On 20 January 1606/7 an exceptional tidal flood caused widespread damage and loss of life around the low-lying coastal land of the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary. News pamphlets produced in London in the aftermath of the flood reported that between 500 and 2,000 people drowned, the loss of livestock was incalculable, and property and commodities were ruined. The flood still reverberates in the affected communities, but how much do we really know about the event, and did the pamphleteers convey the situation accurately?
Most of the flood's current historiography relies on cheap newsprint accounts written by an industry which existed to sell stories. My research examines a wide variety of contemporary manuscript records including those relating to sea defence and land drainage (under the jurisdiction of courts of sewers), manorial courts and burial registers. It studies local reaction to the flooding which was often quite different to that portrayed by the pamphleteers.
The cause of the tidal inundation has been debated by scientists without a thorough examination of contemporary manuscript sources. My thesis challenges their findings and argues that scientists researching historic floods should collaborate with historians in order to understand the extent of available documentary evidence, and to ensure that such records are interpreted rigorously.
My edited transcription of the records of the Gloucestershire Court of Sewers 1583-1642 will be published by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society as part of their Gloucestershire Record Series in September 2020.
I am currently compiling The DITCHionary, a glossary of archaic and contemporary terms connected with land drainage and flood defence on the Gloucestershire, Gwent and Somerset Levels. Please contact me if you are interested in this project.
Interpreting local records in detail enables a better understanding of what it was like to experience the event first hand, and the story of those living in Goldcliff, Monmouthshire, is told through my new book, The day the sea came in: 1607 on the Gwent Levels. (See http://gloucestershirehousehistories.co.uk/publications/.)