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Colchester earthquake remembered by new plaque from Sir Bob Russell

PUBLISHED: 14:55 22 April 2019

The plaque was unveiled on Monday morning - 135 years to the minute from when the original spire came down. Pictured are: Louse Jensen, Deputy Manager of Lion Walk Shopping Centre; the Mayoress of Colchester Ann Chillingworth and the Mayor of Colchester Peter Chillingworth; the Rev Ken Forbes, Minister of Lion Walk United Reformed Church; and Sir Bob Russell, High Steward of Colchester. Picture: MARK RUSSELL

The plaque was unveiled on Monday morning - 135 years to the minute from when the original spire came down. Pictured are: Louse Jensen, Deputy Manager of Lion Walk Shopping Centre; the Mayoress of Colchester Ann Chillingworth and the Mayor of Colchester Peter Chillingworth; the Rev Ken Forbes, Minister of Lion Walk United Reformed Church; and Sir Bob Russell, High Steward of Colchester. Picture: MARK RUSSELL

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Colchester Mayor Peter Chillingworth has officially unveiled a plaque recording the town's claim to fame as the epicentre of Britain's most destructive earthquake in 1884.

The Colchester earthquake damaged Lion Walk Church. Picture; PATRICK DENNEY CollectionThe Colchester earthquake damaged Lion Walk Church. Picture; PATRICK DENNEY Collection

Mr Chillingworth unveiled the plaque at the precise minute when the quake occurred 135 years ago, at 9.18am.

The plaque was organised by Colchester's High Steward Sir Bob Russell in partnership with Lion Walk United Reformed Church. This location was chosen because it is the most visible building in Colchester which was damaged – the top of the spire crashed to the ground.

The plaque has been placed near the bottom of the Victorian church tower. A lament was said by the Minister of Lion Walk Church, the Rev Ken Forbes.

Sir Bob said: “I am grateful to Lion Walk Church for agreeing to allow the plaque to be fixed to the tower, and my further thanks are given to the owners of Lion Walk Shopping Centre who have generously paid for the plaque and will carry out the installation.”

The 1884 earthquake was not the first to involve Colchester. Records by the British Geological Survey show that this was the sixth, the first being in 1048. It was Britain's most destructive, although fortunately there were no fatalities.

Sir Bob said: “There is an urban myth that several people were killed, including a five-year-old girl whose demise was described in some detail in a book of fiction published in 1976. The author used real photographs of buildings damaged in the earthquake but wrote false accounts as to what had happened. Fake news, to use current jargon!”

The epicentre was at Wivenhoe, but such was the destruction across Colchester and North Essex it became nationally and internationally known as “The Colchester Earthquake”. Around 1,200 buildings were damaged.

Sir Bob said: “I feel that such an important event in Colchester's evolving history should be recognised, and there is no better place for the earthquake plaque to be displayed than on a building which was significantly damaged. The spire of Lion Walk Church was restored to its previous glory as a landmark in the centre of Colchester.”

This is the fourth green plaque that Sir Bob has organised.

His first is in Butt Road, on the wall of the car park to the Police Station, to mark where the first air raid on Colchester resulted on a bomb being dropped by the Germans in the First World War in 1915.

On the corner of Chapel Street and Southway there is a commemorative stone with a plaque in memory of those who were killed in 1942 during a bombing raid in the Second World War.

The other plaque is at what was the indoor riding school at the former Cavalry Barracks, now the Creffield Medical Centre, in honour of the Founder of the Boys Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, who in 1888 was stationed there while a Captain in the 13th Hussars.

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