On 20 January 1607 a “phenomenal flood tide” drowned hundreds of square miles along the River Severn below Gloucester. it included much of South Wales, Gloucestershire, Somerset and North Devon. Some churches still have marks to show how high the waters reached.
We now know this was a tsunami caused by an earthquake beneath the Irish Sea. About 500 people drowned, with many surviving by clinging to haystacks, trees and roofs. In Bristol the bridge partly damned the water so the castle and high streets remained mostly dry. But Redcliffe, Temple, St Thomas were under several feet of water. The quays and St Stephens were inundated. Flooded cellars caused huge losses.
The harvest that followed was, unsurprisingly, disastrous. Bristol’s first response was to conduct a census to ascertain how much corn would be needed each week to avert famine. They found 10,559 with more in the out parishes giving a total of approximately 12,000.
In April 1608 the council ordered at least 1,000 bushels of wheat, ie for well off to be bought at Milford Haven, Wales or wherever it could be got cheaply. The following week the council ordered £1,000 to be borrowed to buy corn from Holland. Several merchants guaranteed this loan. An order for £300 of wheat was sent to Ireland. Locals also helped the poor, probably via their parishes.
In the 12 months to July 1609 , 60 ships arrived from Danzig and other ports with the wonderful quantities of 38,600 bushels of wheat and barley, and 73,700 bushels of rye, the main food of the working class.
There is no record of the monarch belong any of the victims. In the autumn he increased the customs on wine arriving in the city. The plague returned in autumn 1609 and remained till following summer when it also raged in South Wales. The summer fair was held but plays banned.
In 1610 a great drought struck in the summer causing great hardships to the poor. Butter soared in price from 2 pence per pound to 6 pence and cheese from 2to 5 pence.
Bristol’s government was infamous for corruption and greed but they were committed to prevent starvation.