December 27, 1836: The deadliest avalanche in the United Kingdom occurs. Lewes is around seven miles north of the Sussex coast in the county of East Sussex, England. It is in the South East part of England and borders the English Channel. It is less than fifty miles south of London. People have lived there since prehistoric times and the Romans may have built a settlement in the region. Today, around 17,000 people live there and their economy now is very diverse. Beginning in the late 18th century, wines and spirits were distributed from Lewes from the company that is today Harvey & Sons brewery, one of the finest ale producers in England. The town is located amidst the a series of cliffs and Cliffe Hill is on the east side of the town towering 540 feet above sea level.
The winter of 1836-37 was exceptionally severe across all of Great Britain. There was a greater amount of snowfall and gale force winds and freezing temperatures were recorded throughout the island. Between October 1836 and April 1837, many weather records were broken. On December 24, 1836 heavy snow began to fall across South East England. Especially hard hit was the South Downs region where Lewes is located. Strong winds blew the snow around and snowdrifts over ten feet high were reported in some areas of Lewes. The storm deposited a huge amount of snow atop Cliffe Hill and an overhanging cornice was formed on the sheer western edge.
Immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill stood Boulder Row. This was a row of seven flimsy cottages where workers and their families lived. The exact number of people living there remains unknown, but it is said that 15 people were in their homes on this terrible day. The evening before, snow was seen falling from the top of the hill and the families were advised to leave, but they did not heed the warning. On this Tuesday morning, at 10.15 AM, the cornice collapsed and an avalanche headed immediately for Boulder Row. An eyewitness reported the snow hit at the base and launched the shabby houses upward before breaking over the remnants like a giant wave. There was nothing left of the area but a huge mound of pure white snow.
An immediate rescue effort was made by the townspeople who were able to pull seven survivors from freezing death. But hypothermia or suffocation overtook eight others whose bodies were eventually recovered. The eight people’s names are recorded inside the church of South Mailing parish where they were buried. A few prominent townspeople set up a fund to help the survivors. Snowdrop Inn, a pub, was built at the location of Boulder Row soon after the disaster and is still in business today. Fanny Boakes (two years old at the time) was one of the survivors and the dress she was wearing at the time is now shown at the Anne of Cleves House museum.
We hear the rain fall, but not the snow. Bitter grief is loud, calm grief is silent. – Berthold Auerbach
Snow. White, white, white, soft and clean, and maddening shapes, with the whole world in them. – Alfred Stieglitz
But where are the snows of last year? – Francois Rabelais
No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
Also on this day: Hagia Sophia – In 537, the Hagia Sophia was officially dedicated.
Coming into Port – In 1703, the Methuen Treaty was signed by Portugal and England.
Play Nice – In 1512, the Laws of Burgos were issued.
Man Cave – In 1966, the Cave of Swallows was discovered.
Religious Freedom – In 1657, the Flushing Remonstrance was signed.