The Great Storm 1987

By Bob Ogley

10 May 2018

It is now more than 30 years since the Great Storm did its worst on the night 15/16th October 1987. Most of the audience who had been in Wadhurst that night still remember the devastation though about half of them admitted to sleeping through it all undisturbed. They had missed the sounds of roaring trains and all the blue flashes lighting the sky as trees fell across power cables. They had not waited, terrified, for the chimney to fall or a tree to crash or the roof take off. But in the stillness next morning, there were no cars, no birds, just the sound of a few chainsaws. The familiar landscape was gone.

Bob Ogley, as editor of the Sevenoaks Chronicle, was keen to record it all for posterity. Within a few days he hired a plane from which he obtained aerial photos of the surrounding countryside. He had to print 60,000 copies of the next edition of his paper to satisfy demand. Then with the idea of printing a book, he showed his photos to a publisher but was turned down – there might be a blizzard after Christmas. Instead a General Printer was willing to have a go if the book was ready in a week! The book, ‘In the wake of the Hurricane’, was launched a month later and had sold 21,000 by Christmas, finally reaching Number 6 in the Sunday Times best-seller list.

Bob then published a special edition for the National Trust whose properties had suffered badly in the storm. Wondering what to do next, he decided to collect stories and photos from people in all the areas affected by the storm. The subsequent book was in the top ten best sellers for eight months, but never made number one.

In 1989 a real hurricane hit Jamaica. The damage was colossal. Bob packed his bags and flew off to Jamaica. Within a short time he had produced a book ‘Hurricane Gilbert’. As a result of his work, they said, ‘the world has come to our help and you have made money for sickle-cell research’.

As we know locally, six of the Seven Oaks came down in the storm in 1987 and were quickly sawn up. The National Trust managed to rescue a few of their specimens and possibly the six oaks could have been uprighted again. Later six replacement saplings were vandalised. Finally seven new trees were established so now there are eight oaks!

Bob concluded his talk with a very interesting observation concerning Emmetts Wood now 30 years later. Half of the wood was replanted with a mixture of trees but is now full of silver birch. The other half was left as a site of non-intervention. It is growing again, has produced a canopy, and the nettles and brambles are being replaced by primroses and bluebells.

Joan Grace