Hereford Earthquake by dxPnAZ




      Compiled By John Ayris-Hill
In the early hours of the morning at 05.32 hrs on the 17th December 1896, the
inhabitants of Hereford were rudely awakened by an earthquake which
measured 8.7 on the then Rossi-Forel scale of seismic intensity.
What is the Rossi-Forel Scale?
In 1883 M.S. de Rossi and F.A. Forel published a 10 step intensity scale which
was widely used in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Tremors from this earthquake covered almost all of England and Wales; as far
east as Norwich, and as far north as Kendal (and possibly further at very low
intensity). It was also felt weakly in E Ireland and in Cornwall.

Earthquakes are said to be divided into three kinds, the UNDULATORY, is the
most common and fortunately the most harmless , the SUCCESIVE , more
harm is to be feared, which was the kind that struck HEREFORD and thirdly,
the VORTICOSE can cause severe damage.

The epicentre was about 6 km ESE of Hereford. There was a sequence of
foreshocks in the six hours preceding the main shock, two of which seem to
have been quite substantial, although the magnitude determination is probably
not very accurate, the exact number of foreshocks is uncertain - since all
occurred at night it is likely that the time observations are not very good and
some of those listed by Davison (1899) are surely duplicates, and aftershocks
are fewer and weaker.

 Significant damage was caused at Hereford and in the neighbourhood. In
Hereford itself there was damage to the cathedral and other churches, chiefly the
fall of small bits of ornamental stonework. More than 200 chimneys in Hereford
were damaged, many were twisted, and the worst damage was in villages just to
the east of Hereford. According to Davison (1899) there were 73 places where
"marked" damage to buildings occurred, 55 in Herefordshire, seventeen in
Gloucestershire and one in Worcestershire. Isolated damage occurred at such
places as Hay-on-Wye, Stourbridge and Worcester, and in some cases even
further afield in places where generally the intensity was quite low.

By a strange coincidence a meteor crossed over the area. It was frequently
remarked by those indoors that, at the same time as the earthquake, there
was a bright light and when the shocks were over, it went dark. Weather
conditions further north were not very good, it was difficult to trace the
meteor in the northern part of its course, especially as further to the south its
sudden appearance and disappearance led many persons, who only saw the
glow, to compare it to a flash of lighting.
Of all the earthquake shocks which have visited the West of England and
Midland Counties that which created so much terror right across the land the
Thames Valley to the Welsh coast on that Thursday morning was undoubtedly
one of the most alarming.
The most serious earth shocks previously experienced in this district were in
1863, shocks were felt in 1892 and 1893. It is a matter worthy of note that all
of them have taken place towards the end of the year.
HERFORD TIMES Newspaper headlines read,
                THE EARTHQUAKE,
                     SHOCK FROM EAST TO WEST,
                         PANIC STRICKEN SCENES,
                             EXTENSIVE DAMAGE.
Hereford, where the shock was felt the most, and the fine old Cathedral was
shaken considerably, as the evidence noted that during the earthquake the
bells were heard to ring. Several of the pinnacles were dislodged and finials
broken off while other ornamentation was destroyed. A portion of the apex of
the south-west pinnacles of the tower fell, as did the finials of a pinnacle of the
Lady Chapel. The West front had been restored some time ago by a prominent
architect James Wyatt which was much criticised; the earthquake caused some
damage resulting in it having to be demolished and rebuilt. It was remarked at
the time that “the Almighty” didn’t think much of it either. Gilbert Scott’s son
Oldrid completed the new front in 1908.
Buildings of all description were swaying in the most alarming manner, people
who were sound asleep, were suddenly awakened by the shaking of windows
and crockery jumbled and clinked, roofs cracked and lifted, chimneys fell in,
and for some minutes everyone was struck with awe and wonderment. In
many instances people ran out of their houses terror stricken.
The effects at the Workhouse in Bath Street was disastrous, a representative of
the Hereford Times made a call on the Master( Mr King) and he kindly gave a
vivid description of the events.
Mr King said the damage occasioned by the shock occurred to the back and
front of the building the sides were unscathed. At first the Master thought one
of the three boilers, which are located next to his bedroom, had blown up. A
large number of bells were ringing violently on the landing which were
connected to various parts of the house, his worst fears became realised, both
he and the Matron rushed to the four dormitories, the first being the men’s as
it was the nearest, they were O K, though somewhat alarmed.
Next, they visited the ladies dormitory , here , some were hysterical, and had
it not been for Mr Kings timely appearance, he felt sure that real panic would
have “set in”, he did all he could to pacify them, and then made a visit to the
girls, but to his relief, the school mistress was in attendance and consoling
Last but not least he went on to check the boys, apart from the shock and
bewilderment, no one was injured in the whole of the building.
Most of the chimney’s fell into the dormitories, so immediately it became
daylight the Master despatched a message to Mr James Davies, (the contractor
for the quarter) who at once sent a number of men to repair the damage.
The rumours were speedily circulated through out the city that the entire
goods warehouse at Baris Court station had fallen to the ground, the only
damage reported was the roof had become dislodged by falling masonry
otherwise the building remained intact.
All Saints Church had withstood the shock, no displacement of masonry was
visible at all. The art school in Castle Green was cracked in all directions.
Chimney pots and slates were strewn about Harold Street, Park Street, Clive
Street, Green Street, Ledbury Road, West Street, Port Field Street, St Peters
Street, St Martins Street, and many other thoroughfares.
A woman in Horald Street was engaged in lighting the fire by means of a
candle, when a brick fell down the chimney and broke the candle in two. The
woman naturally became very alarmed, but more so of the succeeding shocks.
A resident of Widemarsh Street was cleaning is pair of boots preparing to go to
work when there was a sudden crash. Several ornaments fell of the walls and
saw the table rising, it needless to add that he trembled with fear.
Mr Walter Pilley, a well known antiquarian who lived In Eign Street was a keen
observer, says he woke up at 5 o’clock. At 5.32 he heard a peculiar rumbling
noise as of a heavy traction engine passing by, then followed two terrible
crashes, the second appearing to be louder than the first, the house seamed to
be lifted and rocked, the course of the shocked apparently being south to
Great indignation was felt down Grandstand Road as a local resident, who was
passing from the direction of the race course was accosted by a number of
women who in their excitement hung out of their windows, “what was that”
one of them cried “half past five”, shouted the passing resident who quietly
continued is walk.
Considerable anxiety was felt as to how Burghill Asylum had fared. A Hereford
Times representative was dispatched to the said premises. He was informed
that the huge buildings rocked like a cradle, but no damage had been done
beyond a few cracks in the ceilings. On being asked as to how he could account
for the absence of damage a leading official of the institution said. “The asylum
has nine inch thick walls it is substantially built”. Considerable consternation
was prevailing amongst the inmates, some of the religiously inclined declaring
that the world was coming to an end. The officials however, were prompt in
their endeavour to prevent anything like a panic.
A further report stated that at 37 Canal Road, a Mrs Merrick and two of her
children, had a narrow escape from being seriously injured, whilst they were
asleep the chimney fell through the roof, and the falling debris was only inches
from their bed, the back kitchen was also damaged by the falling bricks.
Dwellings on the North/East side of Foley Street were also badly affected,
particularly a row of cottages at the Eign end, here the chimneys were
damaged, with the pots and bricks falling on to the roofs, and in one case
actually falling through into a bedroom at Number 25, the home of Mr and Mrs
Several areas surrounding Hereford felt, and suffered the results of the
In Leominster, the inhabitants, who were, of course, at that early hour of the
morning, still in bed, were greatly alarmed, and in many cases serious illness
followed the fright.
During this “Earthly” disturbance the occupants of their homes were terrified
by the shaking of doors, furniture etc; and at the Post office the clerks and
sorters were awaiting the arrival of the Mail Van from the station, and were so
alarmed, they rushed out into the street for safety….the Mail Van was standing
in Victoria Street and the Horse trembled with fright.!
Almost immediately there was a small crowd of people in the street, several of
the tradesmen were about earlier than usual, for the purpose of decorating
their establishments for the Meat show.
Descriptions of what really did take place are freely volunteered and stated by
all…there can be no doubt that a fearful alarm was created by the shock, many
rushed out of their beds and into neighbours houses, and in some cases
servants were so terrified that they sought the protection of the head of the
A farmer who was busily milking, had an alarming experience, when the cows
“booming”, infuriated him so much he had to relinquish the task.
It had been 30years since there was a similar shock at Leominster.
In 1882 a slight wave was distinctly felt by many, but on this occasion however,
the townsfolk slept sufficiently sound, not to be disturbed.
On that Thursday morning a severe shock of the earthquake was felt in
Ledbury at 5.40am, the shock appeared to be throughout the district,
accompanied by the ringing of house bells, stopping of clocks etcetera….in
many houses valuable ware, was said to have fallen off mantelpieces, and
small articles on dressing tables seemed to “dancing” for quite a few seconds.
People who were still in their beds had the sensation of being “rocked” in a
cradle, much alarm was aroused, and some left their homes speculating as to
the amount of damage caused.
Older residents said that the shock felt, was the most severe they could recall,
and many singular incidents were worthy of record. One Gentleman, who was
awakened by his bed rocking to and fro, heard his child crying in the adjoining
room, upon investigating, the child said “someone had struck her head against
the chest of drawers” which was next to her bed. In the same house, the doors
which were securely fastened were thrown wide open.
A well known member of the community, who was rather deaf, recalled he
was awakened by his bed moving, in an instant, he looked under the bed,
thinking there was someone there, not being satisfied he armed himself with a
weapon and searched every room in the house…
No serious damage was reported at the time.
Inhabitants of Ross were much startled by the severe shock of the earthquake,
and it was at first thought there had been an explosion at the gas works. At
Woodstock House, Gloucester Road, the residence of Miss Allen, a portion of a
chimney, fell with great force onto the roof, startling the officials who were on
At Mrs Raymond’s house in the market place, a stove in the workshop of the
boot making department, was completely turned around by the shock.
In Weston-under- Penyard the shocks were very severe; several chimney pots
in the neighbourhood were displaced.
Several residences belonging to Colonel Ourrie were partially demolished, he
stated, when the earthquake shock occurred, it seemed to him like an
In Withington, men ready for their days work, experienced many strange
happenings, one was sitting in front of the fire, and then he found himself on
the floor. Another managed to keep upright by holding onto a door.
Roofs of several houses and outbuildings were split in two, and it was reported
that a rumbling noise like a gust of wind preceded the shock.
Every house in Fownhope the earthquake was felt, by rattling crockery! A large
number of chimneys fell, resulting in considerable damage to roofs, one
inhabitant stated that the shock lasted three minutes, and was very severe.
At Mr Rowberry’s Bake house, a baker preparing to make bread, was thrown
forward by the shock, almost causing him to fall into the bread mix.
A severe shock passed over Kington, and lasted several seconds, during which
time, the houses and their contents rocked violently.
In Mr John Halton’s timber yard, a large stack of timber fell down; the shock
was the most severe ever felt in this locality.
I could go all around the county to every village, but the experience would be
very similar….so I have kept it to a selected few, and in conclusion, the
experience felt by the people was very unpleasant, thankfully no loss of life
was recorded as a result of the earthquake, and the damage caused was
mainly to the older structures.
THE HEREFORD EARTHQUAKE 1896 (Author C. Davison)
MR NORMAN CHICK (Local Historian and City Guide)

These light-hearted statements were recorded ? Source.

It was alleged in some newspapers that a woman died of fright at Hereford, but
this is denied by local sources. However, an apparently reliable source states
that a woman at Hagley (a village just E of Hereford) suffered a stroke shortly
after the earthquake, so the report may have some foundation after all.
Amongst the rest and strangest too of all,
Unto one Margret Pellmore did befall,
The Clerks wife of the Town as I am told,
Who bore 3 children the like was nere unfold.

These children they had teeth, and spake as soon
As ever they into the world did come,
These words as follows did from them proceed
The same is verify'd for truth indeed.

The first did say this day no man can shun,
Which is appointed and not yet begun:
Where will be found the second child it said
Sufficient men alive to bury the dead?

These words did then from the 3d. child proceed
Where will be corn enough to satisfy your need?
These were the words they said at that same tyd
And presently all these three children dy'd


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