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Video: New archive films released to mark 60th anniversary of the East Coast Floods of 1953

12:18 30 January 2013

Stills from Bernard Bothams films of Gorleston andYarmouth after the 1953 floods. Beach Road pre-fabs

Stills from Bernard Bothams films of Gorleston andYarmouth after the 1953 floods. Beach Road pre-fabs

East Anglian Film Archive

FIVE new archive films showing the devastaion caused by the great floods of 1953 have been released ahead of the 60th anniversary this weekend.

Freak weather conditions caused a sea surge overnight on January 13, 1953, causing the worst natural disaster in northern Europe for over two centuries.

The ensuing wreaked havoc along the East Anglian coastline, took 41 lives here and more than 300 in total, and devastated homes and communities, as we have been discovering through a series of features this week.

The carnage caused in Aldeburgh, Orford, Gorleston, Hunstanton and Canvey Island, and the subsequent clean up operation, can be seen in the archive footage that has been released by Norwich HEART’s Digital Heritage Project .

The films are free to view and can be seen at www.archivealive.org and here we have two showing the scenes in Gorleston. See our Floods of 1953 page for footage from Essex.

Each of the films were made by local amateur film makers and 60 years on are a fascinating record of how the floods affected and devastated our region. The storm surge that struck the east coast of England during the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 caused the worst natural disaster in northern Europe for over two centuries.

Amateur film maker Bernard Bothams shot the footage from Gorleston the day after the storm as the tide receded.

It shows men in waders trying to salvage what they could from the old prefab homes at Pier Plain in Gorleston. Small boats toured the streets to rescue any stranded inhabitants.

Mr Bothams was showing films at the Boys Brigade Hall in Yarmouth on the night of the floods. Unable to get home, he remained in Yarmouth for the night and filmed over the next few days, as the water subsided.

The disaster received national news coverage and the plight of so many families living in wet, water-damaged home resulted in some extraordinary acts of generosity. Sack loads of coal, a gift from Lancashire, arrived to enable people to dry out their houses. The film shows coal men delivering the sacks and grateful householders waving as the lorries departed.

A second piece shot by Mr Bothams entitled The Recovery shows part of the clean up operation and attempts to salvage furniture and flooring are put outside and mattresses are hung over the prefab fences to dry them out. The RAF used hot air blowers with pipes leading indoors, to speed up the process.

Great Yarmouth beach was hit hard and we can see groups of men trying to clear the wreckage from the beach. The early shots are south of the Wellington Pier and the film then moves along the beach, closer to the Britannia Pier. Quantities of sand had been washed up on the seafront, burying the lawns and partially filling the open air swimming pool.

A crew of servicemen, vehicles and volunteers can be seen on Marine Parade, working with sandbags. Outside Yarmouth Town Hall a large gang of helpers are seen shovelling up wooden road blocks that had been lifted by the flood. This film is a record of how ordinary people tried to rebuild their homes and all that was left of their possessions.

A Mr Whitwell filmed the scenes in Aldeburgh and Orford and the footage shows the resolute determination and spirit of local volunteers to help stem the flow and repair the damage done to our sea defences.

The Alde and Ore estuary was badly affected and the sea and river walls breached flooding homes and acres of land. Local employer Mr Whitwell filmed a scene on the banks reminiscent of the 1st World War trenches as people rallied to fill sacks with mud to build makeshift sea defences.

At Canvey Island, the flood waters hit at about midnight, as people slept. Many of the homes were wooden chalets and beach huts, designed as temporary, summer accommodation but due to the post-war housing shortage in London, many were occupied all year round at that time.

Less able to offer solid protection against a storm and sea surge of such magnitude, the homes were washed away with residents trapped inside. As a result, 59 people lost their lives at Canvey Island.

Film maker Mr Bates, of the Essex Education Committee, picked up his camera to show the tremendous force of the water, even on the following day, as torrents of sea water engulfed homes and the Canvey Island Secondary Modern School. The film shows rescuers knocking on doors and helping carry people and pets to safety whilst convoys of buses ferry people to dry land.

Jane Jarvis, HEART’s Digital Heritage Project Manager said: “These films are unique moving image records of an event which must have touched thousands of lives in the east of England 60 years ago. The incredible scenes were caught on camera by amateur filmmakers who with good local knowledge, were able to get up close. You can really appreciate the force of the water and the devastation the floods caused.”

Video published with kind permission of HEART’s Digital Heritage Project. Visit www.archivealive.org for more video footage..

1 comment

  • When the nuclear power experts next tell us that a Fukishima could never happen at Sizewell, it might be worth pointing them in the direction of this footage.

    Report this comment

    Ted Maul

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