Disasters are common on the River Severn, as it is one of the most dangerous rivers in the United Kingdom, especially the Severn Estuary.

Many lives have been lost as man endeavours to work and live alongside the longest river in Britain. With the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world life can be difficult when manoeuvring a ship of any size in the estuary.


  • 1607 The Estuary of the Severn was devastated by a flood. Long considered as a storm, recent investigations point to a possible tidal wave or tsunami[1].


  • 1 February 1868, A goods train fell into the flooded Severn whilst crossing a wooden bridge at Caersws. The driver and fireman were killed.


  • 4 August 1919, on this Bank Holiday Monday pleasure boats were taking people on trips between Gloucester and Stourport. One boat, the May Queen, came down river passing the Hampstall Ferry, (located between Stourport and Holt Fleet), at quite a speed. The ferryboat lurched and all 17 passengers were tipped into the Severn. Some said the ferry was overloaded. That day 9 people were drowned.
  • 4 February 1939, the First Severn Bridge Disaster: Three tanker barges overturned in the estuary off Sharpness. They were taken with the tide into the piers of the Severn Railway Bridge. Of the eight man crew, six men were killed
  • 3 April 1947, a British ship, the 1,580 ton Stancliffe, went aground off Sharpness loaded with 3,000 tons of timber. Local shipyard engineer, Ivor Langford, managed to cut the vessel in two and sail both parts down to Cardiff Docks. There the two halves were joined together and the ship sailed agin under the new name of Gripfast.[2]
  • 23 March 1951, a large 4,845 ton Egyptian registered ship Ramses II was bound for Sharpness loaded with 7,000 maize from Russia when she ran aground on Lydney Sands. Unable to float her off her cargo had to be unloaded out in the estuary into smaller craft. Eventually she became a total loss and occasionally the wreck can be seen above the mud at low water.
  • 25 October 1960, the Second Severn Bridge Disaster: Two loaded tanker barges, the Arkendale H and the Wastdale H were off Sharpness when they came together in thick fog. The tide took them into a pier of the Severn Railway Bridge and two spans came crashing down onto the barges. There was an explosion and of the eight man crew, five were killed.
  • 16 February 1961, the Loss of the BP Explorer: The BP Explorer was loaded and bound for Sharpness from Swansea. As the loaded tanker barge made her way up the Severn Estuary she suddenly turned over. It was not until the following day that the tanker barge was seen bouncing her way, upside down, through the wrecked Severn Railway Bridge. Her crew of five men were killed. The BP Explorer was salvaged and rebuilt as the BP Driver, but on the 31 January 1962 she was driven aground at The Nash, but fortunately her crew were saved.
  • 19 November 1961,during construction of the Severn Bridge 3 men fell into the Severn Estuary. The alarm was raised and a rescue boat crewed by 2 men set sail from Chepstow. Unknown to the crew of the rescue boat the 3 men had been picked up safely by the last crossing of the day of one of the Aust to Beachley ferry boats, the Severn Princess. Two tanker barges were coming down empty from Sharpness, the Wyesdale H and the Wharfedale H, tied together and both being steered from the Wyesdale H. With no navigation lights on the rescue launch could not be seen and suddenly both empty tanker barges collided with the launch. One man was saved, but the other crew member of the rescue launch was drowned.
  • 4 September 1990,three men were working in one of the gantries attached to the M48 Severn Bridge carrying out routine maintenance work. Suddenly with a loud bang the gantry gave way plunging the 3 men into the Severn. 19yr old painter, Mark Seaton, survived the 150ft drop, but Brian Phelps (44) and Eric Sullivan (46) were killed.

See alsoEdit


  • Chris Witts, "Disasters on the Severn" Published by Tempus Publishing Ltd 2002 ISBN 0 7524 2383 5
  1. Bryant, Edward A.; Haslett, Simon K. (PDF). Was the AD 1607 Coastal Flooding Event in The Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel (UK) Due to a Tsunami?. School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia / Quaternary Research Unit, Dept. of Geography, Bath Spa University College, Bath, UK. 
  2. Stinchcombe Spirit (Stinchcombe Parish Council) (Issue 16): p11. PDF copy. 

External links Edit

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