^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page




Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings





Parish Records




War Memorials


Journalism has come a long way since the middle of the 18th century. In the absence of any pictures of the incident described, we can sense the writer's struggles to find  language in which to convey the drama of the event but it all falls a bit flat when you see that that occurred in June 1751 yet you are reading about it on January 9th 1752.

It was to be a long time before the citizens of South Molton could use their church again. The steeple, mentioned below, stood on top of the tower (107 feet high) but was never replaced. A complete restoration project was not started until 1825 when the widening of the aisles and  windows started.


South Molton Church rebuilt

South Molton's St Mary Magdalen church is today closely surrounded by the buildings of a busy market town so getting an idea of the exterior shape of  this beautiful church is not easy. Here it is just after its 19th century restoration. The steeple mentioned below stood on top of this tower,

Courtesy of Devon County Council.


On Thursday the 6th day of June 1751, about 3  in the afternoon (that day and some others before having been extremely hot and sultry, and the wind pretty strong in the south-east) a flash of lightning attended with an uncommon thunder clap, which immediately followed, or rather, accompanied it; fell upon the windows and walls of the church and steeple of South Molton in Devon, greatly damaging them .


The lightning seemed to divide itself into three parts, one of which struck on the east angle of the south-east buttress of the chancel, near the ground and made a large opening in the same: it likewise very much rent and shattered a large stone just above the aforesaid opening, as if done by the force of gun powder; it split another large stone adjoining and shivered the wall near its foundation, in a very odd manner.


Another part of the lightning took off a slice about 3 inches thick, of a very large angular stone on the west side of the same buttress, forced inwards a large stone window of the church and greatly shattered it (though it broke very little of the glass) in so much that it is thought it must be taken down and rebuilt: it then passed across the church and damaged the north side, entered a passage before the vicar's house, which was in a direct line of its course and beat a slab of the floor to pieces.


A person standing by the south window within the church, at the time the lightning happened, felt a blow across his foot, as if it had been taken off with an axe, and others near him had strikes in different parts of their bodies, the fireball (as they called it) passing between them.


Beside this ball of fire, they observed likewise another ball, to appearance, which (after damaging 3 or 4 more large stone window frames, and making breaches in divers places of those stone frames and fourth wall) rolled towards the west end of the church where it entered the belfry: it there broke a very large stone slab of the floor near the west door into several pieces, and threw a great part of the stone from its place, and stopped the church clock, which was near it; from thence it ascended the steeple, and divided the great iron rod or spindle of about 50 feet long (composed of several joint fixed into square sockets, and conveyed from the clock for turning the hand of a dial placed in the south front of the steeple) out of their respective sockets, which were much forced and rent; broke and twisted the iron wire of the chimes and clock from the belfry to the bell chamber (being about 80 feet high) in a most extraordinary manner; some of the wire being much burnt, and in sundry places, melted into little grains.


It then entered the bell chamber, threw a large bell off the brass it hung upon; forced the said brass out of the beam, broke off part of the gudgeon (the cylinder into which it was fitted) and shattered the said beam and frame of the bell: made several breaches in the east and west, but mostly south walls and quoins, split the arch of the south window which was over the said bell and drove out some large stones near it, It then passed out of the steeple about that place and struck off part of the arch on the outside, together with a large piece of the stone window frame adjoining, and then ascended about four feet higher (which was near the top of the steeple and beat off a large piece of an old carved Gothic stone head, without injuring the leaden pipe which came out of  its mouth.


Though many people happened to be in different parts of the church, yet providentially no one received any hurt. The belfry was so full of smoke, attended with a strong sulphurous smell that they which went thither immediately  after the accident, were almost suffocated; and they apprehended that some part of the church or steeple was on fire, and a watch was kept all night in the church for fear of what might happen.


NOTE: The lime and stone were in so many pieces so far affected with the lightning, as to be easily reduced into a powder, by the bare pressure of a finger.



^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page