My article last week featured the Colchester Earthquake of 1884, the largest ever recorded in Britain.
This week I write about other earthquakes which have occurred over the centuries and listed by the British Geological Society which suggests that Colchester has experienced more such tremors than anywhere else in our country.
The one of 1692 was second in strength, much less than that in 1884, and fortunately did not involve any deaths according to records.
The biggest casualty would appear to have been St Peter’s Church at the top of North Hill.
Its tower was badly damaged but it was to be another 66 years before it was demolished in 1758 and a new tower built in 1763 along with other re-modelling to what it looks like today (minus the clock which was installed in 1866).
The old church had a central tower.
This was shaken by the earthquake. An interesting and painstaking entry in a rather fine hand was made in the ancient Register of St Peter’s.
The original is preserved at Essex Record Office.
It reads: “Memorandum. That on Thursday September 8 1692 there happened about two of ye Clock in the afternoon for ye space of a minute or more an universall earthquake all over England France Holland and some parts of Germany. and particularly it was attested to me by the Masons that were then a plaistring the Steeple of St Peter in this Towne and uppon the upper most scaffold that the steeple parted so wide in ye midst that they could have put their hand into the crack or cleft y immediately shut up close again, without any damage to the workmen (who expected all would have fallen down) or to the steeple it self, most of the houaes here and elaewhere ahooke and part of a chimny fell downe on North Hill, and very many who were sensible of it were taken at ye same time with a giddynes in their head, for som short time, in witness of wt is here related I have here set my hand.
Robt Dickman Ministr of St Pet, Colchester.
This earthquake was centred on Brabant in Belgium, but was felt all over southern England with the most damage done in Essex and Kent.
Four incidents were recorded in the last century.
The Dogger Bank quake of 1931 was also felt in Colchester. There was an East Anglian quake in 1948 and one in the North Sea in 1958.
The Norwich quake of 1994 is recorded as having been detected in Wivenhoe.
It is possible that even earlier quakes, such as that in Norfolk in 1165 and the southern North Sea in 1449, were felt in Colchester, but there are no known records of this.
A footnote to last week’s article about the Colchester Earthquake of 1884.
I mentioned that a book published in 1976 – entitled The Great English Earthquake, by Peter Haining – made reference to an infant girl being killed at Rowhedge, and possibly up to three other deaths.
Having for many years been told there had been no loss of life, I prefaced this account of the child’s death with the words “seemingly proved”... and I was right to have indicated a possible doubt as to its accuracy.
A check I made in the past week of the burial records at Colchester Cemetery proved there had been no burial there of an infant named Mary Richer as claimed in Mr Haining’s book, and my inquiries with those responsible for the Parish Church at Rowhedge likewise confirmed there is no record of the death or burial of anyone of this name.
It would appear the now deceased author took a real event, the Colchester Earthquake and illustrated it with authentic photographs of the damage, but wrote a fictional account.
The earthquake story is big enough without having what today we would call “fake news” distorting its historic pedigree.