At 9.20 am on 22 April 1884 an earthquake struck the United Kingdom with the epicentre at Abberton which is a small village to the south east of Colchester on the north bank of the River Blackwater.

Previous  earthquakes had occurred in Essex at Saffron Walden in 1580 and Witham in 1692.

Peldon Rose after earthquake Damage to the Peldon Rose Public House which  was near the epicentre

The earthquake was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale and is considered to be the most severe recorded in the UK with shocks felt for a radius of 180 miles as far as Altringham in the North and Isle of Wight in the south.

The ground shook for between two and thirty seconds depending on the location and geology of the area.

A succeeding earth tremor took place on 24 June 1844 but caused no damage.

Between 12 and 1300 buildings were damaged including 20 churches and 11 chapels.

Most of the damage occurred  within an area of about 50 square miles centred on North East Essex.

The earthquake was probably due to movement along a fault in the ancient Paleozoic rocks under Essex, which would have affected the overlying cover of Cretaceous and Tertiary strata.

1884 earthquake damage map A map of damage caused by the earthquake

The effects on Eastern Essex 100 were quite dramatic where many houses and building suffered from minor damage and people throughout the District ran into the street from houses or building following the noise and tremors not realising what was happening.

The events were recorded in a diary kept by Rev John Mills who was the Rector of St Lawrence.

April 22 1884

" About 9.20am on Tuesday April 22, a very severe earthquake took place in this district. It lasted only a very few seconds, but it wrecked many buildings, Churches, etc at Wyvenhoe, Colchester, Langenhoe and Peldon , even Bradwell suffered severely and Tillingham somewhat.

The shock was felt very distinctly in this parish, and the houses, the church and school, etc were rocked and twisted to and fro, but by God's mercy no harm was done, except that a few tiles were shaken from Motts Farm.

People on horseback and in carriages did not generally feel it"

Local newspapers recorded the effects of the earthquake on local people. Some of the reported events are listed below.


Mr John Rogers at Stokes Hall reported that his clock stopped with the pendulum stuck at a strange angle
Asheldham Tremors felt but no damage reported
Bradwell on Sea About 40 Chimney Stacks were damaged. At Weymarks farm only one chimney remained on the three farmhouses and the farmhouse was badly damaged. The Church tower was shaken with the roof partly untiled and a chimney stack fell from the Rectory. Several windows were broken at East hall. 180 Children at the village school panicked and ran into the street.
Burnham on Crouch Rumbling noise heard, pictures swung on their hooks. Turbulence on the River Crouch frightened local fishermen so much that they refused to go back onto the River for several days.
Dengie Shock felts pictures on walls moved
Latchingdon 2 clocks stopped at 0920 at the home of Mrs E A Fitch
Mayland Shock felt
River Blackwater

Stansgate Coastguard's were on patrol in the River Blackwater when the quake struck. The crew rowed back to base as the leader was convinced that a torpedo had exploded amongst shipping nearby.

Waves in the River Blackwater were of sufficient strength to force two Thames barges backwards against their sails.

St Lawrence Tiles shaken from the roof of Motts Farm

Rev Berkeley in vicarage felt the floor move and saw his dining room wall sway. He then heard two of the church bells ring of their own accord. A later examination of the vicarage showed that 3 chimney stacks were badly damaged and needed to be replaced.

William Page in Southminster Hall saw his gaselier swing, his dining room clock stopped and he noticed that the water in his moat was very agitated.


The villagers reported tremors and them complained of strange vapours. About 6 chimneys knocked down.

Southminster Hall Moat  pictured in 1916


Neighbouring Maldon suffered with the weights falling from the moot hall clock greatly alarming Head Constable Wombwell and PC Parrot who had rushed from the Police Station in Moot Hall following the tremors. On a lighter note at Maldon it is recorded that a pet cockatoo suffered from the tremors by falling from its perch! 

A national relief fund was started that was to provide over 9,000 for repairs to houses damaged by the earthquake.

Bradwell on Sea was the main beneficiary in Eastern Essex with the Church and 27 other buildings receiving financial help with the repairs.

Thus Eastern Essex survived a brush with the worst earthquake in the country's history.