Thursday 15th October 1987 was a fairly unremarkable day. It had been raining for days. This day was no different; it was a dull, dank Autumnal Evening. The mood of Faversham’s townsfolk was only slightly lifted by the sight of Forrest Fair setting up on the recreation ground, in preparation for Faversham’s annual carnival that weekend.
Richard and I would have come home from school, checking out the fair ground as we did. We would have called our mates, made plans for the weekend, watched TV (including the now infamous weather report by Michael Fish) and gone to bed.
Whilst we all slept a fairly unremarkable sleep, many of our friends and neighbours were being awoken by a fairly remarkable event that was unfolding outside.
The morning or Friday 16th October was a day that very few people who lived in Southern England on this date will forget. In just a few hours, the landscape had been changed forever by high winds that we now refer to as “The Great Storm of ‘87”. Winds as high as 120mph had taken down an estimated 15 million trees, many that had stood against high winds for centuries, it had upended telephone posts, cut water, electricity and gas supplies, and destroyed ships. Tens of thousands of miles of rail and road networks were blocked. This storm sadly also claimed, the lives of 23 people.
Our Dad rose to his alarm as usual, the rest of the household was still asleep, but he instantly noticed that something wasn’t right. His usual routine was to cycle from our home in Bramley Avenue to his job at BOC Transhield in Oare, one look outside and Dad decided he would be better to walk.
As he walked through our estate he bumped into the Milkman going about his rounds. The two men chatted about how they must be mad working on such a morning but they carried on regardless.
As Dad walked along the A2 it felt as though trees were falling down all around him, he saw one go through the back of a property. The tree’s enormous root-ball was almost as large as the house it had struck. Then as he turned the corner into The Mall he was faced with roof tiles speeding past his head. At this point Dad decided to turn back.
Richard and I woke up fairly excited by the realization that we would be having a day off school. We were lucky; we didn’t have much damage to the house, just a few roof tiles missing. The garden faired much worse. Every home in our road had lost their fences. We could stand in the garden and see clearly to the A2 in one direction and the railway line in the other. Behind our house was large leylandii hedge. The individual trees had been lifted from their roots and thrown some 10 meters or more from where they had once stood. Yet somehow, our neighbours aviary with their precious bird collection had survived, much to the disappointment of our cat who had spend the night asleep on it.
I remember, we explored the town in the days that followed, the carnival had been cancelled due to the risk of falling debris and the massive clear up campaign the town faced.
The fair ground had ended up (caravans and all) in the recreation ground tennis courts. How no one was killed is beyond me, I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for the inhabitants.
Nowhere was left untouched, trees were everywhere, walls and fencing down. Roofs with no tiles left or collapsed chimneys. Windows broken and cars damaged. We had no electricity for several days; no phone’s for a week and my school was closed for a couple of weeks as the gym roof had blown off!
Yet, in the middle of all of this devastation and suffering my over riding memory was the Faversham community spirit that was all around us. We had a gas fire in our home, our neighbours would come round to get warm as they had no heating. Another neighbor had a gas cooker they would cook for everyone. Friends helped fix cars, board up windows and clear roads of the fallen trees. You could hear chainsaws running all day, every day.
We all had a reason to talk to strangers, everyone had a story and everyone offered a helping hand. Us children loved the freedom of being able to run through each other’s back gardens, it was like we had a big private park to play in. It was a sad day when all of the neighbours came out and one by one, they put the fences back.
The nicest reminder I have of that night is when I went to visit Upper St Ann’s Road with my children to collect conkers I know that we can only do this thanks to one Faversham resident who replanted the lost trees along this road. It’s the little thoughtful touches like this that makes Faversham such a special community to be part of.