When catastrophic storm surge hit one of our best-loved seasides

A favourite summer destination for Leicester folk was hit by the horrific tides in the 1950s

By

Life Writer

  • 08:57, 22 AUG 2021

Towns lay underwater, homes were destroyed and loved ones lost when a flooding disaster struck the Lincolnshire coast from the North Sea. In 1953, the North Sea floods devastated the county along with Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk. Other European nations including the Netherlands, Belguim and Scotland were also heavily impacted.

While the death toll was much higher in the Netherlands (1,836 dead), 307 lives were lost across England – including 42 in Lincolnshire, reports Lincolnshire Live. A storm formed over the North Sea as a result of annual spring tides and severe gale force winds. The wind was recorded 126mph at Costa Hill in Scotland.

All of these elements funnelled those high tides southward toward the English Channel, causing the swell to rise even further, and the storm surge was recorded at 5.6 metres (18.4ft) at its peak. On January 31, 1953, it hit the Lincolnshire coast with Mablethorpe taking the brunt along with Sutton-on-Sea, Chapel St. Leonards, and Skegness .

David Mitchell was only 10-years-old when he lived in Chapel St Leonards and the floods hit. He was at a seafront cafe at the time. “The owner came up to one of the fathers and said, ‘Do you want your car? Because it’s just gone floating past'”. he said.

That was the start of the floods that led to David, his mother, his sister and his brother being evacuated from their home at midnight by American soldiers who arrived on an amphibious vehicle. Separated from his brother, David and the rest of his family were relocated to Alford and then Louth as the floods moved further inland. He added: “Me and my friend went and looked at the waterfront.”

“Instead of the sea being below us like it usually was, it was high above us. That was truly terrifying.” At King’s Lynn, Norfolk – just south of Lincolnshire – the sea level was 7ft higher than a normal high tide, and a 6ft wave crashed through the centre of the town.

The death toll at sea included those from a number of smaller fishing vessels and the large passenger ferry MV Princess Victoria, which sailed from Stranraer to Larne with 179 people on board. A wave broke open the already damaged ferry doors whilst sailing in the Northern channel. Of all the passengers and crew onboard the ferry that night, no women or child survived.

133 lives were lost in total and only 44 men survived. Inspector Charles Lewis of the Lincolnshire Constabulary was awarded a George Medal after he jumped from the window of Mablethorpe police Station into a fierce torrent, ‘up to his neck’, and rescued an elderly couple from drowning. One of Prince Philip’s earliest visits to Lincolnshire was in 1953 to see the devastation caused by the worst flooding incident in memory.

The Duke of Edinburgh again visited Mablethorpe in 2003 to remember some of the victims of the flood on its 50th anniversary and met those who were affected by the disaster.