The Lynmouth
Flood Disaster

A dark day in Devon's history

Words by Martin Hesp

It rained and it rained. Summer rain, falling thick and vertical with no wind to blow it away. That may have been a description of the weather in recent weeks, but it would not do justice to the meteorological system which hit Exmoor 65 years ago causing the biggest, most tragic, flooding event the region has seen in more than 300 years.

On August 15, 1952, eyewitnesses described the clouds that accumulated over Exmoor as "purple black" - some even said the threatening skies had a weird greenish tinge. 

Within hours, one of the most violent precipitations this country has ever seen was underway. The bogs on top of Exmoor were quickly filled to overflowing and Lynmouth would soon be a disaster zone.

More than 90 million tons of water cascaded down the steep narrow valleys of the twin rivers Lyn towards the small harbour village causing death and devastation beyond anything ever seen in the region during peacetime.

34 people - babies, children, teenagers, back-packers, husbands and wives - lost their lives that black night.

John Pedder witnessed
the disaster unfold, 
scrambling up onto 
rooftops and watching 
as cars, buildings and 
trees swept by just 
feet away.

"The strangest thing up on that roof was watching as cars rushed by in the flood. The batteries had shorted or something because all their headlights were blazing, which made the whole scene unreal as the cars rolled over and over in the water."

Wendy Marker was working at a local hotel on that fateful Friday night, when her parents decided to evacuate their home.

"Was I frightened? No, not really," said Wendy. "I'd lived by the river all my life and was used to hearing it roar. I remember the great crash that happened at around one in the morning. That was that for the cottages - and for the three old people. All gone. Not a thing left.
“I remember the great crash that happened at around one in the morning. That was that for the cottages - and for the three old people. All gone. Not a thing left.
“It's strange really, most people have got something handed down from their mum, or their grandmother. I haven't got a thing. Not a single hand-me-down. It all went in the flood.”

The world responded to the Lynmouth Flood Disaster with heartfelt charity - but it was an extraordinary community spirit that was responsible for rebuilding and creating the Lynmouth we see today.

A joint funeral service for 13 of those killed in the disaster took place in August 1952

These are the names of those who lost their lives:

Ada Barwick, 60, Lynmouth

Elsie Bowen, 32, Lynton

Ronald Bowen, 37, Lynton

Kenneth Bowen, 9, Lynton

Derrick Breddy, 11, Manchester

Elsie Cherry, 56, London

Benjamin Coult, 56, Durham

Emma Coult, 52, Durham

Rodney Dimmock, 8, Lynton

Mary Floyde, 64, Lynton

Frederick Floyde, 27, Lynton

Joyce Hiscock, 21, Australia

Hannah Jarvis, 77, Lynmouth

William Leaworthy, 60, Parracombe

Gabriel Litson, 78, Lynmouth

Charles Litson, 53, Lynmouth

Gwenda Oxley, 22, Australia

William Richards, 30, Lynmouth

Gwendoline Richards, 32, Lynmouth

Bernard Richards, 3, Lynmouth

Ernest Richards, 3, months Lynmouth

Emily Ridd, 54, Lynton

Geoffrey Robinson, 11, Manchester

Harold Shaw, 14, Manchester

Edwin Smith, 50, Lynmouth

Alys Thorne, 46, Woking

Roger Thorne, 14, Woking

Maud Watts, 72, Lynmouth

William Watts, 80, Lynmouth

One female body was unidentified. The following four people remained missing - believed drowned:

Stella Bates, 40, Lynmouth

David Bowen, 11, Lynton

Elizabeth Cannon, 75, Lynmouth

Jessie Whitbread, 48, Lynmouth

Today, 65 years on, we will remember them.