The December 7-8, 1703 Windstorm (November 26-27 on the old calendar still used in England at the time) was the most damaging to have affected the southern part of Britain for at least 500 years. The fame of the storm owes much to the fact that it cut a swathe of damage through London. The City of London had been entirely rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire of London, and thatch had been prohibited for use in roofing to reduce the fire hazard. After the storm: ‘the streets lay so covered with Tiles and Slates, from the Tops of the Houses, especially in the Out-parts, that the quantity is incredible, and the Houses were so universally stript, that all the Tiles in Fifty Miles round would be able to repair but a small Part of it’. Approximately 2,000 massive stacks of chimneys were blown down in and about London, along with gable ends of Houses, some whole roofs and 16-20 entire houses on the edge of the town. The level of damage was similar in many towns and villages across southern Britain, with the majority of houses partly or completely stripped of tiles. As in London, a significant number of houses were demolished by the collapse of a central chimney stack. In all more than 800 dwelling houses were blown down, and in the county of Kent there were over 1,000 out-houses and barns destroyed. One hundred churches had the lead sheeting rolled up or blown off their roofs, as well as pinnacles dislodged, windows broken, and in a few cases, steeples collapsed into the remainder of the structure. Of all buildings, the most vulnerable were windmills with more than 400 either toppled and broken, or burnt to the ground after the sails rotated at such speed as to cause the axles and brake to overheat and catch fire. There was widespread destruction of millions of trees in forests, parks and orchards. Although the storm in England occurred entirely at night, when casualty rates are around a quarter of daytime, 123 people were killed on land in England and Wales, due to the collapse of roofs and chimneys. 21 people were killed by falling stacks of chimneys in London, with 200 severely wounded and maimed. At least another 20 died in damage in continental Europe. Around 80 people are known to have drowned in their cottages in the marshlands. Even these totals are dwarfed by the estimated 8,000 killed in more than 100 shipwrecks at sea.
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