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Was it a spring tide in 1607? Was it a storm? No, it was a tsunami! Or was it….?

 

Contemporary ‘chapbook’ (Steve Rippon) The above church is the one at Nash, Monmouthshire, according to https://www.volcanocafe.org/the-bristol-tsunami-of-1607/ See also a photograph of this church below.

“….But the yeere 1606, the fourth of King James, the ryver of Severn rose upon a sodeyn Tuesday mornyng the 20 of January beyng the full pryme day and hyghest tyde after the change of the moone by reason of a myghty strong western wynde….” John Paul, Vicar of Almondsbury

St Mary the Virgin Church, Nash, Monmouthshire, as depicted in the woodcut above

In ‘A True Report of Certain Overflowings’ by Edward White, the author warns: ‘If this affliction now inflicted upon our Country, is more severe than before, use it: tremble, be warned in advance, be repentant, in order to avoid a more severe punishment.’

To what do all these dire words refer? An event that took place today in the year 1607, when there was a truly terrible flood in the Bristol Channel, Severn estuary and up the Severn itself to Gloucester and beyond. Yes, the day usually quoted for this catastrophe is 30th January, but that is by modern calculation. At the time of the event, the old date by the Julian calendar still applied, and that was the 20th. In 1752 everything changed to the more accurate Gregorian calendar, which added ten days. As the old calendar also reckoned New Year’s Day as 25th March, this also explains why the Great Flood is sometimes said to have happened in 1606.

Such technicalities aside—and to accept that this did not happen during the medieval period, but not long after— one fact remains: what happened that day was monumentally destructive, drowning thousands of people and animals and ruining villages, farms and land. In a period of five hours 2000 people died and over 200 square miles of land were destroyed by floods that rushed up to five miles inland, paying no respect to banks and defences, and engulfing everything in its path. This was not the bore as anyone had ever known it and the inundation left water standing 10 feet deep in some areas. Great swathes of the South Wales coastline from Cardigan and Laugharne to Chepstow were destroyed. North Devon coasts were similarly affected, from Barnstaple, up the coast of Somerset to Bristol and Gloucestershire. The cities of Cardiff, Bristol and Gloucester all suffered. It was to be many years before everything recovered.

Generally the reckoning is that the calamity commenced at around nine in the morning, but this applies to the area of the estuary where it really narrows to become the River Severn itself. For others to the south-west, it began much earlier, in the middle of the night, which must have been even more terrifying. “….This storme begane at 3 of clock in the morning and continue tyll 12 of clock on the same day….” Barnstaple Parish Register, 1607

So what happened? An oversized spring tide? A sudden storm of biblical ferocity? What follows now is in general based upon the version of it commencing at around nine in the morning. The day had dawned clear and bright, and (according to most accounts) almost windless. The Severn is of course notorious for its tidal range, which is the second highest in the world, but its tides and the famous Severn Bore had been in existence forever, and there was no reason to think it would be any different this time. Well, it was another spring tide, of course. These were always higher and fuller than at other times, and this wasn’t the first in the usual sequence, so other than the lowest riverside fields being awash for a while, no one anticipated anything out of the ordinary.

from https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1256/wea.133.05 (with apologies from me for the poor quality)

People were getting up and going about their daily business as usual. Housewives were looking after their homes and children, men were in fields or in towns, and everything seemed set for a fine January day. At first many believed they saw some strange mist in the distance, but it was something much more substantial and was to leave ‘many men who were rich when they got out of bed in the morning….impoverished before noon the same day’. As it pounded toward them, they realised it was a huge wave over seven metres or 22 feet high (according to some reports) roaring in from the sea, sweeping all before it, ‘as if the world’s largest mountains had overwhelmed the lowlands or marshy ground’.

But people’s realisation came too late, and they were caught up in its ferocity. The following examples of individual sufferings are taken from https://www.burnham-on-sea.com/history/1607-flood/ which in turn is taken from the findings of a Bath Spa University College study issued by Dr Simon Haslett FGS, FRGS:-

  • The breaking of the sea bank at Burnham-On-Sea led to some 30 villages being utterly inundated, and their cattle destroyed, and men, women and children besides. The accounts state that 28 people were drowned at Huntspill and 26 at Brean, a death toll that was repeated in many other villages.
  • At Appledore, Devon, a 60 tonne ship was well-laden and ready to sail and was driven by the wave onto marshy ground well above high tide, likely never to be recovered.
  • In Barnstaple, Devon, the wave burst open doors that were locked and bolted and knocked down many walls and houses, one of which was the house of a James Frost in that the roof and walls collapsed and killed both him and two of his children.
  • Near Newport, Gwent, a wealthy woman, Mistress Van, lived four miles from the sea and although she saw the wave approaching from her house she could not get upstairs before it rushed through and drowned her.
  • In Monmouthshire, “a maide child, not passing the age of foure years: it is reported that the mother thereof, perceiving the waters to breake so fast into her house, and not being able to escape with it, and having no clothes on, set it upon a beame in the house, to save it from being drowned. And the waters rushing in a pace, a little chicken as it seemeth, flew up unto it [the child], (it being found in the bosome of it, when helpe came to take it [the child] downe) and by the heate thereof, as it is thought, preserved the childe’s life”.
  • “Another little childe is affirmed to have been cast uppon land in a cradle, in which was nothing but a catte [cat], the which was discerned as it came floating to the shoare, to leape still from one side of the cradle unto the other, even as if she had been appointed steresman to preserve the small barke from the waves furie”.
  • “A certain man and woman having taken a tree for their succour, espying nothing but death before their eyes, at last among other things which were carried along, they perceived a certain tubbe of great bignesse to come nearer and nearer unto them, until it rested upon that tree wherein they were, committed themselves, and were carried safe until they were cast upon the drie shore”.
  • “More than did, had perished for want of food, and extreme cold, had not the Rt. Honble. Lord Herbert …. sent out boats to relieve the distresse …. himself going  to such houses as he could minister to their provision of meate and other necessaries”.

Walter Yonge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Yonge_(died_1649)) wrote about the events at Barnstaple and elsewhere of that morning:-


“…..The 20th of Jan 1606-7, by reason of a great tempest, the sea brake in at divers places on the north side of this country, as at Barnstaple, where was much hurt done. At Bridgwater two villages near thereabouts and one market town overflown, and report of 500 persons drowned, besides many sheep, and other cattle. At Bristol it flowed so high that divers packs, which were brought thither against Paul’s fair, standing together in a common hall of the city, for such purposes, stood three foot deep in water….”
(Source: http://website.lineone.net/~mike.kohnstamm/flood/accounts.html )

In a document entitled ‘Gods warning to his people of England’, William Jones of Usk wrote:-

“….Then they might see & perceive a far of as it were in the Element, huge and mighty Hilles of water, tumbling one over another, in such sort as if the greatest mountaines in the world, has over-whelmed the lowe Valeys or Earthy grounds. Sometimes it so dazled the eyes of many of the Spectators, that they immagined it had bin some fogge or miste, comming with great swiftnes towards them: and with such a smoke, as if Mountaynes were all on fire: and to the view of some, it seemed as if Myliyons of thousandes of Arrowes had bin shot forth at one time, which came in such swiftnes, as it was verily thought, that the fowles of the ayre could scarcely fly so fast, such was the threatning furyes thereof….”

Flood plaque at Goldcliff Parish Church. Above plaque pic From: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/great-flood-1607-britains-tsunami-6265764

According to https://www.burnham-on-sea.com/history/1607-flood/ :-

“….Research into the devastating 1607 flood that affected Burnham-On-Sea and the Bristol Channel in January 1607 has been the subject of a study between Dr Simon Haslett, Head of Geography at Bath Spa University College, author of Coastal Systems and Dr Ted Bryant, School of Geosciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and author of Tsunami: the Underrated Hazard….” This new possibility was first suggested by Haslett and Bryant in a 2002 scientific paper published in the journal Archaeology in the Severn Estuary.

Well, one word in the above paragraph will surely have leapt out from the page. Tsunami. Well, was that what struck that day in 1606/7? Can there really have been a tsunami in Britain in the early 17th century? We simply don’t associate our islands with such dreadful natural disasters, and yet there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be as much of a target as anywhere else in the world. So it’s a frightening thought that the floods of which I write might have been more than simply an oversized spring tide or even a sudden storm. Were they in fact a spring tide that was overwhelmed by a tsunami?

Haslett and Bryant had a number of reasons for wondering if the 1607 flood was caused by a tsunami, not a spring tide or storm. Taken from https://www.burnham-on-sea.com/history/1607-flood/:-

  • Some historical accounts indicate that the weather was fine e.g. “for about nine of the morning, the same being most fayrely and brightly spred, many of the inhabitants of these countreys prepared themselves to their affayres” and a ship at Appldedore is unlikely to be ready to sail in stormy weather.
  • The sea appears to have been “driven back” i.e. retreated out to sea, before the wave struck, a classic precursor of a tsunami.
  • The wave appeared as “mighty hilles of water tombling over one another in such sort as if the greatest mountains in the world had overwhelmed the lowe villages or marshy grounds. Sometimes it dazzled many of the spectators that they imagined it had bin some fogge or mist coming with great swiftness towards them and with such a smoke as if mountains were all on fire, and to the view of some it seemed as if myriads of thousands of arrows had been shot forth all at one time.” This is very similar to descriptions of more recent tsunami, such as the tsunami associated with the eruption of Krakatau in 1883, where accounts refer to the sea as being ‘hilly’, and the reference to dazzling, fiery mountains, and myriads of arrows, is reminiscent of accounts of tsunami on the Burin Peninsula (Newfoundland) in 1929, where the wave crest was shining like car headlights, and in Papua New Guinea in 1998 where the wave was frothing and sparkling.
  • The speed of the wave appears to have been faster than a storm flood as the wave is ‘affirmed to have runne with a swiftness so incredible, as that no gray-hounde could have escaped by running before them’.

To read more about the reasons for considering a tsunami, read the Burnham-on-Sea link above, which goes into considerable detail. And which suggests the following as possible causes of such an event:-

“….A possible cause of the proposed tsunami is not yet known, but the possibilities include a landslide off the continental shelf between Ireland and Cornwall, or an earthquake along an active fault system in the sea south of Ireland. This fault system has apparently experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 4 on the Richter scale within the last 20 years, so the chance of a bigger tsunami earthquake is a possibility. It may also have been a combination, in that an earthquake might have triggered a submarine slide….”

If you go to https://www.aforgottenlandscape.org.uk/projects/1607-the-great-severn-estuary-flood/ you’ll find a summary of a talk presented by Rose Hewlett on Tuesday 4 October 2016 as part of the Tuesday Talks series. She was researching the 1607 flood for her PhD at the University of Bristol. She is inclined to discount a tsunami. “….She felt sure that if an underwater earthquake had occurred and created a tsunami this would have been widely reported, much as the Dover Straits earthquake of 1580 had captured the public’s attention. While she accepted that physical evidence along the coasts of the Bristol Channel indicated that a sizeable event had occurred, she could not ignore the numerous and unconnected reports of the strong winds and a storm, and that also the same weather system appears to have caused a large surge on the evening tide at King’s Lynn, Norfolk….”

 

To read another  book on the subject, try https://www.amazon.co.uk/Severn-Tsunami-Britains-Greatest-Disaster-ebook/dp/B00FD3NNJO/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+severn+tsunami+mike+hall&qid=1609848081&sr=8-1 by Mike Hall of Redwick, Monmouthshire. He believes it was definitely a tsunami because it came on a “bright, sunny, cloudless day”.

Mike Hall outside St Thomas’ Church, Redwick, which has a flood mark from the 1607 disaster From https://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/10919882.redwick-author-tells-story-of-severn-tsunami-which-devastated-coastal-gwent-in-1607/#gallery0

So, what do you think, ladies and gentlemen? Was it a combination of things that altogether made one big thing? Or was it the ultimate big thing on its own, a tsunami?

For more further reading:-

https://static.rms.com/email/documents/fl_1607_bristol_channel_floods.pdf which is acomplete pdf with a lot of technical information.

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.732.1422&rep=rep1&type=pdf ditto for information.

https://static.rms.com/email/documents/fl_1607_bristol_channel_floods.pdf ditto for information.

See https://www.slideshare.net/ProfSimonHaslett/the-1607-flood-a-tsunami-in-the-bristol-channel-3403592 for slides with photographs, maps and graphs that detail events. Also http://profsimonhaslett.blogspot.com/2011/01/great-flood-of-1607-tsunami-or-storm.html

And if you want to sleep with your life jacket on: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/local-news/tsunami-warning-bristol-channel-alert-1905295

 

SIR MATTHEW CRADDOCK 1468 – 1531

 Matthew Craddock was the son of Richard ap Gwilliam ap Evan ap Craddock Vreichfras and Jennet Horton of Candleston Castle in Glamorgan. His great grandfather, William Horton of Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire, married Joan de Canteloupe the heiress of Candleston. Jennet Horton was their granddaughter.

I first came across Matthew Craddock while looking at anything that connected Bishop Stillington to Mathry in Pembrokeshire and his connection to the Craddock/ Newton family of East Harptree in Somerset. Some of the Craddock family (Caradog in Welsh) had changed their name to Newton however Matthew’s father retained the name Craddock. William Horton was from Tregwynt in the Parish of Granston and the living is annexed to that of Mathry which was where Stillington was living at one time .There are connections between Stillington and Sir John Newton of East Harptree whose father was a Sir Richard CraddockNewton.  Sir Richard Craddock Newton was the arbitrator for the Talbots in the Berkley dispute.

It was thought that Matthew and Sir John may have been brothers but this is thought to be unlikely now. It is possible that they are related but not brothers.

When discussing Sir William Herbert on the Richard III Forum and the fact that he was in charge of guarding the South Wales coast for his father in law Richard III in 1485 it occurred to me that the Glamorgan Castles could have been part of this defence and that maybe Matthew had supported Richard. In the Dictionary of Welsh Biography it is reported that the Calendar of Patent Rolls 6/3/1485 – 1486 1HVII says that Craddock was appointed Constable for life at Caerphilly and Kenfig Castles. In 1491 Sir Matthew Craddock was appointed Steward of the Gower and also in 1497. Then I read a short note on a genealogy site, though obviously genealogy sites are not a reliable sources, it said that Matthew Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’retinue at Bosworth, this came as a surprise and a disappointment though it would probably explain the appointments under Tudor. Apparently William Herbert didn’t fight at all at Bosworth, which begs the question was it because he had links to Tudor from childhood (Tudor was brought up by the Herberts as their ward) or had Richard excused him to look after Katherine in the event of a Tudor victory?

I had started looking at the families who lived in some of the castles along the Glamorgan and South Wales coast before I came across the information that possibly Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’ retinue. Some of the names were familiar to me as there were still some of their descendants living in Glamorgan at least until the 1960s.These families were the Stradlings, the Turbevilles, the Mansells and the Talbots.

Candelston Castle is on the west side of the River Ogmore on the opposite side to Ogmore Castle. All along the Glamorgan coast there are castles, to the east of Ogmore is St Donat’s Castle, seat of the Stradling family and to the west would have been Kenfig castle. Further inland from Ogmore are Newcastle Castle, guarding the approach to the Llynfi Valley, and Coity Castle, seat of the Turbeville family. The Turbevilles also inherited Newcastle when one of them married the daughter of Morgan Gam of Afan.  When the Normans took over South Wales they built castles at Ogmore, Newcastle and Coity. Ogmore Castle was an important link in the defensive system of the Ogmore estuary. They were known as the Ogmore Triangle. Apparently they had a system whereby they would come to one anothers aid if attacked. Ogmore is on the estuary of the river and would guard against invasion from the sea. Further north is Newcastle, in what is now Bridgend, it is built high on a hill overlooking the river and so protecting the access to the Llynfi Valley. Coity is slightly north west of Newcastle and protects the Ogmore and Garw Valleys.

Ogmore, Newcastle and Coity were built by William de Londres in the 12th century and Coity was granted to Payn de Turbeville by Robert Fitzhamon. Payn Turbeville’s gt grandson Gilbert Turbeville married Matilda daughter of Morgan Gam of Afan and in 1217 he acquired the manor of Newcastle previously held by Morgan Gam and from then on Coity and Newcastle devolved together. The Turbevilles held both properties until 1380 when Richard Turbeville, a descendant of Payn Turbeville, died without issue and the properties descended to his sister Catherine and her husband Sir Roger Berkerolles. Their daughter Gwenllian Berkerolles married Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats.

The Stradlings came to Britain after the Norman conquest. They are a branch of the noble family of Strattigan who lived near Thun in Switzerland and they arrived in Wales in the late 13th century. In the late 14th century Sir Edward Stradling, Gwenllian Berkerolles husband, was twice Sheriff of Glamorgan. Edward and Gwenllian Stradling’s grandson, also called Sir Edward Stradling married Cardinal Beaufort’s daughter Joan by Alice Fitzalan and became Chamberlain and Receiver of South Wales. He died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His son Henry Stradling married Elizabeth Herbert of Raglan. Henry and Elizabeth’s son Thomas Stradling married Jane Matthew but Thomas died young in 1480 leaving Jane a young widow with a small child Edward, who was the Stradling heir to St Donat’s. (St Donat’s is now Atlantic College)

Imagine my surprise when, not long after I had read that Matthew Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’ retinue at Bosworth, I read in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography that Jane Stradling’s second husband was none other than Sir Rhys ap Thomas. Thomas then became guardian to the young heir,  Edward Stradling. Jane died in 1485 presumably leaving young Edward in Rhys’ care. There was a suggestion that Rhys took the money from the St Donat’s estates for three years in a row.

This explained to a certain extent the connection between Matthew Craddock and Rhys ap Thomas as Candleston Castle, like Ogmore Castle, is only a few miles west along the coast from St Donat’s. Matthew Craddock would have only been about seventeen in 1485, as it is thought that he was born in 1468, however, it is also thought that he might have been born as early as 1458. He would have been old enough to fight at Bosworth. After Bosworth he began a rapid rise being appointed Constable for life of Caerphilly and Kenfig Castles and Steward of Glamorgan in 1491 and 1497. He married Alice Mansell daughter of Sir Philip Mansell of Oxwich Castle, on the coast west of Swansea. I believe there doesn’t appear to be a record of the date, though some sources give 1489 as their date of marriage. They also report that his wife’s name could have been Jane Mansell. There doesn’t appear to be a complete set of facts about Craddock’s life. However, Matthew and Alice/ Jane’s daughter Margaret married Sir Richard Herbert the illegitimate half brother of William and Walter Herbert.

There are obviously connections through marriage between all these families. So were they Yorkist or were they Lancastrian, or were they doing a Stanley and supporting whoever was in power to get the best deal for their family? I doubt if we will ever know. In the Inventory of Ancient Monuments of Glamorgan, it is reported that Warwick was Lord of Glamorgan and that Clarence claimed it in 1474, however, it was awarded to Anne’s share and Richard became Lord of Glamorgan. It is reported that he raised the salaries of the officials of the Lordship to stop them extorting ancient dues from tenants, so he may not have been unpopular in Glamorgan. After Bosworth, Jasper Tudor was the Lord of Glamorgan.

In 1517 Sir Matthew Craddock married Lady Catherine Gordon, wife of “Perkin Warbeck”. Lady Catherine had been taken into the household of Elizabeth of York after” Perkin’s” arrest and had been treated well by Henry Tudor, however, he had never allowed her to leave court. Some sources report that he kept her a prisoner though he did treat her well. After Henry Tudor’s death Henry VIII gave her property in Berkshire in return for her promise not to leave England. When she married Craddock she was, however, allowed to live in Wales with him. Though it is also reported that they spent their married life at Court, because Lady Catherine was head of Princess Mary’s privy chamber.

There are various stories that Lady Katherine and “Perkin Warbeck” had a son and that he was brought up in Reynoldston on the Gower Peninsular. There is a story that a family named Perkins are descended from him. There is no evidence to prove that Katherine and “Perkin “ had a son, however, it has always seemed odd to me that she had agreed not to leave England and yet she ends up marrying the man who had been the Steward of the Gower and also lived there. I just wondered if she went to spend time with her son.

Unfortunately my idea that Sir Matthew Craddock was a supporter of Richard III came to nothing, however, it led to discovering connections between the families who controlled the coast of Glamorgan and maybe helping to explain how they flourished under the Tudors. In my opinion they probably would have fared just as well had Richard won Bosworth, indeed they might have fared better.

  1. Coity and Candleston Castle videos: h/t Stefen Felix.
  2. The DWB indicates that Craddock died between 14 June and 16 August 1531

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