While talking to Roger Harding about times past in Stawell and Sutton Mallet I first heard the story of the Whirlwind that smashed its way through Stawell. This meteorological phenomenon apparently took place back in the late 1950s or 1960s according to who was telling the story. It turns out that it actually whistled through in 1960. Always keen to learn more about the history of our villages Roger borrowed some photographs and copies of newspaper cuttings, which are used to illustrate this report, from Richard Graham.
The cutting on the left is from the Bristol Evening World of Wednesday 8 June 1960. It tells of a summer evening, around 8:30pm, at the end of a glorious Whit Weekend when suddenly the weather turns thundery. A wind springs up and huge raindrops fall; the wind quickly “lashes itself into a gale-like frenzy”.
“Orchard trees bend wildly in the wind and the whole village echoes with the sound of tiles being torn off roofs and corrugated iron clanging to the ground”.
Just two minutes later the wind drops and it is all over. “The village goes quiet, draws breath then emerges to assess the One of Les Charrett’s photographs showing damge done by the whirlwinddamage”.
The circles on the picture show tiles flung across the road with such force that they are embedded in the timber front of the farm building.
The photographs used by the newspaper were taken by Les Charrett. The image to the right shows a four hundredweight bicycle rack wrenched from its fastenings and turned over by the wind. Google tells us that it weighed over 200 kg is modern money.
One person I spoke to told of a small, flimsy greenhouse which was left untouched while all around was damage to roofs, fences and walls.
The article of the 8 June was not the first report in the Bristol Evening World. The editor thought it was worth returning to the story when they had managed to get Les Charrett’s pictures. The previous day they had a shorter report that said:
“Considerable damage was done to property but no-one was injured. The brunt of the damage was borne by Mr J.D.Graham’s The Manor, where tiles were ripped off the roof of farm buildings. Windows were damaged in a nearby house and a portable bicycle stand was lifted over a four foot wall. Plants were uprooted. Mr C.J. Fry of Elm Tree Farm, Stawell to the Evening World: “About half past eight the wind sprang up all of a sudden and big flops of water pitched on my sheds. There were a few big drops of rain and the trees in the orchard blew like mad. There was a great big cloud in the sky going round and round.”
Another, short, report from an unknown newspaper has a handwritten date of 6/6/60 but the Bristol Evening World is clear that the event happened on the evening of the 6 June 1960. This short report quotes Mr Graham as saying that about 550 tiles were broken. He also reports seeing a whirling cloud.coming from the north.
Hopefully this article will stimulate further discussion and memories which can be added to this simple account. Thanks to Roger and Richard for the information used in this article.