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History: The Great Storm of 26/27th November 1703

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Brighthelmston in Defoe's The Storm

Brighton - or Brighthelmston(e) as it was known then - is mentioned twice in Defoe's book: a short mention about the devastation of the town, and a longer piece mostly about the losses to the town's fleet of boats.

"At Shoram the Market House, an Antient and very strong building, was blown flat to the Ground, and all the Town shatter'd. Brighthelmston being an old built and poor, tho' populous Town, was most miserably torn to pieces, and made the very Picture of Desolation, that it look't as if an Enemy had sack't it."

Defoe noted that "The following melancholy account from the Town of Brighthelmstone in Sussex is sent to us."

"Sir,
The late dreadful Tempest in Novemb. 27 1703 last, had very terrible effects in the Town. It began here much about One of the Clock in the Morning, the violence of the Wind stript a great many Houses, turn'd up the Leads off the Church, over-threw two Windmills, and laid them flat on the ground, the Town in general (upon the approach of Day-light) looking as if it had been Bombarded. Several Vessels belonging to this Town were lost, others stranded, and driven ashoar, others forced over to Holland and Hamborough, to the great Impoverishment of the Place. Derick Pain, Junior, Master of the Elizabeth Ketch of this Town lost, with all his Company, excepting Walter Street, who swiming three days on a Mast between the Downs* and North Yarmouth, was at last taken up. Richard Webb, Master of the Ketch call'd the Richard and Rose of Brighthelmston, lost, and all his Company near St Hellens. Edward Friend, Master of the Ketch call'd Thomas and Francis, stranded near Portsmouth. Edward Glover, Master of the Pink* call'd Richard and Benjamin, stranded near Chichester, lost one of his Men, and he, and the rest of his Company, forced to hang in the Shrouds* several hours. George Beach, Junior, Master of the Pink call'd Mary, driven over to Hamborough from the Downes, having lost his Anchor, Cables and Sails. Robert Kichener, Master of the Cholmley Pink of Brighton, lost near the Roseant with nine Men, five Men and A Boy saved by another Vessel. This is all out of this Town, besides the loss of several other able Seaman belonging to this Place, aboard of her Majesty's Ships, Transports and Tenders."

 

Although we think of Brighton as a fishing town, during the later half of the seventeeth century fishing declined and the town seems to have became more involved in general coastal trade.

*Downs: here refers to an area of coastal waters off north-east Kent in the vicinity of Dover and Deal

*Pink: a sailing ship with a narrow stern.

*Shrouds: part of the rigging of a ship or boat, supporting the mast or topmast.

 

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