The great storm and Defoe’s sad end

This day in London’s history: on 25 November the Great Storm of 1703 reached its peak of intensity. The lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St. James’s Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. On the Thames, around 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, the section downstream from London Bridge.

Defoe The Storm

The storm, the worst in British history, ripped through the country, killing people and livestock and wreaking havoc. Daniel Defoe, who travelled the country afterwards assessing the damage and wrote what is called the first substantial work of modern journalism, called it “The Greatest, the Longest in Duration, the widest in Extent, of all the Tempests and Storms that History gives any Account of since the Beginning of Time”.

Defoe reported that men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for yards through the air and that lead roofs were ripped from one hundred churches.

Although Defoe went on (in 1719) to write one of the most famous English language novels – Robinson Crusoe – he died penniless and intestate in lodgings in Ropemaker Street, and was buried without ceremony in Bunhill Fields. The final insult was that the local bureaucracy couldn’t even get his name right: he was registered in death as ‘Mr Dubowe, Cripplegate”.

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