Great London Tornado of 1091

by Ben Johnson

‘London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.’

London Bridge has a long history of ‘falling down’*; on this occasion the wooden bridge, built by William the Conqueror, was one of the victims of the London Tornado of 17th October 1091.

The tornado struck the heart of the city, causing a great deal of damage. The church of St Mary-le-Bow was completely levelled, to the extent that four huge 26 foot rafters were driven so far into the earth that only four feet remained visible above ground. Many more buildings, including around 600 mainly wooden houses, were also demolished although amazingly, only two deaths were recorded.

This was the first documented tornado in British history. From accounts of the damage, meteorologists estimate that this tornado would have rated T8 on the tornado scale, which runs from T1 to T10. If so, winds of up to 240 mph would have struck the city.

After the tornado William Rufus rebuilt the bridge, but this too was short lived as a fire destroyed it only 40 years later. After this, the bridge was rebuilt in stone.

Artist’s impression of the St. Mary le Bow tornado (Chris Chatfield)

*London Bridge was destroyed by tornado in 1091 and destroyed by fire in 1136 and 1212. Whilst not demolished, it was also badly damaged by fire in 1381, 1450 and 1633.

Published: 12th March 2015

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