The day record-breaking hailstones fell on Horsham

Fifty-five years ago, on Thursday September 5, the largest hailstones ever recorded in Britain fell in Horsham, in a storm which wreaked havoc on a scale never seen in the town before or since.

The report in the West Sussex County Times in 1958.
The report in the West Sussex County Times in 1958.

The roof was ripped off Horsham Football Club, hundreds of houses had their roofs and windows smashed, and thousands of trees were torn from the ground, as hurricane force winds and rain lashed the district.

The record-breaking hailstone weighed 190g (6.7oz) and measured 6.35cm (2.5in) in diameter, heavier and larger than a cricket ball (although some reports say the actual weight was 142g - which is still a record).

The following Friday the County Times carried the headline: “STORM COST - IT’S HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS”

These were some of the hailstones that fell - however, much bigger ones were found and created the record that still stands in the UK.

And the paper ran a two page feature of the extraordinary scenes of carnage witnessed by Horsham residents.

This is an extract from the report:

It was a storm that will never be forgotten. The Friday evening tornado, which swept like a scythe across the Horsham area, reaping destruction in its path, was something which makes history, a story to tell grandchildren.

This awful and magnificent storm with its hurricane force wind, tropical rain, and hailstones two-and-a-half inches across smashed into homes and other buildings, uprooted and snapped hundreds of trees and turned the area into a battlefield.

A West Sussex County Times reporter, who was in Queen Street, at the time wrote:

“The storm hit as suddenly as a blow from an axe. Within a few minutes the air seemed to become a solid mass of rain, hailstones and crunching wind.

“I made for the protection of the buildings on the south side of the street and watched tree branches and debris being swept through the gaps between buildings.”

“What seemed to be a large sheet of paper was being carried along 60ft in the air. When it fell I saw it was a sheet of corrugated iron.

“I have seen all kinds of weather in various parts of the world, but I have never experienced anything like this.”

At the top of the Southwater hill the storm struck like a bomb, leaving in its path blitz-like destruction. A service garage was left with little more than its walls standing.

A petrol pump was thrown into the centre of the road, and the building’s roof whipped into the air, parts of it to be carried for a quarter of a mile. One half of the roof was flung across the road where it knocked over a brick letter box, another section dragged with it electricity wires.