My great grandfather saw 
sea defence cliff explosion

A comtemporary drawing of the event.
A comtemporary drawing of the event.

Urgent message from British Columbia, Canada!

Glenna Willett Metchette writes: I just received a copy of your article about the deliberate Seaford sea defence cliff explosion of 1850 which appeared in the paper on July 26.

My great grandfather the Rev. Frederic (Catt) Willett, grandson of William Catt of Tidemills, wrote in his diary about the explosion.

At the time he was 12-years-old. He says, ‘My grandfather was interested (in Seaford Head) on account of the coast by the Mill beach, and so was my father.I remember we went out in a boat and saw the explosion from the sea.

‘It was a failure - too much explosive broke the chalk into small fragments, which were soon washed away. William Catt of Tidemills paid for half the cost of the explosion.’

Readers interested in more should read a story written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) called Gunpowder and Chalk which appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Dickens wrote: ‘...It was three o’clock - the hour of doom for the chalk in the contest with gunpowder.A bugle sounded, and a movement of the sentries on the top of the rock was discerned by the thousands of eyes looking up from the beach.

‘Presently there was a low, subterranean murmur, accompanied by a trembling of the whole sea-beach -- sea and all; no burst of explosion; but the stupendous cliff was seen to crack, heave outward, and separate in many places half way down; the upper part then bowed itself forward, and almost at the same instant, the cliff seemed to bend out and break at one-third of the way from the base, till, like an old giant falling upon his knees, down it sank, pitching at the same time head foremost upon the beach with a tremendous, dull,-echo-less roar.A dense cloud of white dust and smoke instantly rose, and obscured the whole from sight....’