The Great Hurricane at Camberwell

On the 28th of October, 1898 a hurricane hit Camberwell. It tore down Denmark Hill, passed the Metropole Theatre on the corner with Coldharbour Lane, overturned Hansom cabs and mail carts, and brought destruction.

The Penny Illustrated newspaper, published 5th November, 1898 said “… wrought ruin, as, depicted, in the Railway Station Hotel, plucked up trees by the roots, twisted lamp-posts, and played the Dickens with Camberwell.”

And presented these three drawings of The Railway Station Hotel, Sacred Heart church and a scene on Denmark Hill looking east across to the Cock Tavern and on the corner the Tiger.

Drawings of The Great Hurricane at Camberwell

A full report from the South London Observer.

Henceforward Camberwell will boast amongst its numerous claims to historical celebrity that it holds the record for cyclonic disturbance, and has experienced a meteorological phenomenon which is practically unique in metropolitan annals, and is certainly more in accordance with the climatic conditions of the West Indies or Central America than with those usually obtaining in the vicinity of the Green.

What may be justly described as the most terrible wind storm that has ever been experienced in the metropolis broke over Camberwell and its immediate vicinity on Saturday night, causing many personal injuries and great destruction of property. At half-past nine in the evening a wind sprang up, which in a few minutes had so increased in force that foot passengers were compelled to seek a hasty shelter. The wind raged with great fury, and tore huge coping-stones and slates from the roofs of shops and houses. Nearly every building in the vicinity beam traces of the hurricane. Street lamps were twisted like cork-screws, huge trees were uprooted and literally hurled across the tramway lines, scaffoldings were demolished, and electric street lamps torn from their supports. Curiously enough, the storm seems to have only affected an area of about a half-mile square, for while the streets in the neighbourhood of Camberwell Green were strewn with slates, bricks, and glass, and in In any cases doors were completely wrenched from their hinges, no serious damage done in the surrounding districts of Kennington, Walworth, or Loughborough.

The whirlwind appears to have first swept down Denmark Hill, and thence rushed, with a noise resembling the roar of an express train, round the corner into the Camberwell New Road, where it seems to have divided its work of destruction between buildings in the Station Road and property immediately opposite in the direct line from Camberwell Green. Then in some inexplicable way the cyclone veered round into Baldwin Crescent, a thoroughfare lying away from the main road, west of the railway, where it spent its final fury in wrecking the roofs and top storeys of some half dozen houses.

Starting from the corner of the Metropole Theatre, it appears that the full force of the

Metropole Theatre, pu November 1905

Postcard, 1905 approx.

wind gust, which accompanied a deluge of rain and lasted some- thing less than a couple of minutes, was chiefly felt on the parade side, where the massive lamp standards were broken and twisted in a most remarkable manner. At the corner near Messrs. Horsley’s establishment,

Horsley & Co 2 Denmark Hill, Lambeth Archives - Blanch

where the hand- some electric lamp was swept away, a large number of street traders had as usual assembled for the Saturday night trade, and before anything could be done to save the stock, the entire “market” was hurled pell-mell into space, a most extraordinary mixture of merchandise whirling like an avalanche in the direction of the Green. Here a Royal Mail cart met the full force of the wind and was over-turned, and several hansoms on the adjoining rank shared the same fate. To add to the confusion, some of the omnibus horses waiting on the hill adjoining the cab-rank stampeded for the stables, no doubt finding it too draughty for comfort out-of-doors, and several narrow escapes of pedestrians took place before the frightened animals were controlled. The tram-horses were also much startled by the noise and wind, but were prevented from bolting ; and even a full-blown cyclone cannot do much harm to a tram-car. Curiously enough, the storm appeared to expend its fury on certain buildings, leaving their neighbours unscathed ; and adjoining Camberwell Green itself there were visible evidences of this. For instance, the wind took a special fancy to the huge sign- board placed at the top of the premises occupied by Messrs. Dunn, undertaker, and this was swept completely over the building, carrying part of the roof with it.

E & L Dunn 6 High St DH SLP 10 Sepy 1892

Then, again, some three or four doors away (the intermediate buildings being apparently unharmed) a good slice of roof was taken off a house occupied by a greengrocer. At the corner of Camberwell Green, where there is a scaffolding enclosing the piece of land on which the police station formerly stood,

Camberwell Green 1885 Albert Flint pu August 1905

Postcard, showing the Police Station before it was demolished to build the Bank now a Doctor’s Surgery.

a considerable portion of the upper part was swept away, and the builder’s store- box was hurled from the staging.

The offices of the London Tramways Company in Camberwell New Road sustained considerable damage, hundreds of slates and part of a huge chimney- rack being carried into the middle of the road. The Surrey Masonic Hall,

Surrey Masonic Hall, Camberwell New Road, Lambeth Archives

Lambeth Archives

where a concert was proceeding at the time, did not escape the fury of the storm, which detached several pieces of masonry from the roof; but the greatest damage was that which befell the Station Hotel, immediately opposite the Chatham and Dover Station.

The Station pub, 1977 photo by Jason Kervan

Station Hotel : Photo by Jason Kervan, taken in 1977

Here the wind completely wrecked a large conservatory in the rear of the building, and not only tore away the inner doors, but dragged the lintels from the walls. In the buffet a scene of the utmost confusion occurred. Large flower-vases, glasses, decanters, and ornaments were swept from the counter, while a shower of bricks and slates fell through a broad skylight, part of the debris slightly cutting a female customer‘s neck. Something like a panic ensued, many of the customers rushing en masse into the private part of the house. The proprietor of the hotel, Mr. C. H. Sisman, who displayed considerable presence of mind, allayed the fears of his customers. The roof was almost completely lifted from the building, and the bedrooms rendered unfit for habitation.

At the Athenaeum

was The Athenaeum, photo Mark Dodds

Photo : Mark Dodds, taken April 9th, 2011, from Flikr

the whole of the lights in the bars were extinguished, and the well-known proprietor of the oyster and whelk stall outside the premises was horrified to find the whole of his stock-in-trade and appliances demolished by the fierce blast, and was only partially consoled by an immediate whip- round ” of Mr. Martin’s customers for a subscription to indemnify his loss.

The Catholic Apostolic Church, in the Camberwell New Road,

Catholic Apostolic Church Camberwell New Road from Collage

escaped almost entirely, with the single exception that some lead-work on one of the porches was twisted into singularly fantastic shapes. The ground in front of the Church of the Sacred Heart, adjoining the railway, was full of uprooted trees, one gigantic specimen lying across the doorway, forming with its main bough a species of natural archway, and one of the lamps over the gates was bent over at a right angle, but, curiously enough, no damage whatever was done to the two notice- boards standing close to the roadway on either side of the entrance. A few yards further on some serious damage was done to the Congregational Church.

Camberwell Congregational Chapel, Camberwell New Road, 1849

Camberwell Congregational Chapel, Camberwell New Road, 1849

A good many slates were displaced from the roof, while an ornamental stone pinnacle, weighing a hundredweight, over one of the entrance doors was snapped completely off; the ornamental metal-work on the roof was cut clean off, and other damage was done, though, singularly enough, mostly on the side of the church remote from Camberwell Green. At other points in Camberwell New Road were to be seen traces of damage, in the shape of broken roofs and windows ; and in the rear of the houses adjoining the hotel broken chimney-pots, bricks, slates, and cistern-tops were piled in the yards in extraordinary quantities.

Some of the most extraordinary damage was, however, that done in Baldwin Crescent, where the final energy of the storm was exercised. In sweeping round the corner the wind completely carried away the brickwork over the dormer windows on the roofs of three houses, -two on one side of the road, and the other immediately opposite, while precisely similar damage was observed in the case of the road, and the other house about half-way up the road, and another residence immediately opposite to this sustained some injury to the roof. These were the only instances of damage in this road, and throw curious light on the partial manner in which the cyclone distributed its unwelcome favours. Fortunately, the catastrophe was not attended by any serious personal injury, although some of the falling slates and bricks caused one or two alight accidents. The heavy rain drove every one to the nearest shelter, and while the main outburst of the storm lasted the pavements were practically deserted. At a moderate computation, the general damage to property, etc., in the immediate vicinity of the Green will amount to many thousands of pounds.


This entry was posted in Camberwell, Denmark Hill, Streets & Roads, Theatres & Cinemas. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Great Hurricane at Camberwell

  1. Marjorie Thompson says:

    Fascinating! I know my house in Knatchbull Road was built in 1885, so clearly it had a lucky escape!


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