Nostalgia: When the winds of terror battered Yorkshire

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In an 18-hour spell beginning shortly after midnight on Sunday 11 February 1962, hurricane force winds sweeping across Sheffield, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire left a 60-mile trail of damage.

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Houses were blown down, vehicles overturned, roads blocked and trees uprooted.

The gale brought with it a mammoth power blackout as the wind blew over a tower at Knottingley that carried the main 27,500kw lines supplying the whole of South Yorkshire. A spokesperson at Bawtry ‘Met’ Office said the hurricane was most unusual for this part of the country.

In Sheffield, ‘pre-fab’ bungalows were so seriously damaged at Skye Edge that a number of families were left homeless. Neighbours, many of whom, were also hit, comforted distressed wives and helped to clear what was left. In other areas whole roofs, ceiling and outhouses were swept into the air. Windows caved in, chimney stacks toppled, and slates rained down.

Calls for help came in so thick and fast to Sheffield Fire Brigade, Police and telephone headquarters that at times switchboards were jammed. Most were to deal with unsafe chimney stacks and one stack which crashed through of a house in Ecclesall Road narrowly missed a sleeping student. The city fire headquarters received 890 calls and in the telephone exchange there were 239 emergency 999 calls

On Friday of the same week there was a second hurricane, headlines proclaiming: ‘The Killer Hurricane – Four die as 96 mph Terror rips Sheffield area’. Civic authorities declared a state of emergency.

The dead were Jack Johnson, 17, of Attercliffe; Mrs Shirley Hill wife of Rev C. Hill, vicar of Brightside; Ida Stubbs, 57 of Crookes and Beryl Dickinson, 19 of Birdwell, Barnsley.

Mrs Hill and her husbandleft their bedroom for what they believed to be the safety of a ground floor room. But as they sat on a settee, the chimney stack crashed through the roof and the bedroom floor. Mrs Hill was buried by the masonry, and died shortly afterwards.

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On that day the hurricane brought havoc to many parts of Britain. At least eight people were killed, and road, rail and air services were battered. From the south coast to the north of Scotland there were scenes of vast devastation. The strongest gust was of 117.8 miles an hour at Lowther Hill, Lanarkshire. Killed in Bradford were Terence Murphy and his wife Dorothy, both 29 when their roof caved in. Their two children were rescued. Killed in Leeds was an expectant mother Mrs Anita Thrush, 23, when a chimney stack crashed through the roof. Their children were unharmed.

At the height of the hurricane, the air was, in places, thick with falling debris, chimney masonry and glass and shattered window frames.

After a pear tree had blown down, blocking the back door at the home of Mrs Frank Cunningham, Fulton road, Walkley, they had to saw their way out. At the Plough, Hathersage, the chimney stack crashed through the roof into the private sitting room of landlord Mr Maurice Jones and his wife, who were asleep in the next room. A linesman’s hut on the line at Attercliffe delayed trains for some time, and there was damage also to crossing gates.

Mr A.L. Dickinson, Sheffield Civil Defence officer said they were dealing with the emergency as with the war time blitz and calling in as many volunteers as possible.

Mr H.J. Aldhous, Sheffield Housing manager, said priority was being given to people whose pre-fab homes had been badly damaged. He said that a preliminary survey of the housing estatesshowed that the damage was far more extensive than on Monday.

A British Insurance Association spokesman said claims for the first blast might well pass the £1,000,000 mark.

In the days following Sheffield’s Lord Mayor Ald. J. W. Sterland launched an appeal for funds to help the victims. He toured the shattered streets of his ward at Arbourthorne in the Mayoral limousine and said: ‘I went round the estate and saw the prefabs all blown down like a pack of cards...What I did immediately, I decided to launch an appeal...The terms of the appeal being to cover chattels’.

Sheffield’s builders were carrying out essential emergency repairs on the 70,000 hurricane-hit houses, but there was a big shortage of slates and tiles in the area. Supplies were rushed in from other parts of the country. There was also difficulty in finding enough ladders and tarpaulins.

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On Monday, February 19 help and sympathy was pouring into hurricane hit Sheffield from all over the country. Many people offered help from far and wide to help rehouse the homeless. A seaside landlady at Morecambe offered to use her entire 24-bed guest house, a Blackpool woman offered two rent-free houses at Rawtensall. The Mayor of Cleethorpes said that hotels and boarding houses would help.

Fire Brigade and Civil Defence headquarters were still getting calls for help at the rate of one a minute. Up to mid-morning, Sheffield, Sheffield Royal Hospital and the Royal Infirmary had treated over 400 gale victims and admitted 28 with serious injures.

On the same day, Richard Dimbleby himself visited Sheffield to document some of the chaos which had struck the city.

Experts said Sheffield’s valleys had acted like vast wind tunnels when the gales blew from a certain westerly point. The force increases as more air was sucked in over the hill tops to replace the air escaping down the valleys. By the end of the month, the Sheffield hurricane bill was predicted to reach £5m.