THE DAY A TORNADO HIT THE VALLEYS
If you think we’ve seen some wild weather in Wales in 2018, spare a thought for those living here in 1913 when a tornado ripped through the valleys of South Wales, claiming lives and leaving homes in ruins. KATIE GUPWELL tells the story
IT’S hard to imagine such a spectacle ravaging through the Valleys – some would say it would be impossible. But more than 100 years ago a tornado swept through Wales and caused chaos to many people’s lives.
October 1913 specifically proved to be a challenging month for the community of South Wales.
October 14 saw 439 men lose their lives at Universal Colliery in Senghenydd.
Around two weeks later, a tornado arrived in the Taff Valley and further devastated Welsh communities.
The shocking incident happened on Monday, October 27, 1913.
The weather system started out in south west England and built momentum as is travelled through Devon and Somerset and as it headed over the Bristol Channel.
Then, the tornado journeyed north up the Taff Valley, destroying places such as Treforest, Pontypridd, Cilfynydd, Abercynon, Edwardsville and Bedlinog in its path.
According to records collected by the Glamorgan Archives, the beast was about 300 yards wide and was accompanied by lightning and torrential rain.
It brought winds as powerful as 160mph.
Many pictures of the aftermath show roofs torn from houses and buildings left in ruins. But, more devastatingly, lives were lost.
Records from the Glamorgan Archives show a local football player died in the chaos.
A. Woolford, of Ton Pentre Football Club, had been playing for Treharris when he was swept up by the wind. Following the match, he started to head back to the station and was hurled against a wall. Tragically, he later died of his injuries.
The body of a collier was also discovered at a field close to Abercynon. It’s believed Thomas Llewellyn Harries was transported a fair distance by the sheer power of the wind before losing his life.
Other victims suffered injuries as they sat in their homes, watching the walls and ceilings cave in around them.
This is the picture painted by most of the photographs that still exist from that day. Some show images of Howell Street in Cilfynydd where roofs were blown off. The event also left much-loved community buildings, including schools, in pieces.
Log books held at the Glamorgan Archives reveal many schools in the area were damaged and some were even closed in Cilfynydd to enable essential repairs to take place.
On October 29, the headteacher of Cilfynydd Infants School recorded: “A severe storm caused much damage in the school buildings and it is impossible to have school.”
This was followed by a note logged on November 17 which read: “School was reopened after 14 days closed.
“Damage caused was so severe that the school buildings could not be repaired in so short time as was at first expected.”
Two classrooms also flooded at Treforest Board School and, in other parts of the Valleys, some children were left homeless.
This was documented in the log book for Abertaf Infants in Abercynon.
Records noted by the headteacher show attendance dropped on October 28 “owing to the tornado.”
The log read: “Several of the children were rendered homeless.”
While the scale of the disaster may be hard to imagine, shocking photographs from the time show just how severely the Valleys suffered as a consequence.
According to Dean Powell’s book on Cilfynydd, the cost of repairs required throughout the Taff Vale area ran to £40,000 – an awful lot of money in those days.
Images show houses without roofs and damage caused to properties in Cilfynydd and Abercynon.
The vestry of Calvary English Baptist Chapel was also severely damaged after being struck by lightning.
Reports in old national newspapers recount tales of entire streets lying in ruin. That’s echoed by notes logged in the minute book of Pontypridd Urban District Council.
The book highlights just how much damage was caused to council-owned buildings during the tornado.
It refers to destruction at schools in Cilfynydd, the gas manager’s house, the gas works building and
the electricity generating station.
According to the records, Cilfynydd Fire Station was found in “complete demolition” following the ordeal where “certain of the fire appliances had been blown away and could not be found.”
But in terms of jaw-dropping tales, it was the headmaster of Treharris Boys School that really gave a shocking account of the event that many will look back on in amazement.
B.P.Evans was known as a teacher to many, but he was also a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.
In the records, he tells how the disaster destroyed his home, “Arfryn”, in Edwardsville.
The school log book doesn’t indicate any sign of the tornado around the date of the incident, but what follows is much more interesting. A note logged on January 5, 1915, reads: “The master absent in afternoon, subpoenaed to London to give evidence re Tornado in Edwardsville, Oct 1913.”
His tale was published in A South Wales Tornado by Meurig Evans, published in Glamorgan Historian, Volume 11, 1975.
In his account, he says there was a vivid hissing noise that could be heard just before chaos erupted. It was so distinctive his family believed an express loco- motive was going to crash into the house, although he predicted the tornado itself only lasted about a minute or so.
Nevertheless, the house was left severely damaged and he describes remarkable sights, from the striking of red and blue lightning flashes, to how the incident left his house covered in debris and corrugated sheets.
After making its mark on the Valleys, the tornado continued its journey north and caused further damage to places such as Shropshire and Cheshire.
Later in 1915, an inquiry into the tornado was conducted by the Meteorological Office, and it was discovered that tornados with as much power as the one seen in 1913 are normally only seen in parts of America.
The event is so unusual and in many ways, mysterious, that it continues to baffle many people today.
Many thanks to the team at Glamorgan Archives who researched the events of the tornado for a blog post back in 2013.
42-43 Wood Street in Cilfynydd after being hit by the tornado
Roofs collapsed as a result of the tornado
This picture was taken near the police station Cilfynydd Road
Winds as powerful as 160mph were recorded when the tornado hit the Valleys
Residents in Richard Street, Cilfynydd, were also hit by the tornado