The Great Flood, 1607

…the sea being very tempestuously moved by the winds overflowed its ordinary banks and did drown 26 parishes adjoining the coast side in the aforesaid county of Monmouth.

Many who were rich in the morning were beggars before noon…
— Quote from contemporary pamphlet

On 30th January 1607, sea walls either side of the Severn Estuary were overwhelmed by flood waters.

Much of the Gwent and Somerset Levels were inundated, killing about 2000 people and many animals. The floodwaters reached depths of 10 feet in some areas, and spread up to 14 miles inland. Several cities were effected, including Cardiff, Bristol and Gloucester.

The flood was probably caused by a combination of an unusually high spring tide, low atmospheric pressure, which caused sea levels to rise further, and a violent storm.

Details of the event are recorded in contemporary news pamphlets, called ‘chapbooks’. The pamphlets were often illustrated with dramatic pictures of the devastation.

Some accounts mention stormy weather, whereas others fail to mention the weather, suggesting that the flood occurred without warning. This has lead some historians to suggest that the flood may have been caused by a tsunami, but there is little evidence to back this theory.

This event is commemorated with plaques at several churches on the Levels showing the height of flood waters (about 5ft/1.5m above ground surface). The plaque at Goldcliff records that “In this Parish heare was lost 5000 and od pounds besides 22 people”. £5000 is equivalent to around £650,000 today. Due to a change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the memorials record the date as 20th January 1606.