1: The Lynmouth flood disaster of 1952

Key Question: How effective has flood management been since 1952 and what are the potential future implications of climate change?

"As we watched, we saw a row of cottages near the river, in the flashes of lightning because it was dark by this time, fold up like a pack of cards and swept out with the river with the agonising screams of some of the local inhabitants who I knew very well."

Ken Oxenham, a Lynmouth resident, reported by BBC News August 16th 1952

The disaster which occurred in and around the town of Lynmouth on the night of August 15th-16th 1952 remains, after 60 years, the worst river flood experienced in the UK.  Over 100 buildings were destroyed and the final death toll reached 34. 

flood clear up Through four ancillary questions in this line of enquiry you will be able to access and evaluate a wide range of secondary data that will enable you to reach judgements about the causes and consequences of the flood together with the effectiveness of the approach that was taken in its aftermath to manage the river and to try to ensure that an event such as this will never happen again.  This line of enquiry also asks you to consider what the potential impact of climate change could be for the river and its drainage basin during the remainder of the century.

Investigation 1: What were the causes of the flood?

Weather Map 1952 

Like so many natural disasters the Lynmouth flood was not caused by a single factor or event.  A wide range of things occurred during the previous two weeks and during the night of August 15th – 16th 1952 which combined to cause the tragedy. 

Consolidate your thinking

Access each of the following sources of information and begin to compile a mind map or spider diagram to first identify all of the factors that contributed to causing the flood and then to make links between them:

    Having completed your mind map or spider diagram using the secondary data above, read through the information in the separate table: Factors which contributed to causing the Lynmouth flood.  Using a copy of this table:

    • Tick the information in the boxes which you have already identified;
    • Underline the information in the boxes which you have yet to consider;
    • Now divide all of the factors in the boxes into physical and human causes – shade the boxes containing information about physical factors red and those containing information about human causes blue;
    • In the right hand column write a few notes explaining the effect that you feel each factor might have had in either causing the flood or making its impact worse;
    • From the list try to identify your ‘top three’  factors which you consider to be the most important when it comes to explaining how serious the flood was.  Discuss your choice with those of others in the group.  Did everyone make the same choice?  Why is it so difficult to pin point just one or two factors?

Got to Investigation 2: What were the consequences of the flood?