The Grear Storm of 1703 in Gloucestershire and Chepstow
A contemporary letter from the Rev. Thomas Chest, of Chepstow, extracted from Defoe's History of this terrible tempest. It is taken from an old copy, without date, entitled - "A Collection of the most remarkable Casualties and Disasters which happen'd in the late dreadful Tempest both by Sea and Land on Friday, the twenty-sixth of November, Seventeen Hundred and Three".
Sir, upon the evening of Friday, Nov. 26, 1703, the wind was very high, but about midnight it broke out with a more than wonted Violence, and so continued till near break of day. It ended a N.W. Wind, tho' about 3 in the Morning it was at S.W. The loudest cracks I observed of it, were somewhat before 4 of the Clock; we had here the common Calamity of Houses shatter'd and Trees thrown down.
But the Wind throwing the Tyde very strongly into the Severn, and so into the Wye on which Chepstow is situated. And the Fresh in Wye meeting with a Rampant tide, overflowed the lower part of our Town. It came into several Houses about 4 foot high, rather more; the greatest damage sustained in Houses was by the makers of Salt, perhaps their loss might amount to near £200.
But the Bridge was a strange sight; it stands partly in Monmouthshire and partly in Gloucestershire, and is built mostly of Wood, with a Stone Peer in the midst, the Center of which dividedes the two counties; there are also Stone Platforms in the bottom of the River to bear the wood-work. I doubt not but those Stone Platforms were covered then by the great Fresh that came down the River. But over these there are Wooden Standards fram'd into Peers 42 Feet high; besides Groundsils, Cap-heads, Sleepers, Planks and (on each side of the Bridge) Rails which may make about 6 foot more, the Tyde came over them all. The length of the Wooden part of the Bridge in Monmouthshire is 60 yards exactly, and thereabout in Gloucestershire; the Gloucestershire side suffered but little, but in Monmouthshire side the Planks were most of the carried away, the Sleepers (about a Tun by measure each) were many of them carried away, and several removed, and 'tis not doubted but the great Wooden Peers would have gone too; but it was so, that the outward Sleepers on each side of the Bridge were Pinn'd or Bolted to the Cap-heads and so kept them in their places. All the level Land on the South part of Monmouthshire, called the Moors was overflow'd; it is a tract of Land about 20 miles long, all Level, save 2 little points of High-land, or 3; the Breadth of it is not all of one size, the broadest part is about 2 miles and 1/2. This Tyde came 5 Tydes before the top of the Spring, according to the usual run, which surprized the People very much. Many of their Cattle got to shore, and some dy'd after they were landed. It is thought by a Moderate Computation they might lose in Hay and Cattle between 3 and £4000. I cannot hear of any persons drowned, save only one Servant Man that ventur'd in quest of his Master's Cattle. The People were carried off, some by Boats, some otherways, the days following; the last that came off (that I can hear of) were on Tuesday Evening, to be sure they were uneasy and astonished in that Interval. There are several reports about the height of this Tyde in the Moors, comparing it with that in Jan., 1606. But the account thatseems likeliest to me, is, that the former Tyde ran somewhat higher than this. 'Tis thought most of their Land will be worth but little this 2 or 3 years, and 'tis known that the repairing the Sea Walls will be very chargeable.
Gloucestershire, too, that borders upon Severne, hath suffered deeply on the Forest of Deane side, but nothing in comparison of the other shore; from about Harlingham [Arlingham] down to the mouth of Bristol River Avon, particularly from Aust Cliff to the Rivers Mouth (about 8 miles) all that Flat called the Marsh, was drowned. They lost many Sheep and Cattle. About 70 Seamen were drown'd out of the Canterbury Storeship, and other Ships that were Stranded or Wreck'd. The Arundel Man of War, Suffolk and Canterbury Storeships, a French Prize, and a Dane were driven ashore and damnified; but the Arundel and the Danish Ships are got off, the rest remain on Ground. The Richard and John of about 500 Tun, newly come into King road from Virginia was Staved. The Shoram rode it out in King road; but I suppose you may have a perfector account of these things from Bristol. But one thing yet is to be remembered, one Nelms of that Country, as I hear his Name, was carried away with his Wife and 4 children, and House and all, were lost, save only one Girl who caught hold of a Bough, and was preserved. There was another Accident yet in these parts, one Mr. Churchman, that keeps the Inns at Betesley, a passage over the Severn, and had a share in the passing Boats, seeing a singl Man tossed in a Wood-buss off in the River, prevailed with some belonging to the Customs, to carry himself and one of his Sons, and 2 Servants aboard the Boat, which they did, and the officers dsired Mr. Churchman to take out the Man, and cme ashore with them in the Pinnace. But he willing to save the Boat as well as the Man, tarried aboard, and sometime after hoisting Sail, the Boat overset, and they were all drowned, viz., the Man in the Boat, Mr. Churchman, his Son, and 2 Servants, and much lamented, especially Mr. Churchman and his Son, who were persons very useful in their neighbourhod. This happened on Saturday, about 11 of the Clock.
Your humble Servant,
The above account was from the Reverend Mr. Tho. Chest,
Minister of Chepstow, whose Ingenious Account being given in his own Words, gives the best
Acknowledgement for his forwarding and approving this design.
Extracted from Gloucestershire Notes and Queries, Volume 5. 1891-3. Edited by W.P.W. Phillimore, M.A., B.C.L. Published 1894. The spelling and grammar are as the original.