When The Earth Moved For Londoners

By London Historians Last edited 18 months ago
When The Earth Moved For Londoners
Photo: Dariusz

In May 2015, the good people of Kent experienced an earthquake which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. This followed a quake of very similar magnitude in 2007.

Of course these are as nothing compared with the disastrous earthquakes experienced in Nepal, Italy, and other quake-vulnerable spots around the world in recent years.

The epicentres of 'our' disturbances tend to be in the Channel or Kent. But in past times there have been earthquakes centred here in London.

21 May 1382

The 1382 earthquake was felt in Blackheath. Photo: Ed.

A strong tremor rocked London at about 2pm during a church Synod at Blackheath which had been convened to pass judgement of 24 Articles of John Wycliffe’s teachings. It naturally became known as the Earthquake Synod. It was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtnay. A learned man, Courtnay — following Aristotle — explained to the terrified delegates that it was simply the Earth naturally expelling noxious fumes. Wycliffe’s followers, the Lollards, on the contrary interpreted the quake as God’s anger at the Synod. This earthquake caused sufficient turbulence in the Thames to capsize boats and quite severely damage St Paul’s.

The quake was apparently powerful enough to capsize boats. Photo: Mauro Murgia

1750

Better known than the medieval quake were two which struck a month apart in 1750. We are, after all, now in the age of the printed word, and in abundance: Gentleman’s Magazine had much to say, for example. It happened at about midday on 8 February. It was very localised in the City. There were reports of a chimney collapsing and the usual chattering crockery, but with no injuries reported it was clearly a minor, albeit alarming, affair.

Exactly a month later on 8 March, a more powerful tremor struck the city in the small hours. There was much actual damage to buildings, crockery, furniture. Dogs howled and folks sprinted into the streets in various states of undress. The Bishop of London insisted that divine retribution was at hand on account of London’s wicked ways. Exactly another month later, many superstitious and gullible Londoners, headed out of town. Just to be sure.

LH Member, the Georgian Gentleman, has a great write-up of the 1750 quake. Other good coverage of this quake here.

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Last Updated 05 June 2017