Hurricane Hackney: ‘How my picture of the 1987 Great Storm made the front page of the Gazette’

A photo of a car crushed by a tree during the storm. Picture: Gazette archive

A photo of a car crushed by a tree during the storm. Picture: Gazette archive - Credit: Archant

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987. Emma Bartholomew catches up with a former Gazette reporter, still chuffed his photo of the aftermath made it onto the front page that week

Trees down in Victoria Park following the storm in October 1987. Picture: Gazette archive

Trees down in Victoria Park following the storm in October 1987. Picture: Gazette archive - Credit: Archant

This week marks 30 years since a 100mph hurricane ripped through Hackney.

It uprooted trees that cut off power, caused gas leaks, blocked roads, smashed cars – and even destroyed a couple’s Victoria Park home and killed two of the park’s deer.

A crowd of frightened neighbours on a top floor at Lower Clapton’s Nightingale Estate were forced to take shelter at Hackney police station because the block was swaying in the wind.

Greater London was among the worst affected areas of the storm on the night of October 15 and 16, and the damage was all the more shocking because it had not been forecast. BBC weatherman Michael Fish is still getting flack for telling viewers “not to worry” as there wasn’t a storm on its way.

It was estimated 2,621 trees were blown down in Hackney alone, and a council spokesman said it was a “major catastrophe” that at least 200 century-old oaks, poplars, London Planes and Dutch Elms were wiped out in Victoria Park and Clissold Park.

Trainee reporter Martin Talbot, who had just started working at the Gazette, was as shocked as everyone else when he woke up that morning at his home in Brooke Road.

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“Unlike the recent hurricanes in America and storms in Ireland for which everyone was pre-warned, of course famously the weather forecast got it completely wrong, and nobody was prepared,” he said. “Everybody woke up in the morning, looked out of their windows and said: ‘Oh my goodness.’

“I went outside to find a huge tree spanning Rectory Road, from one side of Stoke Newington Common to the other. It was a pretty extraordinary sight and – like a good journalist – I took a picture and took it into the office.”

Martin's picture of a fallen tree in Rectory Road. Picture: Gazette archive

Martin's picture of a fallen tree in Rectory Road. Picture: Gazette archive - Credit: Archant

It wasn’t easy getting there, he remembers. Buses were halted because of the blocked roads, so he walked the two miles down to Kingsland Road where the Gazette office used to be, with the printing press in the basement.

Martin, who left in 1990 to work in the music industry, said: “Before I knew it, my picture had been selected for the front page in the issue covering the storm, which came out the following week.

“It was the first and only time I took a photograph for the paper – and I was pretty thrilled to find it used for the front page. I’m sure I’d had a front page story, but I hadn’t had a photo in the paper. I think probably now it’s a standard thing and reporters have to multi-skill more than we did then, but we didn’t have mobile phones. The paper was more unionised than it is now, and as a journalist you weren’t encouraged to take photos. It was a specialist skill.”

His colleague, photographer Chris Wood, told the Gazette he “still remembers the argument”.

“I said: ‘I’ve got much better pictures than that,’” he joked.

“It took me a while to get to work that day – I was photographing all the trees on my way into work.”

He added: “There were people out everywhere, looking and taking pictures. School kids. Chainsaws everywhere. It was a really crazy morning that made me feel really stupid for complaining there was a tree down at the bottom of the road when I woke up.”

The council feared it would be hit with a multi-million-pound repair bill, and estimated the overtime bill for council workers repairing shattered windows and crooked paving stones alone could come to a hefty £100,000.

More than 50 families from Northwold Road, Stoke Newington, were evacuated when an uprooted tree caused a serious gas leak and it was feared there could be a massive explosion. Other families were evacuated from two council blocks when high winds made scaffolding unsafe at Salem House on the Morningside Estate and Latimer House on the Wyke Estate.

A fallen tree even caused a violent row between motorists in which a teenage boy was coshed with an iron bar and his father was threatened with a knife.

Tempers flared after the victim had unintentionally cut up another driver after reversing his car into Amhurst Passage because an uprooted tree had blocked Cecelia Road, Dalston,

The angry driver of the other car got out and pulled a knife on the man, But he had chosen the wrong person because his 41-year-old victim was a trained martial arts expert who defended himself by delivering several kung fu kicks.

But during the fight his teenage son was clubbed with an iron bar by a passenger in the second vehicle and needed three stitches to a head wound.