SHEFFIELD STORM: The night in 1962 when freak gale ripped apart city

The Sheffield storm of 1962 caused chaos across the city.
The Sheffield storm of 1962 caused chaos across the city.
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Last night's storm of biblical proportions across Sheffield and huge swathes of northern England has revived memories of the Great Sheffield Storm on 1962.

Although last night's freakish weather conditions - which included a "tornado," torrential rain and a sky filled with hundreds of lightning flashes, left many nervously cowering behind the curtains, the events are nothing compared to a February night 54 years ago.

The aftermath of the Sheffield storm of 1962 was devastating.

The aftermath of the Sheffield storm of 1962 was devastating.

It was on February 16, 1962 that a huge hurricane swept across Sheffield - killing three people, destroying 98 houses and leaving almost two thirds of buildings in the city damaged with a clean-up bill of more than £1 million.

A national disaster zone was declared, The Queen was briefed, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sent a telegram with his “sincere condolences, the Lord Mayor launched an appeal fund and Richard Dimbleby brought his BBC TV Panorama team.

In little more than four hours, chaos unfolded as winds of up to 96 mph tore through the city.

Hardly a street escaped the havoc, and hundreds of people were left homeless. Many prefabs lost their roofs.

Scores of homes were damaged in the trail of destruction.

Scores of homes were damaged in the trail of destruction.

Civil defence teams and Royal Engineers were drafted in, and private builders adopted a wartime emergency footing under the guidance of the council in a race against time to make almost 6,000 homes watertight. Insurance staff worked overtime.

Particularly badly hit were the Attercliffe, Crookes and Heeley areas but all parts of the city took a hit. The BBC team headed for Skye Edge and Arbourthorne.

Five days earlier, Sheffield had suffered what was considered a severe gale when 3,000 houses were damaged in what was seen as a freak squall.

Then came worse, with the full force being felt at around 5am on February 16, 1962.

Chimney pots crashed down onto streets and vehicles across the city.

Chimney pots crashed down onto streets and vehicles across the city.

“The winds got worse as the night went on,” recalled Dave Manvell, who was 13 at the time and in bed at home in Crookes.

“Power lines were flashing and it was so noisy that all the family got up and sat drinking tea. I remember mum saying it was just like the Blitz. As daylight came, you could see all the devastation. Chimney stacks were down and bits of roof were missing.

“When I walked to school, everywhere was covered in broken chimney pots.”

He found the school, in Western Road, closed. “I found out later that part of the roof had broken off.

Television aerials were also a victim of the 96mph winds.

Television aerials were also a victim of the 96mph winds.

The youngest fatality was 17-year-old John William Johnson, of Colwall Street, Attercliffe, who died in his bed. Rescuers including his dad, a neighbour and two police officers could not get to him because part of the upstairs floor had collapsed.

Vicar’s wife Shirley Hill, aged 30, died after being trapped in her Brightside home by a falling chimney and Ida Stabbs, aged 57, was killed in bed in Crookes. A fourth person, Edward Wadsworth, of Shafton, Barnsley, who was hit by falling masonry, died later in the Royal Infirmary.

Why was Sheffield the worst hit? Only a few miles away, the winds were less than 20mph.

It is thought the hurricane was caused by air being lifted over the high ground of the Peak District, then being compressed through the city’s valleys.

Minister of Housing Charles Hill came to Sheffield to see the destruction for himself, and the Government later lived up to its promise of helping with the massive repair bill.

“Sheffield’s misfortune has given us one of those rare and unpleasant opportunities of seeing nature’s experiment in action,” said the Minister.