In December 1910 a huge wave washed over the Ilfracombe sea-front during a violent storm when waves came ‘rolling in with terrific force.’
Described at the time as a tidal wave, it was reckoned by onlookers to have been up to 20 foot in height.
The wave wasn’t actually a ‘tidal wave’ but rather a huge tidal surge created by extreme low pressure in the North Atlantic.
Whatever it was, damage was extensive. The Parade boundary wall had been demolished and all the seats on the front swept away while the wall in front of the Promenade steps was severely breached.
Wreckage and stones had been hurled against the sea-front shops and as their windows caved in so seawater flooded in.
Shopkeepers who had barricaded their doors before the storm hit found that the force of the wave broke their doors down.
Other effects were seen by the bandstand where an asphalt path had been gouged away up to a depth of two feet or more.
At Windy Corner 15 feet of solid masonry way above the usual high water mark had been washed away while a heavy lamp post had been cut in two.
A newly built garage next to the sea wall in Pier Road was smashed to pieces – having cost £200 to build a short time before.
Around the pier there was also extensive damage with some 25 feet of the massive sea wall by the Lantern Hill end being destroyed.
Much of the pier timber decking was forced up and at the Tunnels Beach four of the ‘bathing machines’ were washed away.
The ornamental grounds of the old Ilfracombe Hotel were flattened and even the roof of the Swimming Baths buckled under the weight of all the stones thrown up on to it.
Cleaning up took months but apparently the town managed to tidy up enough not to affect the 1911 tourism season – a heroic effort that one hopes the townspeople will not be called on to do again though in these times of global warming and more extreme weather one never knows.
(The photograph comes from Peter Christie’s book A History of Photography in North Devon 1842-1914 available post free from the author for £12).