HISTORY FEATURE: The death, injury and chaos caused by the hurricane of 1962

HISTORY FEATURE: The death, injury and chaos caused by the hurricane of 1962

By Gareth Dennison | 03/07/2022

HISTORY FEATURE: The death, injury and chaos caused by the hurricane of 1962

IT WAS described in the Advertiser as D-Day — with the D standing for devastation.

Rotherham was ripped apart by a hurricane, which left a trail of death, damage and injuries across the borough.

The foul weather struck in the early hours of Friday, February 16, 1962, as residents were still pulling themselves together following a less-serious gale four days earlier.

The latter storm was among the worst ever experienced in Britain, with thousands of homes needing repairs and by noon 40 people had been admitted to Rotherham Hospital on Doncaster Gate.

Most of these casualties were victims of slates and masonry sent flying by the fierce wind.

Few houses escaped damage, and some garages were even picked up by the wind and smashed against walls.

Thousands of trees were uprooted, and people on their way to work were literally lifted up off their feet — and needed to anchor themselves to lamp-posts to avoid being swept into the path of motor vehicles.

Shirley Margaret Hill, wife of a former curate at Rotherham Parish Church, was killed when a chimney stack fell into her home over at Brightside, Sheffield.

Mrs Hill (31) took a particular interest in the church scene here, helping to organise activities with the Rotherham parish’s wolf cub pack.

Her husband, Rev Hill, had become Vicar of Brightside 12 months earlier, having served as curate at Rotherham Parish Church for four years, with special responsibility for St Barnabas’ Church at Broom Valley.

He told the inquest that his wife had been unable to sleep and went downstairs, which is when he heard a crash and falling debris.

“I had rubble up to my knees,” he said. “My arms, knees and body were pinned by timbers. It took me 15 minutes to release myself.”

At Nottingham Street, in Rotherham town centre, the side of a house collapsed and the occupant, a 63-year-old man, escaped death by seconds.

William Gabbitas (43), of Brinsworth, had a narrow escape — his wrists were cut when a garage, torn from its foundations, fell on him.

Geoffrey and Gerald Swann, aged 18 and six respectively, sustained cuts and shock when a chimney stack fell through the roof into their bedroom at Greasbrough Road.

The same happened to one-year-old Ellen and Janet (5) at the Dyson family household on Wortley Road.

And minutes before their caravan was blown over, a young Greasbrough couple escaped with their seven-month-old baby.

A good indication of the scale of the damage were reports from the authorities of the number of properties needing repairs.

Of the 10,000 houses owned by Rotherham Borough Council, about 5,000 were in need of repair — and the bill was estimated at about £1.5 million in today’s money.

In addition, 400 old homes — bought up by the Corporation for slum clearance purposes — required repairs. They could not yet be demolished because they still had tenants.

The Advertiser reported that all employees of the building works department — except for a few of the older ones considered “not sufficiently agile” — were working on roof repairs.

Department manager Mr B Hartley said: “We have not recruited private builders to help out, because we thought they would be busy enough repairing private houses.

“The builders’ merchants have been very helpful. They have done everything they can to assist us and private builders by keeping open longer than usual at the weekend, and sharing out materials as much as possible.”

Rotherham Rural District Council reported that 4,000 of its 6,000 homes were affected. Housing manager, Mr L N Peake, appealed for tenants not to report exterior damage to their homes.

All this, he said, was being noted by the authority’s inspectors during an “intensive” survey of the area.

Of the 4,000, the worst hit areas being Aughton, Brampton, Thrybergh, Bramley, Thurcroft and Whiston.

Two families needed to be rehomed and six others were shifted to temporary accommodation for a while.

At Rawmarsh, a state of emergency was declared by the urban district council. In Parkgate, nine out of every ten houses were affected and some were made completely uninhabitable.

Mr Peake said: “We are experiencing a shortage of slates. We are going as far as Grimsby, Hull, Goole and Gainsborough to obtain supplies.

“All our workmen are concentrating on repairs. We have stopped all painting.”

The Advertiser’s report from the time said: “Many children were sent home from school because the buildings had been damaged. At Oakwood School there were holes in the roof.

“There were many casualties, usually from slates and masonry sent flying by the wind.

“Few houses escaped some damage, garages were picked up by the wind, and smashed against walls, thousands of trees were uprooted or broken, and many streets had carpets of shattered tiles.”

There had been a strong and damaging gale in 1956, but the agreed consensus was that this time was much worse. Experts began to calculate how long the recovery would take.

Frank Hargreaves, president of the Rotherham and District Building Trades Employers’ Association, said: “I would estimate six months — and it may be as long as nine.

“It is upsetting to come across young married couples who have had their homes badly damaged.

“After the 1956 gale, everyone said they would make sure they were insured against storm damage, but I’m afraid many people let the matter slip and are now regretting it.”

Rotherham Civil Defence officer Mr H Lindsay made plans for three emergency rest centres to cater for up to 150 people, but thankfully these did not have to be used. Men in the corps helped make premises safe, while the Civil Defence women drove vehicles and provided hot meals for the men, the Advertiser reported.

Rotherham’s D Company, of the Hallamshire Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment, were meant to have been on a training course at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire.

This was cancelled at short notice, for members to help out with the storm damage instead. They helped Sheffield City Fire Brigade, with four from the company being filmed by the BBC for a telly show.

With two heavy weather events in six years, the Advertiser began to ponder if more should be done to prepare for future hurricanes.

A comment piece on February 24 said: “It may be that many years will pass before the conditions are reproduced, but it is worth recalling that our last serious trial by gale was as recent as March 2, 1956.

“The damage done on that night six years ago was small compared with last week’s, but it was bad enough.”

One curious effect of all the chaos was to help the drive for cleaner air in Rotherham.

Mr Hargreaves said: “I am advising people not to go to the expense of having fallen chimney stacks rebuilt. They can have them sealed over at roof level and install gas or electric fires, or fire grates to burn smokeless fuels.

“In the latter case, we just leave small vents for fumes to come out, but a tall chimney is not necessary.

“An extra advantage is that if people have smokeless fuel grates, they can obtain grants towards the installation costs from the local authority. Many people are taking our advice and not having their chimneys rebuilt.”


WITH no internet to quickly consult, the Advertiser relied on Rotherham Reference Library to ensure the paper correctly called the havoc a hurricane.
The Beaufort scale details were printed in the paper as follows:

Calm: 0mph
Light air: 2
Light breeze: 5
Gentle breeze: 10
Moderate breeze 28
Moderate gale: 35
Fresh gale: 42
Strong gale: 50
Full gale: 59
Storm: 69
Hurricane: 70+
The basic scale is very similar today, although hurricanes now start at 73mph, with an added category of violent storm just below that level.

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