December 14, 2016
35 years ago this week: How the 1981 storm changed Burnham-On-Sea

It is exactly 35 years this week since Burnham-On-Sea suffered severe flooding and millions of pounds of damage during a major winter storm that led to major changes to the town's seafront.

The events of December 13th, 1981 are still clear in the memory of many residents - and today takes a special look back at some of the photos and stories from that week.

Widespread damage was caused to the seafront, as pictured here, while homes and streets in several parts of the town were flooded by an inundation of sea water caused by a huge high tide, a storm surge and flood water from melting snow coming down the Bristol Channel.

While luckily no-one was killed, the conditions caused damage valued at over £6million along Somerset's coastline.

The damage spurred on the Environment Agency to build Burnham's current sea defences at a cost of £7.5m, which were finally opened in 1988.

Mel Gosling was one of the Burnham-On-Sea Coastguards on duty that evening. He recounts how the storm unfolded: "It was a rainy, bitterly cold night. We were called out at 6pm when the forecasters confirmed the severe weather would be coming to Burnham."

"People were nervous about what was going to happen. We spent much of the evening moving sand bags into position and helping residents move out of basement flats along the seafront."

"Then, in the early hours when the storm hit, the waves rolled right over the sea wall and into the town. I'd never seen anything like it. The gratings along The Esplanade were thrown upwards by the force of the water under the sea wall - and parts of the wall itself were badly damaged."

Alan Higgs recalls: "At Cadwells Lane in West Huntspill, I remember opening the door of our home at around 9pm to collect my bike and looking over my shoulder to see a 'wall' of water headed towards me. I was completely awestruck by it and remember running quickly back inside. Within a few minutes, we had 4-5ft of water inside the house."

"I looked out of the windows in the morning to see water completely surrounding our house - it felt like we were in the middle of an ocean. The water had come inland so far here that it was almost up to The Orchard. We had to live upstairs for a whole fortnight afterwards, while the rooms downstairs dried out."

Jenny Golding added: "The Burnham District Nurses coped with people in flooded areas, while the Highbridge nurses covered out to Pawlett. I remember driving in my wellington boots down the central white line of the A38 at West Huntspill,with water on each side, in order to get to patients. The local council loaned out many heaters to help dry carpets."

Mayor Michael Clarke said this week: "The 1981 storm was an important moment for Burnham-On-Sea that led to a lot of change 35 years ago. The building of the new sea wall and improved flood defences created a much safer environment for the town ever since. We certainly hope we never see the likes of a storm like the 1981 one ever again."

Your memories of the 1981 storm in Burnham-On-Sea

This car was swept along the seafront on the South Esplanade by the 1981 storm

One of several seafront shelters that was left damaged by the 1981 storm

One car, parked outside a seafront property, was hurled into the front of the building, damaging a wall and windows.

Flooding hit homes in low-lying areas of Burnham-On-Sea and Brean, and the water travelled inland as far as Pawlett.

Council workers joined forces with local residents to fill up sand banks and shore up the gaps in Burnham's sea wall.

The emergency repair operation in Burnham on December 14th was one of the most extensive ever carried out by West Country local authorities.

A long line of lorries was used to quickly bring in stone from local quarries, along with sand, in order to try and shore up the seafront and prevent further damage.

While many people in Burnham suffered financial damage, they were drawn together by a strong community spirit by helping others at a time of need - here seen preparing sand bags.

Hundreds of sand bags were filled by volunteers along Burnham-On-Sea seafront in a successful attempt to prevent further flooding.

Wessex Water Authority estimated the total damage to the Somerset coastline had been £6 million - all of it caused by a sea surge like nothing seen before.

Caravans along the coast near Burnham were severely damaged by the wind and water.

The old shelter on the North Esplanade was surrounded by holes and sand bags

Residents in Maple Drive and Sycamore Close worked together in the flooded roads

This dome shelter on Burnham seafront was surrounded by debris

Cars and other debris were pushed along the streets by water and debris

The storm prompted new sea defences to be built in Burnham at a cost of £7.5m

The foundations of the new sea wall being put in place during the 1980s in Burnham-On-Sea

Contact us with your memories and photos of the storm
Photos of the 1981 storm in Burnham-On-Sea
Your memories of Burnham-On-Sea's 1981 storm


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