Earthquakes in Britain tend to be underwhelming events. A tremor in Lincolnshire in 2008 was described as ‘you know that noise radiators sometimes make’. In 2014 a quake centred on Leicestershire was reported as sounding like ‘the cat had fallen off the wardrobe’. Given that since the mid-1500s only eleven people have died as a result of earthquakes in Britain, it is perhaps unsurprisingly that earthquakes are met with sardonic humour rather than abject terror.
It is a little known fact that Britain’s largest ever recorded earthquake made landfall at Filey. The quake was centred on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and occurred in the early hours of Sunday 7 June 1931. People from Aberdeen to Jersey were awoken by the earthquake which measured 6.1 on the Richter scale.
At Beverley, Bridlington and Hull chimney’s collapsed into the streets and at Flamborough Head part of the famous chalk cliffs fell into the sea. Boulders were reported to have fallen from Castle Hill, Scarborough, but without any ill-effect. Across the East Riding of Yorkshire sounds were reported that were variously described as being akin to heavy traffic, thunder, rushing water, wind in trees, groaning and metallic. Perhaps the most bizarre incident occurred in London where at Madam Tussauds the head of the waxwork of the murderer Dr. Crippen fell off.
At Filey the water in a well was reported to be eight feet higher than before the earthquake. This was attributed to the fact that the well lay only a few yards from the northern geological fault of the Vale of Pickering. Perhaps the most dramatic event was the twisting of the Filey Methodist Church spire. However, it was soon rectified by some metal strapping.
Several vessels in the North Sea reported unusual occurrences. The navigator of a merchant ship reported hearing a sound similar to a gun being fired at distance, followed by a confused series of underwater explosions, again at some distance from the vessel. About fifteen to twenty minutes after the noises, a heavy swell developed in a sea that had been previously flat calm. Another ship, some seventy to eighty miles off Scarborough, experienced similar conditions.
It is thought that the earthquake was caused by movement in salt deposits beneath the North Sea. Measurements received from across Europe allowed the British Geological Survey to conclude that the earthquake’s epicentre was just to the south of the Outer Silver Pit fishing grounds on the Dogger Bank, roughly sixty miles off Filey.
Perhaps the events of that less than dramatic night should be marked with a blue plaque? ‘Near this spot in 1931 a sound akin to a cat falling off a wardrobe was heard’. Or perhaps not? Sleep tight everyone.