Your memories of the 1981 Burnham-On-Sea storm readers have got in touch with their memories of the dramatic 1981 storm which left a trail of damage across the town and a repair bill along Somerset’s coastline stretching to a huge £6 million.

Here, we publish a selection of readers’ memories…

Iris Rowe: “I was living in Adam Street and saw the sea water rushing down the centre of the road to Oxford Street.”

“The High Street and Oxford Street soon became impassable and we were cut off, but fortunately the water did not back up far enough to flood our house. The telephone soon failed and we were left with only Citizen Band (CB) radios with which to communicate.”

“Next day, numerous CB enthusiasts poured into the town and started filling sandbags. My son was amongst the group near the jetty where he helped to fill the enormous gap in the sea wall. At lunchtime, Arthur Duckett very kindly
organised and paid for his ‘crew’ to have lunch in the Queens Hotel. At Sea View Road CBer ‘Troubador’ spearheded another group of CBers into filling sandbags to fill the gaps in the sea wall at that end. Most of the CBers were personally unaffected by the flooding but they raced into town to help wherever they could. I can remember preparing many hundreds of sandwiches, at my own cost, for those working near Sea View Road.”


Tom Ashton: “In those days I worked at Lloyds bank’s Highbridge Branch. A customer called us to make an insurance claim following the storm after a dead cow had been deposited at the foot of his bed after coming through the first floor window of his home.”

“Separately, I had just constructed a greenhouse in my back garden at Coleridge Gardens and had lost a pain of glass worth £3 due to the storms. I was cursing my bad luck when my neighbour called to say he’d just seen a telegraph pole floating down the High Street.”


Ann Murray: “I was only three at the time of the floods but clearly remember my mother waking me up in a panic and telling me not to run downstairs – the entire ground floor of our Alstone Road house was flooded with dirty, stinking water. Our cat had to swim to the kitchen door and spent the next couple of weeks cowering under a bed.”

“I went into the front garden at one point (probably a very bad idea!) and saw my Uncle Keith wading down the road, dressed in full waterproofs and a sou’wester – a very frightening sight for a three year old! A lady opposite who wasn’t flooded made us a big pot full of stew and we had to eat it in the bedroom.”


“It was cold, of course, and everything was damp – very miserable! Our house was uninhabitable, and we had to move to my grandmothers in Balmoral Drive for some time, where I became terribly sick from the dirty water.”

“After the water subsided, we found that all the ground floor wiring was wrecked, the quarry tiles had lifted and there was a skin of sewage scum covering all our possessions. Everything had to be thrown away, which was very saddening for my parents.

“Even though I was so young I remember the flooding quite clearly. It may not have caused the devastation that we so regularly see on today’s TV news reports but it was certainly one of the worst things to happen in Burnham in living memory.”

Jacky Sealey: “I lived in Combwich at the time, and was Chairman of the Parish Council. High winds prevented the tide from coming in normally, then the wind suddenly changed direction, forcing a 4′ wall of water onto the coast. That water broke down the front doors and went out the back, taking everything that had been on floor level with it and totally submerging the ground floors of 12 homes in the village.”


“All the beer barrels went from the Anchor Inn and the heavy wooden settles in the bar were tossed around as if they were made of cardboard. It was three days before we could reach Steart and they were in a terrible state. All the sheep had been washed out to sea. The army moved in and helped for a few days – I remember phoning up the chip shop in West Street and ordering 39 lots of fish and chips to feed the army boys!”

“It was a time I would never like to repeat and utterly devastating for the victims. The Lions Club International were wonderful with a huge donation and I was able to pay for the space heaters I had hired at the onset! A few months later, I was invited to one of their events and presented with their Certificate of Appreciation – the first one ever awarded by the Bridgwater branch – although I think they deserve the appreciation for the wonderful work they do.”

Ricky Holmes: “We were living in Charlestone Road at the time, and I remember having to move the driftwood and seaweed from our front porch so we could get out. Luckily, it didn’t come into the house. We were some of the fortunate ones.”

Georgina Edwards: “We were in Bridgwater and the police closed the town bridge when the water had reached the top of the arch and was still rising. They told us that they had no idea what was happening and that high tide was over an hour before, but it was still rising rapidly.”

Phillip Vearncombe: “My brother and I were at the Ritz Social Club in Burnham on the night of the storm. At about 7.30pm, it was very quiet inside so I went outside, knowing it was very windy, and to my shock noticed a lot of water flowing down the road. I went back to tell my brother because his car was just around the corner. He had a look and we decided to go home because there was so much water coming down the street.”

“On our way home we had to make the decision on which way to go – either through the town centre or past the Ring O Bells pub. We decided to go down past the pub, which nearly cost him his car. The sea water there was rising very fast and was already very deep. He put his foot down hard on the throttle to keep the engine going – if it had stopped he could have lost the car. Not only that, but when we were going through the water all I could see was the water rising up to the top off the window ledge of the car door.”

Sue Newbery: “My mother-in-law lived at the the top of Grove House and I remember talking to her on the phone when she told us that the tide was coming down Grove Road, where it turned left onto Berrow Road, and then it turned right down Rectory Road!”

Alan Higgs: “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: “I remember the medical, fire and ambulance services during this time. 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.”

Mel Gosling was one of the Burnham Coastguards on duty on December 13th, 1981. “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 just 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. We briefly stood down at 3am when the storm began to subside but were out again at 6am to help deal with the aftermath. We were then on duty for a full 24 hours.”

Shaun Matthews: “I certainly remember that night – I went outside to put my recently bought Hillman Imp on the drive when I noticed something coming down the road in Maple Drive. I looked a bit closer and it was a small log floating with other rubbish. I quickly jumped in the car and got it on the drive and ran inside to tell my parents.”

“By the time we got back outside the water was lapping over the kerb and starting to run down the path as the house was lower than the pavement. We all then ran around the house trying to get everything movable upstairs and anything else on something higher. We then just wandered around the house watching the water get higher and higher up the patio windows until finally it came through the gaps and into the house. We then realised that there was nothing we could do but to sit upstairs and wait until morning.”

“Llistening to the radio, we knew that this was something extraordinary going on. We lost the washing machine – only six months old – cooker, fridge, freezer and a few other machines.”

The late Neville Jones recounted: “The sea flooded almost a quarter of a mile inland from Burnham, quickly running down the streets in the town. It was an extraordinary sight to see sea water in Berrow Road and Rectory Road.”

“The sea wall was punctured in several places and a lot of work was done to shore it up with sand bags. It was a night to be remembered.”

Photos from readers and the Environment Agency