Category Archives: trees

Hurricane force in the Georgian era

Such was the force of the wind that the masses of masonry were carried 30 feet beyond the base of the tower penetrating not only the roof of the church but also the floor and breaking through the vaults to the foundation.

The account of a windstorm that severely damaged St John’s Church in Edinburgh in January 1818 was carried in the second volume of Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

1889 view looking east along Princes Street, with the church to the right in front of St Cuthbert’s Church and Edinburgh Castle public domain

Thursday morning 15th the barometer had fallen eight tenths of an inch it then blew very hard and during the whole course of the day slates and chimney pots were flying about in all directions. In the evening the gale increased and about five o’clock it blew a perfect hurricane.

The ‘perfect hurricane’ was referring to the Beaufort Scale which had been written just over a decade before in 1805. Obviously anemometers were not around at the time – the scale was merely to describe sea conditions to help sailors. A modern interpretation of hurricane force 12 estimates mean speeds 72 – 83mph.

The church in Howard’s account had only just been built, it’s dedication being completed on March 19th the same year. Howard continues:

In houses fronting the west a good deal of mischief was done in breaking the panes of glass, stripping the lead from the roof, dashing the cupola windows from their frames and shivering them to atoms. In the course of the fore-noon two of the small minarets on the top of St John’s Chapel at the west end of Princes Street gave way and fell without doing any material damage to that beautiful building . Not so, however, the effects of the evening the violence of the wind carried off the whole of the minarets, large and small, leaving the summit of the tower a perfect ruin.

Later the same year storms struck the south coast of England.

Ryde, March 5 One of the severest gales of wind that has been felt here for the last 37 years was experienced last night. It commenced about 4.30pm and continued with increased violence until 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between four and five thousand pounds (£500,000 in today’s money) No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.

Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE.

Some four years later the storms were back.

On December 5 Howard reported that the barometer had been low for an unusually long period of 23 days, a mean of 29.4 inches with southerly and westerly winds.

Norwich The Mercury reported that the city experienced one of the most tremendous gales and heavy rain in living memory.

The gusts which followed each other were most terrific and threatened the safety both of the houses which actually rocked to and fro from the violence and their inmates. By the tremendous gale of wind on the night of Thursday last a brick wall of between seventy and eighty feet in length at Ipswich was completely blown down.

Brighton At 7 o’clock on the 5th a small squall came on from the WSW and raged until 9.30am during which the rain descended in one incessant torrent and the roar and fury of the wind is not to be described.

Considerable alarm was excited by it in many parts of the town several houses were nearly unroofed and one not quite finished five stories high in Russell Square was levelled with the ground. The chain pier works sustained further injury but not to the extent which had been anticipated. Fortunately there were no shipping in this part of the Channel last night or we might have had many wrecks at this time to have particularized. Several vessels were wrecked during the storm on Thursday night. At Dover many houses were injured by the tempest and some tenements were blown down.

Manchester The Guardian reported on “one of the most terrific gales of wind with which this town has been visited for many years”

It commenced about night fall from the south west afterwards veering round to the west and gradually increased in violence until about 12am when it blew a perfect hurricane accompanied by heavy rain. By 10pm the town was left in almost utter darkness the greater part of the gas lights being blown out and those which escaped extinction were so violently agitated by the wind as to afford but little light. Many families passed the greater part of the night by the fire side not daring to retire to rest until the gale had abated.

Warrington The cupola of the church near the George Inn was blown down and part of the roof destroyed. A windmill in the neighbourhood was also blown entirely down.

Liverpool The Mercury reported that a “remarkably strong gale of wind was experienced here accompanied with rain, sleet and hail which continued with little intermission until after 9pm when it increased in force and destruction bursting against the higher buildings of the town in sudden and stunning gusts.

The alarm was general and accounts are now pouring in upon us from all quarters of the melancholy effects of the storm both on shore and on the river

Falmouth A “tremendous gale from SW and WSW” was reported.

We scarcely recollect seeing a more heavy sea running between the castles of Pendennis and Mawes.

Monmouth Among the casualties in Wales was a huge elm tree situated in the grounds of Raglan Castle.

The venerable tree which formed a happy termination at the east end of the terrace measured 26ft in girth and from whose trunks the two limbs which grew from the head of it spread their protecting shade 22ft fell a sacrifice to the fury of the elements, being blown from its commanding situation into the mead below. During the violence of the late storm twelve fine elm trees of large dimensions were torn up by the roots in front of and in the grounds of Trevallyn Hall, the seat of George Boscawen Esq. One of the trees that grew in the centre of the lawn is much to be regretted. It was a very handsome ornamental tree whose branches spread over a large extent of ground and which was the admiration of those who noticed it. The circumference of the butt is 12ft and contains in measurement 322ft of solid timber it was planted about the year 1760 by the late Mr Boydell of Trevallyn.

Halifax A large chimney was blown on to the roof of a house next to the Sportsman Inn at Greetland. It burst through three floors taking along with it two children out of the middle room and depositing them in the cellar. Amongst the ruins were the father and mother and three children who all survived.

Bristol reported a “most tremendous gale of wind from the SW”. The Birmingham and Oxford mail coaches reported that roads were strewn with trees and branches while in the north of Staffordshire the wind gradually rose accompanied with showers and blew with terrific violence during the night.

The Salopian Journal reported on a “hurricane of ten hours continuance”. In Shrewsbury the driver of the Holyhead mail coach spoke of 90 trees blown down in Powys Castle.

Spring or still winter? Plants reveal all.

With the record warm spell last month and high sunshine totals you would think that the growing season is well under way. Spring bulbs have been out for weeks, trees are blossoming and many shrubs are on the verge of flushing.

But a look at the local temperature records over the last six years shows that things aren’t as advanced as previous seasons.

Considering the period from December 1st – in recent years a date when it is common to see bulb shoots beginning to emerge – to March 10th reveals the following table in terms of growing degree days.

growing degree days

The warm days of last month were cancelled out by cold, frosty nights, leading to little net warmth. And the last ‘growing degree-day’ was on March 2nd. Nevertheless growth is further on than last year that saw record cold in March. 

The season is a long way behind 2015-16, however, which saw a record-breaking mild December.

Looking at the list below, and the at best average outlook, we’ve still got a way to go before we’ll see most trees in full leaf…

plant development
This list courtesy of Wikipedia

 

 

The green lung of Wanstead

The tree canopy cover map on the Mayor of London’s website reveals just how blessed Wanstead’s inhabitants are in terms of clean air relative to the proximity of the City.

Those living closest to the junction of Wanstead Park Avenue and Northumberland Avenue benefit most from Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Bushwood.

green lung

city green lung

The disappearing street trees of Wanstead

Street trees around Wanstead and the surrounding area have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the last few years. But it is not just the council’s technical policy of removing mature specimens that is to blame.

Changing rainfall patterns and poor husbandry have both contributed to the loss of some of the magnificent trees that once graced our roads and avenues.

A huge horse chestnut that once stood outside Wanstead High School first showed signs of distress in 2011. By 2017 it was completely dead and has since been chopped down.

One of the large limes on St Mary’s Avenue was a picture of health in 2015 but within two years it was completely dead and has also since been chopped down.

A huge old beech in the front garden of a property in Blake Hall Road was showing signs of distress in 2017 and came crashing down in 60mph winds from Storm Fion in January 2018.

Yet another huge old beech that stood proud in a front garden of St Mary’s Avenue has been dying since 2012. The second image reveals very thin foliage in summer 2017. The tree was chopped down a couple of weeks ago as it was clearly dead and posed an obvious safety risk, given what happened to the beech in Blake Hall Road in January this year.

The mature trees of Christchurch Green took a real hammering during the St Jude Storm in October 2013, among those lost were three gorgeous old limes. New trees have been planted but they will take decades to match the size of those lost.

Of course the loss of these trees and other could be attributed to bad luck and coincidence that many are reaching the end of their lives at the same time.

As a country we get a bit hung up on cutting trees down – in the near continent they are much more pragmatic and proactive through planning over a period of years in getting trees in the ground. So that when trees do die there’s not such a huge gap left in roads and parks.

On tree basesaying this there also needs to be more joined up thinking by councils in terms of looking after the existing tree stock. Far too many trees suffer because contractors are inconsistent with road and pavement repairs. Ideally the base of trees should have space for mulch to be applied but, too often, Tarmac is applied right up to the base.

Have you noticed mature trees dying suddenly recently? Please reply to this blog and I will add them.

 

If the oak before the ash…

…then we’ll only see a splash. If the ash before the oak then we’re sure to get a soak.

If this old weather saying carries any weight then this summer should be a corker…

This young ash on the corner of Montalt Road and Chingford Lane, Woodford Green, is much later into leaf than the adjacent oak
This young ash on the corner of Montalt Road and Chingford Lane, Woodford Green, is much later into leaf than the adjacent oak

Only I wonder how many of the ash trees I noticed on my ride back from Enfield this afternoon are struggling to survive let alone burst into leaf. The initial onset of chalara fraxinea (ash dieback) over the past couple of years now seems to be taking its toll in a much bigger way on ash specimens around the countryside.

The tell tale dead branches are becoming a lot more common.

Some have blamed the spread of Chalara on cheap imports of ash trees from Holland – the first cases were confirmed in a nursery in Bucks early in 2012. Efforts were made to find and contain affected specimens but, throughout East Anglia and the South East, the disease seems out of control.  It could be only a matter of time before the disease scars the landscape with dead trees in the same way that Dutch Elm Disease did in the 1970s.

From one poor management of trees to another – namely the ultra harsh pollarding of the London planes in Wanstead High Street. Whilst this style of management is nothing new and seems to be de rigeur among most London councils it does nothing for the scene of many roads and streets through the capital. What was once a rich canopy of green providing shady relief from the sun during high summer is just a few stumps. It takes a good few years for the canopies to regenerate – by which time it’s time for another visit from the tree surgeons…

Plane ugly: the harshly pollard planes in Wanstead High Street
Plane ugly: the harshly pollarded planes in Wanstead High Street

To blame, partly, is the spread of another tree pest – Massaria. This unseen pest ‘eats’ away the tops of branches – compromising the strength of the wood eventually to the point where, if unchecked, the whole limb comes crashing to the ground. London plane is very heavy wood – with branches weighing dozens of kilos there’s obviously safety issues with limbs dropping on peoples’ heads.

Though councils would argue otherwise I think the harsh pollarding is a cost saving measure – without this they would have the added cost of constant monitoring.

The fast-growing, non-native London plane was planted on the understanding that growth would be carefully managed and limited in height. But looking at some of the monster specimens around the capital that seems to have gone by the wayside a long time ago.

The City of London Corporation is well aware of the problem and is closely monitoring the capital’s stock.

If you have magnificent London plane near you make the most of it – the buzz of the tree surgeons’ chainsaws are getting closer.