The disastrous “tsunami” that once hit the Somerset coast


For eagle-eyed viewers, many may have noticed a BBC Two documentary earlier this week.

The episode of Timewatch, which is now available on BBC iPlayer, looks back on the 1607 “killer wave” that devastated much of Somerset.

the The event was described by eyewitnesses as “huge and mighty hills of water” advancing at a speed “faster than a greyhound can run”.

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It was one of the worst natural disasters on record in Britain.

It was said to have lasted about ten days, with the water from the Bristol Channel sweeping inland and reaching settlements up to six miles from the coast.

Due to the time period in which this disaster occurred, reports are vague and records may be slightly inaccurate.

However, there is still a lot of evidence that shows the devastation caused by the floods.

For years it was believed that high tides and severe storms resulted in flooding that completely destroyed areas such as Brean.

A diagram of the extent of the Great Bristol Channel Flood of 1607, based on research by Horsburgh and Horritt

However, experts from Bath and Australia put forward a tsunami theory in 2004, according to the BBC.

Their theory is supported by deposits of sand, pebbles and seashells in various places around the Severn Estuary where the floodwaters have surged.

These deposits are believed to have been transported inland by the deep ocean.

The British Geological Survey said there was no evidence of a landslide on a continental shelf, so any tsunami would likely have been caused by an earthquake on a known unstable fault southwest of the Ireland.

However, many also argue that due to the lack of evidence showing damage in Cornwall and West Wales, a tsunami would have been unlikely.

Modeling shows that it would be almost impossible for a tsunami to affect the Bristol Channel but not the other coasts.

Tidal heights, likely weather conditions, extent and depth of flooding and coastal flooding elsewhere in the UK on the same day all point to a storm surge.

One thing is certain, however, the tsunami or storm surge completely destroyed the settlements for miles around.

Kingston Seymour had experienced heavy flooding with the village church remaining underwater for days.

Indeed, a chiseled mark remains on the wall of the church showing that the maximum height of the water was 7.74 meters above sea level.

It is one of the few physical clues that remain today that help demonstrate the severity of the floods.

Many low lying villages and towns on the Somerset Levels were also destroyed, with flooding reported at Glastonbury Tor.

Burnham-on-Sea also saw its breakwater breakthrough in the process.

The damage is estimated today to be around 7 to 13 billion pounds.

Rock erosion along the shoreline serves as a reminder of the event, with the erosion characteristics depicting high velocity water flow.

As there were no newspapers at the time, the only remaining accounts of the devastation were in the form of letters and pamphlets.

One of those canes from William Jones, who wrote one of the most accurate descriptions of floods that have come down to us, saying, “There isn’t much left to see now, but immense waters look like l main ocean: the tops of churches and steeples like the tops of rocks in the sea. Great stacks of fodder for cattle float like ships in the waters, and dead beasts swim over them, now spent feeding on them .

“The treetops that a man can see standing above the waters, on whose branches multitudes of turkeys, hens and other fowl-like animals wanted to fly to save their lives, where many ‘among them perished for lack of help, unable to fly to the mainland due to their weakness.

A little difficult to interpret what he describes, but first-hand testimony nonetheless.

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