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George Pulman ran a local newspaper which served the Axmouth area of Devon and part of Dorset, the neighbouring county. He wrote this account of the incident:


"The famous Landslip which occurred on Christmas Day, 1839, created immense interest throughout the district. People flocked to see it for months, and it is still one of the most attractive features of the locality. 


A fortnight prior to the final catastrophe, the inhabitants of some cottages on the Dowlands undercliff noticed a slight settlement of the undercliff from the upper land, and on the 23rd December William Critchard, one of the cottagers, noticed that his front door was opened and shut with difficulty, and that cracks were showing themselves in the plastering of the walls.


Christmas Eve was celebrated in old jovial style at Bindon Farm, with the burning of an ashen faggot and its accompanying merry-making, in which the labourers participated - Critchard and his wife included. They had locked up their cottage, leaving their children in bed, and remained at the farm till nearly one o'clock in the morning. Returning home, they discovered the path down the side of the cliff had sunk a foot. They went to bed, however, but were much alarmed during the night by the cracking of the walls. Getting up at five o'clock, great force was required to open the door, and large fissures were discovered in the garden. 


Critchard alarmed the other cottagers, the household goods were got out without delay, and at seven o'clock Critchard set out to inform his master, Mr. Chappell, of what was taking place. The path had by that time gone down from one foot to seven feet, up which Critchard had to climb. Meanwhile, those who remained at the cottages were horrified to witness the mysterious heavings and sinkings of their abodes, which they were only too happy to leave as soon as their master has assisted in removing themselves and their goods to a place of safety. 


All Christmas Day the movement proceeded. A rabbit-shooting party escaped with difficulty from being swallowed up in the numerous fissures which continually opened in their path. The climax was reached on Christmas night. The coast-guards on duty heard noises resembling the rending of cloth, felt the ground quake beneath their feet, and more than once found their legs in the fissures which surrounded them, and soon afterwards a large tract sunk into an immense cavern, pushing forward towards the sea the land immediately in front of it. Critchard's cottage was found to have gone down entire, but the other cottages were heaps of ruins."


The Axmouth landslip seen from the sea

A view from the sea of the Axmouth landslip. Above the boat can be seen the remains of an orchard and, to the right below this, the ruins of cottages.

Courtesy of Devon County Council


More from George Pulman:

"Soon after the landslip, an account of it was drawn up by Dr. Buckland* and the Rev. W. D. Coneybeare*, from which I make a few extracts:-"A great subsidence has taken place through the fields ranging above Bindon undercliff, forming a deep chasm, or rather ravine, extending nearly three quarters of a mile in length, with a depth of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet, and a breadth exceeding eighty yards. Between this and the former undercliff extends a long strip, exhibiting fragments of turnip fields and separated from the tract to which they once belonged by the deep intervening gulf, of which the bottom is constituted by fragments of the original surface thrown together in the wildest confusion of inclined terraces and columnar masses, intersected by deep fissures, so as to render the ground nearly impassable. The insulated strip of fields, also, which has been mentioned, is greatly rent and shattered. The whole of the tract which has been subjected to these violent disturbances must be estimated on the most moderate computation, as exceeding three quarters of a mile in length by four hundred feet"


*Eminent geologists of the period who happened to be in the area at the time and were on the scene very promptly. Dr Buckland, DD was a member of the Royal Society and this was the first landslip to be described in a thoroughly scientific way.


Axmouth's landslip sketched from Great Bindon in 1839

A view of the landslip from Great Bindon, looking westward made by Mary Buckland (wife of Dr Buckland mentioned above) on 30th.December 1839.


Courtesy of Devon County Council


For a specific technical explanation of the event, go to page 11 on


However, the complete article is of great interest to anyone interested in the Jurassic Coast

(as this area is now known.)


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