A Knight’s Tale (99: 1987, Part Two)

I was 11 when The Great Storm of 1953 featured in https://derrickjknight.com/2022/01/28/a-knights-tale-96-kings-lynn/ struck.

Memorable as that was, rather closer to home was the ‘great storm’ of 1987.  Jessica, Sam, Louisa and I were then living in Furzedown in the London Borough of Wandsworth.  I must have been the only person in Southern England who slept through the whole phenomenon.  Our neighbour across the road enjoyed no such luxury.  He was having a new roof put on, and spent the whole night hanging on to the ropes and stays which were keeping the tarpaulin covers over his otherwise unprotected upper storey.

I always ran to work in Queens Park in those days.  This was a nine mile journey which I covered daily carrying a back pack containing my clothes and other necessities for the day.  I was employed in the former Paddington Town Hall where there was a shower room which had been installed for the council members.  I would take a shower, get dressed, go to a greasy spoon for a fry-up, and start the day sometime before 9 a.m.  On this particular day, completely oblivious of the night’s destruction, I set off as usual.  I vaguely wondered why a tree I hadn’t noticed before had been felled on Tooting Bec Common, and why there seemed to be rather more traffic jams than usual.  Since much of my journey followed treeless routes or public parks I had no idea that the tree I had seen was not the only arboreal casualty.  Many others were blocking main roads into London.  When I arrived at my building in Harrow Road, I followed my usual routine and then began to wonder why no-one else had arrived.  Had I gone by car I may have learned the news on the radio.  On the other hand, I too would not have arrived on time.

This storm changed the landscape of Southern England.  70% of the trees in the wooded valley in which Chartwell is set were lost.  Those you see today are in fact their replacements.  Sevenoaks in Kent is no longer appropriately named.

It is a measure of the vast technological benefits satellites have given meteorological predictions that the paths of such storms can be tracked on our TV screens today. Back in 1987, with no such aids, poor Michael Fish, the TV weatherman – as if his name were not enough – earned decades of jokes by dismissing reports that a hurricane was on its way.

With my father on his deathbed in Hampshire, Jessica, Sam, Louisa, and I

moved to Lindum House in Newark, Nottinghamshire. I was to have one more visit before Dad died on Christmas Day. He was buried at Catherington, near Horndene and it was 34 more years before Mum’s body rejoined him.


  1. We missed the storm of 1987, we were in Barbados. My youngest sister was staying with us at the time. Slept through the storm – you weren’t the only one – got the bus to work the next day to discover she was one of only a handful to make it in.

  2. That day you were in a class by yourself. A sweet story, nonetheless. If only we could now do one portion of the stuff we used to take for granted (like running 9 miles to work as if it were nothing.) I used to ride my bicycle 7 miles one way, work a full day as a motel room maid, and then ride it back home. Now, I probably could not do either of those things.

  3. Of all the generally contemporary storm stories I’ve heard, that detail about your neighbor manually hanging on to his tarp is almost amusing: although it certainly wouldn’t have been at all funny at the time. The 70% of trees lost reminded me of Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike. In that case, inundation with salt water took out many of the old oaks that withstood the wind. No rains came for quite a while, and there was no way to get the salts out of the soil.

  4. It’s hard to believe that you slept through a storm that changed an entire landscape. Your poor neighbor must have had an awful night out in the storm protecting his roof.

  5. Impressive that you ran nine miles to work. Bad storms can take down a lot of trees. It’s happened in Maine many times. The big difference is that we have lots and lots of trees here. Sad to read about the death of your father and mother.

  6. I think you’ve mentioned this storm before. I can’t imagine sleeping through–I was so tired the other night from being awakened by the rain–but my husband definitely could have slept through it. It looks like you moved to a lovely area after London. Furzedown sounds like a name Dickens might have invented. ?

  7. You set me off reading the Met Office account of the storm. It’s impossible to imagine 15 million trees being lost in a single storm.

  8. Oh my heavens, Derrick, you ran daily on a “nine mile journey?? Amazing! And the loss of trees in that storm makes the loss of trees in our son’s neighborhood this Christmas seem minuscule by comparison!

  9. You slept through the storm! Amazing! 🙂
    Oh, my, your poor neighbor! 🙁
    Sounds like a GREAT storm, indeed! 🙁 So sad about the loss of all of those trees. 🙁
    The weatherman’s name gave be a giggle. 🙂
    So glad you were able to see your Dad one more time. ❤️
    PS…When we lived near Los Angeles, there was a meteorologist there named Dallas Raines. 🙂

  10. I slept through the storm too. I slept through a hail storm last night according to Julia. But show me a glass of water in the evening and I can’t sleep for more than 2 hours.

    It was a phone call that woke me, and I ended up driving from Peterborough to the Romney Marsh to empty a shed full of poultry breeding stock, as the wind had blown it down overnight. Strange thing was that the shed was within feet of a gigantic commercial greenhouse, which sustained no damage at all.

    All in all it was a strange day.

  11. That sounds an amazing storm. Lindum House is substantial. I know I’ve seen photos of the children in the garden. It must have been such a contrast to the Soho flat days. But a bitter sweet move as it came at the cost of more time with your Dad towards the end. On the other hand, if he declined in a similar way to my brother with the almost same cancer, it may actually be a blessing not to have witnessed it day by day.

  12. You description sounds like some of the hurricanes we’ve been through here on the other side of the Atlantic. During bad ones, I sleep little and restlessly. It must be extra hard to lose a parent on Christmas day. I’m glad you got one more visit.

  13. I think I must have just started university when the storm of 1987 happened. I don’t know how how badly it affected the north of England – it was more something I was generally aware of through the news, I think.

  14. The storm of 1987 was so severe that I drove down to the area around Heathrow to see all the rare birds blown there from the Bay of Biscay. Some of the trees brought down were absolutely huge. The winds must have been very scary!

  15. I read the post about the cataclysmic flooding of 1953. It reminds me how man is absolutely powerless before the forces on Nature. It is a reminder of why humans became devotees of rivers, volcanoes, tornadoes, fire, sun and such potent manifestations of the elements. But science has given us unprecedented clues into havocs these can wreak upon our habitats. And yet, we keep ruining our climate in a brazen defiance even as Antarctic glaciers keep melting into the ocean and raising the sea level with each passing day.

  16. That sounds like a fierce hurricane! We had one over here in 1985, on the east coast, Hurricane Gloria. We were living back there at the time, and I remember trees falling and hitting houses.

    I am glad you were able to see your father one last time.

  17. What a story, Derrick ! can totally see how you’d show up to work oblivious. Not these days with the phone weather alerts. You wouldn’t have slept through it, either! So good you got home to see your dad.

  18. I neglected to say in the last one that you started off by saying 1987 was a momentous year, and I had just posted saying 1989 was a momentous year. What was going on in the 1980s? A lot of serious witchcraft, or the stars were misaligned, or something. Possibly that is what caused the storm. I can’t imagine the night your neighbor had. That sounded terrible. Somehow it is an absolutely appropriate story illustrating your life that you slept through the storm, jogged to work and came to the office totally unaware of what had just happened.

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