The Walsall hurricane of 1895

January 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

With all the talk of global warming and adverse weather it seems meteorology has only been “invented” in the last 40 years, bit like sex was invented in the 1960s! But in 1895 the weather hit Walsall hard in the form of a hurricane.

The report from which the information has been taken was first published in the Walsall Advertiser on Saturday 30th March 1895.general-1934-copyThe General Hospital in 1935 badly damaged in the hurricane 40 years earlier. Although the hospital had been extended by this time the wards with the long windows on the left was where the chimney came through the roof. The chimney stood behind the thin building with the pointed roof adjoining the new extension.

After a night of heavy rain and a rapidly falling barometer Sunday 24th March dawned gusty but fine. As the morning approached noon the wind freshened into a gale of ever increasing force and people returning from church were forced to hurry home as tiles were already being blown off roofs. One member of the Walsall Advertiser reporting staff was in Bradford Street around one o’clock and commented that he had never seen the street so deserted at that time of day. By mid-afternoon walking upright was a real challenge as the wind reached hurricane force, already many properties in the town had lost tiles, chimneys, roofs and signage which were to be seen flying in all directions. The reporter was passing Bradford Place when the large window of the showroom of Messrs. Price’s new premises was suddenly blown inward. In Park Street a large sign from a drapers shop was blown down and smashed to pieces before the fragments flew like shrapnel up the street. The reporter thought of how exposed the hospital was and headed back towards Bradford Street to see for himself. As he passed the railway goods shed a large, heavy plank of wood was seen flying over its roof and he noted how the wind was pulling the water out of the Meadow Brook and into foam which drove great sprays high into the air. Approaching the hospital gates he saw three men run into the grounds and was told the “chimneys come down.” Looking up he saw the large chimney stack above the Sister Dora Ward tottering before crashing through the roof, smashing it like matchwood. Inside the ward pandemonium broke out, one man named Clayton lying in his bed heard the crash above him and instinctively pulled his legs up from the bottom of the bed as a large piece of masonry crushed the bed where his legs had been seconds earlier. The man who he was talking to was not so lucky as the masonry hit him severely injuring him. Another hazard in the ward was fire as several rafters had dropped across the shattered fire place and quite soon were smoldering. Fortunately the Fire Brigade arrived promptly along with the police and the Chief Constable and they ensured the fire did not make a bad situation even worse.

general-hospital-1895-copyTwo photographs of the Walsall & District Hospital, one taken before the hurricane showing the chimney that caused the problems and the lower photograph taken after the rebuilding. (Photograph taken from a History of Walsall Hospitals by P. B. Carpenter)

Two patients remained under the ruins still in their beds. A boy named Stephen Butler was found un-harmed under the rafters but the other, a man named William Wales was badly injured. He was pinned to his bed with debris covering him from his chest down but rescuers quickly got him out to discover he now had a broken collar bone to add to his problems. Originally he was admitted to hospital with several broken ribs sustained in a fall, due to his latest accident the ribs that were mending had now all been broken again along with two further rib breaks.

The newspaper listed the occupants of the two wards injured in the catastrophe:-

Barnett Ward, George Westwood (28), Aldridge, badly bruised legs, Robert Clayton (24) Heath End, Pelsall, head cut badly by a beam, Fred Dalby (40) coachman, both legs broken and severe cut on forehead, William Wales (38) Heath End, Pelsall, broken collar bone and several ribs which had been re-fractured and a crushed ankle, John Heath (9) Queen Street, Stephen Butler (9) Darlaston, Richard Owen (14) Pelsall.

Sister Dora Ward, Florrie Paddock (7) Bloxwich, Rosa Jones (13) Great Wyrley, Louisa Westwood (14) Bloxwich, Rose Callendar (28) Portland Street, Harriet Kingdom (21) Bott Lane, Frank Sharp, Green Lane, Ruth Neville (17) 137 West Bromwich Road, Fanny Burnett (19) Hill Top, West Bromwich, Freddie Whitehouse (3) Walsall Road, Darlaston, Nurse Clara in charge of the ward and Emma Hudson a laundry maid who was visiting.

Nurse Clara had injured her arm badly but refused to leave her station until all of the patients in her care had been accounted for and their injuries attended to. Later in the day it was discovered she was more seriously injured than first thought and was taken the residence of Dr. Phillips for further treatment.

One lucky patient was little Freddie Whitehouse aged 3 who was in Sister Dora Ward had his one leg amputated previously and had celebrated, if that is the right word, his fourth birthday a couple of days before and had been due to go home. When the accident happened his cot was opposite the fireplace when the floor burst open due to the damage, Freddie’s bed with him in it was thrown across the room where several rafters fell across it. Strangely, this was to be his saviour as it prevented the falling debris from injuring him further. He was completely buried but the determined efforts of PCs Robinson and Nunn accompanied by Nurse Clara who had heard his pitiful screams frantically removed him from his tomb.

Two of the girls, Rosa Jones and Rose Callendar were so frightened by the events ran to the toilets and locked themselves in. All efforts to get them to open the door failed and the police resorted to getting a ladder and breaking the window to enter the toilets. Both girls calmed down and were otherwise uninjured.

This accident had further repercussions however. Whilst repairs were taking place it was discovered the originally building of the hospital was poor to say the least. One committee member commented, “….judging by the appearances of the of the ruins negligence almost criminal in its grossness  must have been exercised by some of those engaged in the erection of the buildings in 1878.” The outer wall in Barnard Ward was poorly built with one observer stating, “the mortar used was nothing more than pure sand. The bricks in the collapsed wall were as if straight from the kiln with no mortar whatsoever adhering to them. This matter will be referred to the Committee.”

The irony of all this of course is the people most badly injured should have been in the safest place of all, the hospital. Other parts of the town were badly damaged but no one was badly injured although a few did have very lucky escapes.

The Manor House that stood at the top of Sandwell/New Street in the highest part of the town lost one of its broad chimneys which fell away from the house and into the garden. A large glass window in the roof was lifted clean out and blown into the garden with and almighty crash. On the opposite side of the same street Messrs. Evans Summitt Buckle Works, whose 64 foot high chimney stack was to be seen rocking in the wind and eventually lost 30 foot off the top. Mrs. Keats who lived in on the courts of New Street watched the chimney rocking and trying to ascertain which way it would fall, not knowing and taking a gamble she grabbed her five children and rushed into the cellar, the safest place. In another court a Mrs Bond and her family who were having lunch watched as a huge piece of corrugated iron some 20 feet by 10 feet came over their wall from the Summitt Works and crashed into the backyard. The Summitt Works lost their pattern room and all of the patterns as the falling chimney demolished the small building that housed them. The large corrugated iron sheet that shocked the Bond family was the pattern room’s roof.

The Manor House was out of shot on the right of this picture c.1876 below. On the left is the corner of Sandwell and Orlando Streets and opposite Barleyfields Row. The Summitt Buckle Works was behind the houses on the right. A Walsall Local History Centre image, Ref. No. w01002.sandwell-st

Much damage was also done at The Mount as well as Corporation, Orlando, New Street and Birmingham Streets. Several houses around Corporation Street West and Tasker Street lost their chimneys, some fell through the roofs and others into the garden below. The railway warehouses also their roofs and lead cladding and the wooden offices at the Midlands Sand Beds was reduced to matchwood. A Mr Perry’s yard and stables around Midland Road lost its roof which finished up in Bradford Place and his horses, although shocked were not injured. Part of large wooden building on some vacant land in Bradford Street that was used by a Mr Whitmore to house his circus was blown down and completely destroyed, part of the structure finished up on The Bridge……a tarpaulin from the building was found up Green Lane!

William Ash and his family who lived at 3 Lower Hall Lane had a narrow escape when the building next door collapsed onto his house. The Ash family had the sense to run out of their home as the chimney and then the entire roof structure collapsed smashing the upstairs rooms and contents to bits. The family salvaged what they could and moved into Mrs Ash’s brothers house over the road. A house at 53 Vicarage Street lost its rood when the chimney came through it. Many properties, both residential and commercial, in the Paddock area sustained damage, some severe. There were reports of structural damage in Sutton Road, Birmingham Road, Eldon Street, Bernard Street, Eldon Street, Rushall Street, Hanch Place, Lysways Street, in fact very few places escaped damage of some sort.

Below, this map of 1950s Walsall shows in orange the areas of the town most affected by the hurricane




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