All day on Friday, and for two or three days previously, the air had the appearance of being charged with electricity, and the weather-wise had prophesied that a thunderstorm was at hand, while on Thursday evening the display of lightning in the distance was grand, and thunder was heard growing away faintly.
Friday was a hot and sultry day, and in the afternoon electric clouds came boiling up from south west, the wind being in the east, and the first storm seemed to discharge itself to the west of us. But at about six o'clock dark and dismal looking clouds were seen to rise over the sea and rapidly fluting along the course of the Shoreham river, at a considerable height, told us that the wind had shifted, and that we might expect a storm.
In a few minutes the Southdowns were not visible, and a darkness equal to that caused by a total eclipse of the sum, spread over the town; the shoemakers and tailors being obliged to leave work or put on the gas while the incessant flashes of lightning, high in the air, seemed to illuminate the heavens.
Peal after peal of thunder rent the air, and a few drops of rain fell, and now was heard a rushing sound, and suddenly a terrible hurricane of wind swept along, bringing with it a tempest of hail and rain that soon made the streets resemble a river, while the vivid lighting played over us so rapidly, that it was impossible to distinguish the flashes, and for half an hour the roll of thunder was continuous and alarming, stroke succeeding stroke so rapidly, that there was not a break during the whole time, torrents of water tearing up the roads and finding its way into the houses, while hailstones as large as hazel nuts were picked up.
This lasted, as we have said, a full half hour, when the storm and hurricane passed away northward, the sun shone out again, and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the east, giving hopes of a fine evening. Most people say they never witnessed so terrific a storm before, and one gentleman, who for years sailed in the eastern seas, where hurricanes, tempests, and tornadoes are not uncommon, tells us that only once in his experience has he witnessed its like, and that on the coast of China.
It is said that 47 or 48 years since a similar storm passed over, on 30th June, in the neighborhood of Shipley, but then the thunder lasted from 5 to 6.30 in the morning without a check, and the wind was so strong as to blow over a waggon load of hay left the previous evening to be stacked in the morning, besides doing much other damage. It is to be hoped that the wind and hail has not materially injured the fruit bloom, but the fate of the apple trees is much feared. Luckily the electric clouds were high, and the effects of the lightning did not reach the surface of the earth, the fluid expending itself in the air.
Sussex Advertiser, 18 May 1867
Photo by author with some novel colour filtration.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.