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

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

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

PIC­TURES: GLAM­OR­GAN AR­CHIVES

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