The Rainham Whirlwind of March 1924
Many present day residents of Rainham will remember the great hurricane of 1987 that caused a considerable amount of damage in the area but few will remember the whirlwind that hit the centre of the village in 1924.
According to the East Kent Gazette of March 8th 1924 black clouds covered the sky and created an eerie semi darkness late in the afternoon of Friday March 1st. A powerful spinning whirlwind followed this and struck top end of Station Road with terrific force as it moved across in just seconds but caused considerable devastation.
Rainham as it would have appeared around 1924
With the vortex centred on the corner of Longley Road and Station Road, Mrs Clark of Ramsey House described it as ‘quick as lightning’ while Mr A Stinton, a builder and contractor who lived on the other side of the road said: ‘It was for all the world like the roar of an express train.’
The whirlwind destroyed both chimney stacks on Ramsey House and that of Mrs Kitney’s house almost opposite Longley Road. Bricks were hurled through the air by the wind, these smashed windows and landed on the roofs of other houses in the vicinity. The mass of debris that fell sounded like a bomb exploding according to some eye witnesses.
A house belonging to Mrs C Clark in Station Road had the chimney stacks blown off the roof and suffered other damage. Mrs Clark’s parents who were in the house at the time were left terrified by the commotion but were unhurt. Mr F Shepherd of 38 Station Road was taken up in the air and hurled across the road by the force of the whirlwind.
‘I had come to my gate when the storm burst and I was sucked into the vortex, blown across the road and thrown down,’ he explained.
Mr Sheppard only suffered a cut wrist but others were not so lucky like Donald Ede a horse and cart driver who worked for grocer Mr Quinnell. He was driving a horse and cart packed with groceries down the top end of Station Road when the sudden arrival and power of the whirlwind caused the horse to bolt and crash the cart into a lamp post. The cart turned over, the shafts were snapped and groceries were strewn across the road and ruined in the heavy rain while Donald Ede was thrown off his vehicle and onto the road. He sustained a cut face and head which needed medical attention and he had to have a week off work. The damage cost Mr Quinnell £50. His manager Mr Rose cleared up the mess.
Rainham vicar Reverend Ball may have been the most fortunate to escape death or injury. He happened to be shopping in Station Road when the whirlwind struck so he took shelter in a doorway. Almost immediately chimney stacks from houses crashed down on the road and pavement just a few feet away from him but he didn’t get struck so he luckily remained uninjured.
The Salvation Army Hall in Station Road, a timber building had one side blown off its foundation by the whirlwind. Mr and Mrs Russell were inside at the time. When the whirlwind began Mr Russell looked out of the window just as the upper part was suddenly blown in and the glass hit him in the face. The hall got so severely damaged that it could not be used for some time so services had to be held in Rainham Church Hall.
Just below the Salvation Army Hall the whirlwind blew over thirty yards of brick wall and a chicken house lifted in the air and deposited in Parsonage Meadow. Another house owned by Mrs T Kitchingham in Station Road also had its roof lifted, the wind blew a chimney pot off the roof and through a greenhouse. In Longley Road a row of houses had flames belching from their chimney pots as the wind blew flames from fires in the houses up the chimneys causing the soot to ignite which lit up the semi darkness of the late afternoon sky. Window panes in the same houses were smashed.
Because of torrential rain a lot of people sheltered under the veranda of the Co-Operative Stores at the top end of Station Road opposite St Margaret’s School. The force of the wind lifted the roof of the building from its supports which caused panic with women and girls screaming with fright but nobody got injured.
As the whirlwind spun across central Rainham slates were blown off houses in Ivy Street and outbuildings at the back had roofs blown off while farther along at Moor Street Mr and Mrs Castle’s house got so badly damaged that they had to vacate the premises and sleep at Westmoor Farmhouse for the night by courtesy of Mrs Scott.
At Westmoor Farm some damage occurred mainly to outbuildings while a large bough from an elm tree crashed on to the roof of a fruit store and completely wrecked the building incurring an estimated £100 worth of damage.
After the whirlwind had moved away and the storm finished Mr Stinton of Station Road and a gang of building employees cleared up the mess in Station Road where most of the devastation had taken place while lots of Rainham residents flocked to the area to view the damage in the evening. Glaziers and slaters arrived the next day to repair the roofs and windows as Rainham reverted back to calmness after the most powerful whirlwind to hit Rainham in living memory.