Tonbridge Weather Notes 1692 - 1929; Extreme weather to 2007

Uncredited notes are reproduced exactly from a book called "Tonbridge of Yesterday", A.H. Neve, published in 1933 by the Tonbridge Free Press. The original derivation of these anecdotal reports is not recorded, and the accuracy and status of weather statistics quoted is not always certain.

Supplementary local / regional / national details provided for context in square brackets [ ] are with permission from Martin's fascinating "Weather in History" pages at Booty Meteorological Information Source.

Certain other reports are from local historian Bob Ogley via BBC Kent Weather: this day in history ( sadly this archive is no longer online ).

Flooding is a near constant feature of the town's weather, to see a gallery of photographs from 1880 to 1930 click here

Updated November 2012

Tonbridge is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1088 AD) and the Domesday Book (1087 AD) as Tonebrige, derived from Anglo-Saxon "tun brycg". Existing buildings and archaeological evidence shows that the town has been occupied continuously for at least a thousand years. Limited evidence of human activity in the prehistoric era has been found in the town itself in the form of microliths (small stone tools). It may have been settled as far back as Roman times or even in the Iron Age, although this remains speculation. There was an enclosure and fort dated to the 3rd or 4th century BC at Castle Hill which would have controlled a strategically important crossing of the River Medway on a north-south route but there is as far as I know no evidence for settlement in the current location of the town at that time. Therefore when talking about "hottest or coldest or wettest ever" weather it must be taken into account that records cover only a very short period of history.

1692 8th September Shock of earthquake.

Earthquake: Houses in Deal were shaken, chimneys fell, kitchen utensils were thrown from the shelves and beds shook. Several houses and the Norman Castle in Tonbridge were damaged. (Source: Bob Ogley)
1703 26th November "The wind blew with such violence that that it destroyed over 1,100 houses in Kent alone. Branchely Church near Tunbridge lost its steeple. Scarely a house was undamaged in Tonbridge and Penhurst Park lost 500 trees. The wind blew so hard that it brought salt in from the Channel and cattle refused to eat the brine-crusted grass at Cranbrook, 17 miles inland." (Source: Bob Ogley)
[The 'Great Storm' of 1703 which commenced on Friday 26th November (old-style) was probably the worst ever experienced in England.....Possibly a rejuvenated Atlantic hurricane, this storm produced estimated winds reaching 120mph/104 knots]
1763 19th August Phenomenal storm of thunder, lightning and hail entered Tonbridge from the Tunbridge Wells direction and swept NNE. Its path was about 3 miles wide. Hop gardens orchards and cornfields entirely destroyed, houses and farm buildings blown down. No lives lost in Tonbridge but county subscription list open to relieve loss.
1775 - 1776 Winter Snowstorm on 31st December. Drifts 10ft deep in Tonbridge streets. Severe cold in January 1776; heavy snow from 7th to 12th January. Snow on ground until May.
[some reports suggest Kent TEMPERATURES (at end January) as low as -4 ºF at Chatham and -11 ºF at Maidstone]
1783 Summer Intensely hot summer with "intolerable" plague of caterpillars.
1784 - 1785 Winter Severe frost which lasted 16 weeks and 3 days.
[in 1783/84 and 1784/5 the Thames was completely frozen for a short period, this has been attributed to the Laki (Iceland) eruption event of June and July 1783 but there is some doubt about this]
1787 15th April Deep snow, and again on 5th May
1789 Winter Hard winter, snowed all March
[The Thames was completely frozen during this severe winter (implying a persistence of sub-zero temperatures) and a frost fair was held on the river]
1790 Winter No frost all the winter, but violent thunderstorms on 23rd December.
[ Also a mild winter England & Wales, with an anomaly for the three 'winter' months of +2C. ]
1791 Summer Snow and frost on 12th June (Whit-Sunday). [SNOW fell in London]

1814 January A long frost with sudden thaw and floods.
[1813/14 - one of the four or five COLDEST WINTERS in the CET and the last time the 'tidal' Thames froze sufficiently to hold 'frost fairs etc'.
1816 December Severe floods.
[A violent VOLCANIC eruption of Tambora, in the East Indies in April of 1815, threw enormous amounts of dust into the stratosphere, which spread around the globe, not only cutting out direct insolation, but distorting the global wind circulation. In Europe, grain harvests were late, and in western areas of Britain and across Ireland, continuous RAIN/LOW TEMPERATURES led to total failure of crops with much distress]
1829 8th April
7th October
A fatal flood.
A heavy fall of snow. [SNOW lay for a while in the London area & elsewhere in the South]
1829 - 1830 December Frost for 5 weeks from 21st December.
[Severe winter. Almost continuous frost 23rd to 31st December 1829, 12th to 19th January 1830 and then 31st January to 6th February]
1831 August Daily thunderstorms for nearly a month and farm fires caused by lightning.
[Thunderstorms daily from 2nd to 5th August in London.]
1835 - 1836 Winter Severe winter. Skating on Somerhill Lake for 4 weeks consecutively. On 15th March largest flood for many years. [A very wet March across England & Wales in 1836]
1836 December Heavy fall of snow on 24th and 25th December. London coach road blocked for more than a week.
[Great ENE gale and snowstorm 25th - 26th, many lives lost: roads throughout England impassable for several days, snow 5 to 15 feet (1.5 to 4.5 metres) deep in many places, a few great drifts 20 to 50 feet (6 to 15m).....During this winter, the only (known) disastrous SNOW AVALANCHE in these islands occurred on the 27th December 1836, at Lewes, Sussex...8 people were killed]
1838 January Sharpest frost for more than 70 years; 13 degrees below zero (? Fahrenheit? = -25º C. Webmaster).
Skating on lake, Valentine's Day (Old Moore made a great "hit" by foretelling this frost). - Actually Murphy's Almanac - webmaster).

At about this time what must be one of the most curious cricket matches ever played took place in Eridge Park. Large numbers of gentry from Tunbridge Wells watched the game which was played on a fair-sized frozen lake. The participants wore skates and, although the conditions introduced some unusual hazards into the game, it was completely without serious accident. The report tells us that the batsmen found the outfield unusually fast! (source: "Murphy's Winter" R. A. Hornstein, Meteorologist-in-Charge, Dominion Public Weather Office, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)

[20th January 1838: Lowest TEMPERATURES (known/accepted) of the 19th century in London; -16 ºC reported at Greenwich about sunrise (close to minimum time), -20 ºC at Blackheath, -26 ºC at Beckenham (Kent). The temperature in Greenwich was -11 ºC at midday. The Thames at Greenwich was completely covered with ice at high water on the 27th January 1838.]

1855 Winter Severe cold January and February. (Crimean War)
1870   Severe frost and snow. Railways blocked. (Siege of Paris)
[A COLD winter over western Europe / implied for parts of Britain]
1868 22nd July Dr George Hunsley Fielding of Tonbridge claimed that the readings in his garden was 100.5F (38.1C). Tonbridge and every town in Kent wilted in the heat throughout May, June and July. Modesty was forgotten as the Victorian people struggled to keep cool. (Source: Bob Ogley)
1870   Severe frost and snow. Railways blocked. (Siege of Paris)
[A COLD winter over western Europe / implied for parts of Britain]
1874 11th July Severe thunderstorm; 3 inches of rain in 2 hours (a record up to then). School wall in Lansdowne Road washed down.
1874 December Mean temperature for December was 32.7 ºF.
1876/7 December/January Two exceptionally wet months in West Kent with a total of 18 inches/450mm. (Source: Bob Ogley)
1878 December Frost through nearly all December. Medway froze over, thaw came on Boxing Day [A VERY SNOWY winter / early spring November to April]
1879 ?
Flood in High Street. [(Summer, early autumn) Notably wet period.]
Winter began early. Snow and frost 19th November to 27th December. River frozen over for weeks. Great windstorm on the 28th/29th December destroyed the Tay Bridge.
1880 October Great flood in High Street 10th October ( see photo here ) and heavy snowstorm on 22nd October.
1881 18th January The great blizzard and snowfall 18th January "The White Tuesday". Snowdrifts 15 - 20 feet deep. Roads blocked and traffic disorganised for days. Rural postman frozen to death in snowdrift between Tonbridge and Hadlow during the storm.
[About 100 people lost their lives and most businesses were halted for a day. Plymouth deprived of water for a week, and it took about a week before road and rail travel returned to normal. In London, the snow depth was about 25cm, with 1m drifts. Possible 5m drift in Oxford Circus. 2 m drifts in Portsmouth. 45cm depth in Brighton, 30cm in Exeter and on Dartmoor, as much as 100 cm]
1881 27th November Flood in High Street on 27th November.
1886 26th December Great snowstorm on 26th December brought down miles of telegraph wires. [On the 26th, a heavy snowfall over southern Britain. The snowfall wrecked overhead telegraph wires and trees for several miles around London, as well as southern and SW England. Kent received over 30 cm of snow, with snowdrifts up to 2.5 metres.]
1886 ? Bad flood in Tonbridge.
1890 -1891 Winter "The long frost" 26th November to 23rd January. Skating up the river to Ballast Pit for many weeks. Snow on the ground all the time.
[The winter of 1890/91 was remarkable for its long duration, from 25th November to 22nd January, rather than for the intensity of the FROST. During this period the average TEMPERATURE was below 0 ºC over nearly the whole of England and Wales and below -1 ºC in East Anglia and the south-east Midlands. Skating in Regent's Park occurred on 43 days, the thickness of the ICE exceeding 9 inches (circa 23cm) but the FROST penetrated in the ground to a depth of only about 30cm.]
1891 22nd October Water 2ft deep in High Street 22nd October.
1893 Spring/summer Great drought 4th March to 23rd June
[A notably DRY season over England and Wales. (see also 1990). Some places in SE England had no RAIN for 60 consecutive days, from mid-March to mid-May with the longest ABSOLUTE DROUGHT of all being at Mile End (London) from 4th March to 15th May. This (at 1993) is thought to be the longest period without measurable rain ever recorded in the British Isles. During the period March to June, in the SE of England some areas experienced less than 30% of average rainfall & over a wider area of England & Wales, the anomaly was under 45%.]
1894 25th August Thunderstorm of exceptional severity on 25th August lasting from 9.30 to 11pm. Flooded houses in Florence Place, Priory Road area and Webber's Garden.
1894 November Heavy floods in High Street.
[Thames Valley: The FLOODS were stated at the time to be so spectacular and widespread as to be regarded as the greatest floods ever, and a 'yardstick' by which future inundations are measured]
1895 Winter

15 Feb
Severe and long continued frost. Skating lasted (with one short break) from 6th January to 6th March. A bad blizzard on 23rd January. The lowest temperature readings were 5 ºF on 6th February and 8 ºF on 9th, max 23 ºF and 26º F respectively.
Mr R.E. Wedgwood, a landowner and well known public man at Tonbridge was drowned yesterday morning while attempting to skate from Maidstone to Tonbridge on the river Medway. Several friends of the deceased narrowly escaped the same fate. [ The Times ]
[Exceptionally COLD/WINTRY from 30/12/1894 to 05/03/1895...January 1895: A lot of SNOW, both from frequent showers off the sea, and midmonth heavy SNOW over England and Wales with 1m or so of snow reported from Faringdon, Berkshire, and many places reported 8 to 15cm deep, with strong SE winds (classic block/ANTICYCLONE to NE of British Isles, with Atlantic frontal systems attempting to penetrate from the south & SW). ]
1899 10th February Flood on 10th February...

1900 16th February

...and another (flood), when a sudden thaw brought water down quickly over frozen snow, into High Street.
[One of the WETTEST Februarys across England & Wales (using the EWP series).]

1902 10 September A heavy thunder and hailstorm created havoc in the Maidstone and Tonbridge district coming in the midst of the hop-picking season. Hailstones were up to 6cm across, destroying many glasshouses.Hop fields and orchards were devastated. One man was killed and several others injured by lightning. (Source: Philip Eden ~ Great British Weather Disasters)
1903 July Great thunderstorm and rain (2.81 inches) on 19th July. Heavy rain fell again on 23rd July amoutning to 3.1 inches thus beating the 1874 record. The rainfall for that month was 7.66 inches and for the year, 38.8 inches.
[Specifically for the London area (based on Kew), the summer period in 1903 was the WETTEST in that series which started in 1697]
1909 26 February to
7 March
Several very heavy snowfalls in various parts of the UK, but worst hit were Kent and East Sussex on the 3rd with 25cm generally and as much as 55cm at Tonbridge. (Source: Philip Eden ~ Great British Weather Disasters)
1911 April From the 4th to 7th April, a ferocious easterly gale brings unusually cold weather with heavy snow. Maximum temperatures on the 5th near or below freezing and up to 6 inches of lying snow reported in Hildenborough.
1911 November Medway Valley seriously flooded on 19th November.
1917 Winter Continuous frost 14th January to 16th February.....
[1916/17 - one of the most SEVERE WINTERS of the 20th century up to 1939/40. A major problem in the Great War for all the parties to the conflict]
1917 December .....and continuous falls of snow between 1th and 21st December.
1925 3rd January Serious floods on 3rd January
1925 13th February Low lying areas of Kent are under a water following by an intense rainstorm which raged without cessation throughout. Mason's Brewery, Maidstone was flooded and municipal sports ground at Tonbridge resembled as a massive lake. Graziers in the Stour Valley, between Chartham and Canterbury, tried to move their stock to safer quarters. The Isle of Oxney became an island again which was only approachable by boat. (Source: Bob Ogley)
1925 Christmas Snow (about 3 in) on Christmas morning. (The first snowy Christmas in Tonbridge for 35 years)
1927 December Heavy rain on Christmas Day changing to snow about 9pm. Great blizzard on 26th December.
During the late evening of the 25th, what is regarded as one of the worst SNOWSTORMS in the 20th century occurred. Most of the country experienced snow, but the south bore the brunt: undrifted depths up to 60-70cm over higher ground, with drifts in varying places up to 15 feet or more [over 4.5m] - many roads blocked (some for a week) with vehicles stranded. The snow was noted as 'soft & clingy', bringing down many telephone lines - at this time few such were in underground ducts.]
1927 Year Rainfall for the year, 41.16 ins is the highest on record for Tonbridge (at least until 1934. The period from July to September was notably very wet in the extreme SE of England - webmaster).

[1927-1930 (Annual series): A run of 4 consecutive WET years; not achieved again until 1965-68]
1928 December Floods on 23rd to 26th December
1929 February Intense cold 11th to 17th February. Lowest maxima for Tonbridge. Frost continued into March, much skating.

Kent experiences the coldest February. Until that morning, there was more than 120 hours of continuous frost and the mercury fell to 9F (-13 ºC). it was so cold that the sea at Whitstable froze solid. Schools were closed and people were advised to stay indoors. (Source: Bob Ogley)

[One of the most SEVERE WINTERS of the 20th century (up to 1939/40). During the January & February months in Hampshire, 150 hours of continuous FROST.]

Data table

1939/40 Winter

The coldest January for nearly 60 years, but at the time the heavy snow and drifting was not reported due to the wartime press restrictions. Late in January a freezing rain event coated much of southern England in a glaze of ice.

1947 23rd February

Temperature at Tunbridge Wells weather station fell to -2 °F / -18.9 °C on this clear and starry night (Source: Bob Ogley). Possibly lower still in the frosty valley of Tonbridge? - Webmaster

1947 18th March

Warm air finally arrived to melt all the snow as temperature rosed to a high 57F, the people of Kent were mightily relieved that the bitterly hard winter of 1947 was over. In towns and villages, it was the worst eight weeks to endure the endless grey skies, raging blizzards, subzero temperatures, power cuts, strikes and frozen pipes. On top of that, coal had been in short supply and rations were cut. (Source: Bob Ogley)

1947 21st March

As the great snow thawed and turned to rain, Rivers Medway, Darent, Stour and Rother burst their banks, inundating farmland and causing the worst flooding in the county for 20 years. In Tonbridge and Maidstone the floodwater easily overlapped the bridges and rushed into High Street. People had to be lowered from their bedrooms windows into boats in Fairmeadow, Maidstone and the Corporation's electrically works and Mason's Waterside Brewery were under several feet. The worst area of Medway valley at Yalding, East Peckham, and Beltring. The hop farm was waterlogged and most of the road were impassable. (Source: Bob Ogley)

[As the heavy accumulation of SNOW was eroded by rapidly rising temperatures, along came the RAIN which caused major FLOODING. March 1947 EWR rainfall was over 177mm (over 300% of average) - the WETTEST March across England & Wales by that series (as at 2004).]

1950 26th April

Heavy rain turns into a 6 hour snowstorm that blocked roads; the weight of heavy clingning snow caused trees to fall and snapped telegraph poles in half. (Source: Bob Ogley).

1958 5th September

A violent thunderstorm lasting 2 hours causes floods and landslides, disrupting trains and damaging crops with huge hailstones. (Source: Bob Ogley).

1962 - 1963 Winter

27 Dec 1962: Continuous snowfall almost everywhere, with the South getting the worst of it.  Traffic jams of up to 10 miles long were reported from many places, mostly in Kent.  Some Southern Region trains cancelled, others delayed. British European Airways had to cancel 37 flights from London Airport and there was 10in of snow on the runway at Gatwick.
28 Dec 1962: More snow forecast - West Kent, East Sussex and Surrey were worst hit with 3 ft (900cm) deep snow reported in places and a number of main roads were impassable.
30 Dec 1962: More than 200 roads were blocked and it is estimated that 95,000 miles of roads were
snowbound.....In Kent it took one man 90 minutes to drive 440 yards.
21 Jan 1963: "Rural Rides in the SE"
3.30pm Sevenoaks. Accident black spot on A21 clear, apart from inevitable ribbon of slush along centre of road. Spot second snowplough, two more casualties; can't imagine what causes mishaps. Kent Weald like Christmas card. Slush on windscreen screen: like driving through dripping.
4 10pm Tunbridge Wells. Town virtually deserted, as were Sevenoaks and Tonbridge. Proceed on A26, direction Brighton, Crowborough to Uckfield, Sussex, worst stretch so far. This road never saw snowplough. Patches of frozen snow.
16 - 25 January 1963: Frost was continuous day and night in Tunbridge Wells for this 10 day period.
(Sources: Manchester Guardian archives & The Times archives)

[COLDEST WINTER OF THE CENTURY:  This was the coldest winter (by the CET series) of the century, and the second coldest (after 1739/40) in the entire series]

1968 14 & 15th September Tonbridge Pumping Station recorded 79 mm of rain on the 14th, the total for the 15th not known exactly but likely to have been close to 50 mm - the monthly total was 177mm.

Hildenborough had 106 mm on the 14th plus 64.8 mm on the 15th. West Malling received 53 mm in just 2 hours on the 15th. [Source: UKMO British Rainfall 1968).

Tonbridge High Street under 4ft of water (personal memory!). It is said (and recently confirmed by an eye witness) that the shop fronts were undamaged until an army amphibious vehicle swept through at high speed, creating a wash and smashing every shop window!

1968 flood Tonbridge High Street
In this Great Flood, the Kent countryside was many feet under water and fast-flowing floodwater 'embraced everything in its reach.' Vehicles were floated away.

In every Kentish town cut off by floods, rescue and reception centres were quickly set up by the police, the WRVS, Women's Institute, Red Cross, Salvation Army and other voluntary organisations. (Source: Bob Ogley)

[Prolonged HEAVY RAIN (associated with some long-lived THUNDERSTORMS & a slow-moving depression over northern France) on the 14th and 15th (and 16th?) in 1968 caused WIDESPREAD & SEVERE FLOODING in the south east of England with 215mm falling at Northchapel (West Sussex) within 24 hours and 57mm in 42 minutes at Purleigh (Surrey). East Molesey in SW London .. near Hampton Court Palace was particularly badly affected. More generally, much of Essex, Surrey, Kent, and London recorded 150mm (locally 200mm) over these 2 to 3 days. Tilbury, Essex recorded 201 mm in two days - more than one-third of the normal annual fall. From mid-afternoon on the 15th, FLOODING over streams and rivers built up rapidly in Surrey, causing disruption to traffic and damage to property. One person was KILLED (a man died of a heart attack as he was swept away by flood-water). The widespread FLOODING took many days to subside - the impact was primarily due to the rapid/long-lasting nature of the intense RAINFALL (convective cells) - but was perhaps most unusual in that it affected such a large area of SE England. Newspapers of the time in Kent (e.g. 'Kent Messenger') stated that it was "the worst FLOODING since 1814".  The considerable / widespread FLOODING took many days to subside.]
1987 January In Kent heavy snow started falling on the 11th, by the afternoon (train) services were seriously disrupted, with many lines blocked either by snow or stalled trains. Trains that were able to run were reported as running as much as four to six hours late and were following no particular timetable. (no change there then - webmaster)

Severe daytime cold and heavy snow. Transport to and from Tonbridge was all but cut off for two days with prolonged snowfall depositing around 18 inches / 46cm level snow. The shelves at former Safeway's supermarket were almost entirely empty due to panic buying and the inability of lorries to reach the town. (personal memory)

[The 12th of January 1987 saw record LOW MAXIMUM TEMPERATURES over much of England and Wales. At Okehampton (Devon) and Holme Moss (West Yorkshire) TEMPERATURES did not exceed (minus) 8.5 degC. Many places experienced RECORD LOW TEMPERATURES by day and night and it seems likely that it was one of the coldest spells of weather in the south since January 1740. On the morning of the 12th, (minus) 7.0 degC was recorded at St.Mary's, Isles of Scilly: probably the lowest minimum recorded in the islands (accompanied by a 40-50 knot easterly wind).
On the 13th of January in 1987, there was 52cm of level SNOW at East Malling, Kent, probably the greatest depth of level snow in the area for at least 40 years (DRIFTS 40 feet deep noted in Kent).
1987 15th/16th October A hurricane (severe storm actually - webmaster) battered the UK. West and south Kent bore the brunt of the storm and suffered a colossal amount of damage. Fifteen million trees were felled in the south east. Thousands of homes in Kent were without electricity for 3 days in a row. (source: Bob Ogley)

After a wet period, and when trees were still in full leaf, an explosively deepening storm moving northeastwards from the Bay of Biscay towards the central North Sea, produced winds of well over 100 mph across the SE part of England after midnight 16th - not out of ordinary for northern Britain, but unprecedented in the modern record for this populated area of the U.K. 18 people died, with considerable damage to property, vehicles etc., and the loss of 15 million mature trees. However, note carefully the restricted affected area: roughly southeast of a line Lyme Bay to Lincolnshire, with the maximum DISRUPTION/DAMAGE across London, Home Counties, East Anglia & Kent. (October 1987 was the second WETTEST across England & Wales at the time, using the EWP series: only beaten into third place by October 2000. Much speculation that the leafy trees with roots in sodden ground added to the problems.)]
2000 October Heavy and prolonged rain - 100mm on rapidly saturating soil - fell between the 9th and 12th October. On the afternoon of Thursday the 13th, the Leigh Reservoir was at capacity and the flood barrier was lifted for a controlled release to prevent a possible damaging surge from overflow. Tonbridge narrowly escaped severe flooding from the Medway. Flooding did originate from the Botany Stream, some shops just off the High Street were flooded by up to 30cm (12in), Victorian terraces in Vale Road were flooded from the back, and parts of the industrial estate were flooded. Autumn 2000 as a whole felt constantly unpleasant: damp and "mildewy". (Personal memory)
[For the England & Wales series, it was the WETTEST autumn since that series began in 1766. The final total was 503 mm, which is 196 % of the 1961-90 average. SIGNIFICANT FLOODING occurred over England & Wales, and also more locally over Northern Ireland, south and east Scotland. For Northern Ireland, it was the WETTEST autumn since at least 1900 and in the Belfast area, perhaps the wettest autumn since 1814]
2002 10 August Photos were taken and shown in the local press and Royal Meteorological Society journal of a funnel cloud reaching very close to the ground in Tonbridge.  CLICK HERE to view 5 photos ( approx 300Kb). [A very active month for whirlwinds. With 8 tornadoes, 2 waterspouts, 21 funnel clouds and 1 land devil (possible's Inc). This compares with 6 tornadoes, 5 waterspouts and 11 funnel clouds for August 2001. TORRO Newsletter, August 2002]

Spring 2011 (March, April and May) in Kent was remarkable for the unusual warmth during April and the persistent lack of rainfall during March, April and May. It was not only the driest spring for the county in records dating back to 1910 but also the driest of any three calendar month period.

March rainfall
April rainfall
May rainfall
Spring rainfall
Previous driest three-month period
Apr - Jun 1976 (40.3 mm)

UKMO climate averages Tunbridge Wells 1931 -1960 Part 1

UKMO climate averages Tunbridge Wells 1931 -1960 Part 2

Edenbridge 1981 - 2010

East Malling 1981 - 2010

East Malling 1961 - 1990

East malling average sunshine hours 1941 - 1970