Disaster: The Axmouth flood of 1960

PUBLISHED: 14:44 17 November 2009 | UPDATED: 00:34 16 June 2010

The big clean up.

The big clean up.

Copyright Archant Ltd

The worst disaster to hit East Devon in living memory came at about 2am on the morning of October 1, 1960. On this night, three inches of rain cascaded down and, within minutes, the centuries-old village of Axmouth, laying hard on the River Axe

The worst disaster to hit East Devon in living memory came at about 2am on the morning of October 1, 1960. On this night, three inches of rain cascaded down and, within minutes, the centuries-old village of Axmouth, laying hard on the River Axe, was swimming in water.

Heavy rain fell in the catchment area of the small stream which runs down the centre of the village. The force of the water carried trees and boulders, which built up to form a dam, behind which a small lake formed. When the dam burst, a tidal wave of floodwater shot down the valley. The flood hit Axmouth in the small hours, but had it come at 2pm, cars and people would have been swept away.

Seaton police sergeant Donald Cowling received an SOS call at 3am and, with PC George Rudd, he drove to Axmouth. Sergeant Cowling told reporters later that:

As we got near the village, the road just disappeared under water. We waded up the street, which was like a river, and then an absolute torrent swept down and we had to cling to the church railings. The road was like a roaring river and dustbins and rocks were being thrown all over the place.

Following the flood, help came from the Fire Brigade and the WVS, and parties of boys from Axmouth and Seaton went round asking people if they could help clear up the mess. 'I shall never run down teenagers again', said an elderly Axmouth woman, 'they have done a wonderful job.'

The stream had not flooded for the previous 100 years and, with luck, it may be 100 years or more before it floods again. If similar rainfall conditions occur again, however, who knows?


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