THUNDER and lightning storms are natural, if sensational, meteorological events.

Even so, insurance policies still call storm damage ‘acts of God’ which harks back to times when they were regarded as divine warnings or punishments.

Thus, in 1602 Richard Townson, Vicar of Lancaster, recorded on ‘27th October at nighte being a mighty winde was Arneshead (Arnside) Tower Burned as it pleased the Lord to permitte’.

In August 1914 when lightning struck a man in his bed at Windermere and, also, killed farm animals around the district, the storm seemed to presage the fiery cacophony of war.

A more scientific explanation was propounded in 1822 when damage caused, during a thunder storm to a house at Warton, was attributed to ‘the perilous electric fluid passing down the chimney’.

More seriously, at Burton-in-Kendal, in 1828 the Invincible Stage-coach was struck by lightning.

‘Three horses were killed on the spot. A lady was so much hurt that her life was despaired but ultimately recovered’.

The next year, five miles away, at Bolton-le-Sands, lightning set a barn and a windmill on fire and in 1836 with ‘the heavens in a constant state of illumination hail, or rather massed ice with stones six inches in circumference fell accompanied by incessant thunder’.

Some victims were spared the full force of the alleged divine fury. When, in c.1660 Winster ‘Church’s steeple’ collapsed during Morning Service and ‘some stones fell upon Ann Comston she was unharmed’.

Similarly, in 1848, when ‘the electric fluid smashed windows, tore plaster from the walls and splintered bedposts at Hest Bank the inmates were all unscathed’.

Another lucky escape occurred, in July 1870, when lightning ‘dislodged masonry on Milnthorpe Church Tower it missed a girl called Graham but she received a severe shock as the subtle fluid evidently entered the church leaving a mark near the entrance on the north side’.

A fatal lightning strike reported by the Rev Thomas Machell at Old Hutton, in c.1690, was also the most curious: ‘in Cocklehead pasture one mile North East of the Chapel where they get peats and turves after a great clap of thunder a stream of lightning came unperceived upon three men and a woman and a dog which struck one man Richard Whitehead and the dog dead.

‘The two (other) men and the woman were struck astonished as dead. When they came to themselves, they found themselves burnt in a wonderful manner; the woman’s feet underneath at the heel and toe were burnt, with the stockings and shoes being unharmed and their clothes burnt as though with tobacco ash and there came out of the wounds of the woman’s toes a substance like white sand’.

‘Wonderful’ and ‘perilous’ indeed!