished Milnthorpe Gas Works, and in 1977 when six-feet coping stones from the destroyed sea wall were carried across the road at Sandside and ‘carpets and the deep freeze were ruined at The Ship’.
Later, the shore was strengthened with tons of limestone and brushwood groynes but, as has been seen so recently, they can never totally resist the estuary’s stormy waters.