The Great Storm of 1987

 

The "Great Storm" or "Hurricane" of 1987 struck south-eastern England in the early hours of Friday October 16th. Between about 2am and 6am the region was blasted by gales gusting more or less continually at around 80mph. It was the most severe storm that this part of England had seen since the great storm of 1703 which killed around 8,000 people. The casualties of this storm in 1987 were chiefly trees, of which more than 15 million were lost. Great swaths of Kent and Surrey were left looking like this:

 

 

Before this disaster one of the most beautiful sections of Effingham had been Beech Avenue, which begins at the village's main crossroads by the Golf Club and pursues a long southerly route up to Ranmore. Along either side, for a good part of this route, it was lined with very tall and mature beech trees, these mostly meeting at their crowns to produce a high tunnel of greenery. It was simply exquisite, and had been like this for at least two centuries. Below is a view of it in the early 20th century.

 

Beech Avenue : from the Mary Rice-Oxley Postcard Collection.

 

The avenue looked much the same as this in 1987 before the storm struck. As day broke on the morning of the 16th it became apparent that most of the great beech trees had fallen and that many of those still upright were unstable. There was much ensuing discussion, and dispute, over what best to do about the avenue. The Chairman of Effingham Parish Council, Anthony Cockle, made these remarks in his Annual Report for 1987-88:

"The most important event that has occurred in Effingham in the past year was the worst hurricane to strike the South of England since the 18th Century. Considerable damage ensued with fallen trees in all directions and many damaged roofs and fences. Many of our scenic views have been changed such as Beech Avenue and Guildford Road. The Council has discussed the situation and will be holding a specific working party meeting in the near future with the County Council."

It was eventually decided not to replant with beech and, also very controversially, to remove many damaged trees even though they were capable of regeneration. Instead, large numbers of trees of other species were substituted. This work is seen below, photographed in perhaps 1988-89:

 

Looking north, with houses in High Barn Road visible at right.

 

Looking north again, but much higher up.

 

This latter image shows the extent of the replanting. Before the storm this entire stretch was a dense tunnel of high, mature beeches; now, only a forlorn and small residue of the original glory still stands in the distance.

Nearly a quarter of a century has since passed, and the avenue is now much less bleak than in the early aftermath. Moreover, many new beech saplings have sprung up naturally and may one day restore to us something of our old avenue.