Publication Details

This article was originally published as Haslett, SK and Bryant, EA, The AD 1607 coastal flood in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary: Historical records from Devon and Cornwall (UK), Archaeology in the Severn Estuary, 15, 2004, 81-89.


The 1607 coastal flood was a high magnitude event that may have been the result of either a storm surge or a tsunami wave(s). Contemporary accounts describe the impacts of the surge/wave at Appledore and Barnstaple in North Devon, and a 19'x' century comment exists for Hayle in. Cornwall. An examination restricted to these local accounts reveals that the surge altitude or tsunami run-up at Appledore, at the estuary mouth, exceeded 8.5 in OD (a surge/wave height in excess of 3.28 in, possibly lip to c. 7-8 in), and at Barnstaple, about 12 km up-estuary it reached 7.53 in OD (a surge/wave height of 1.83 in). Damage included houses 'overthrown and sunk' at Appledore and a number destroyed at Barnstaple where there are three named fatalities. Also, a 60 ton ship was transported inland by the wave at Appledore. Most of the contemporary accounts mention strong winds, supporting a storm origin for the flood; however, an unpublished model requires hurricane winds of 128.7 kmh (80 mph) to reconstruct the observed flooding. Such winds alone would result in widespread damage and casualties, inland as well as at the coast, but there is no mention of either in any historical document that we have seen, indeed, contradictory accounts from the Severn Estuary state the day was `most fayrely and brightly spred'. The ambiguity of the regional meteorological conditions, the lack of documentary evidence for hurricane winds, and the nature of the damage inflicted do not allow us to reject the tsunami hypothesis for the origin of the 1607 flood.