Britain's worst earthquakes

Last week, there was an earthquake in the Bristol Channel that was felt across the West Country and South Wales.

Published: February 21st, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Last week, there was an earthquake in the Bristol Channel that was felt across the West Country and South Wales.


Although we get hundreds of earthquakes a year in Britain, only a small percentage of them are noticeable by the population, and even fewer cause any serious damage or injury.

There have however, been a handful of deadly and dangerous quakes over the centuries.

Dogger Bank, 6.1 on the Richter Scale, June 1931

This was the strongest earth quake ever recorded in Britain. Thankfully its epicentre was out in the North Sea. Sadly, in Hull, one person died of a heart attack, caused by the quake.

Canterbury, Kent, 5.8, May 1382

There were no recorded fatalities in this quake, but it is the second strongest we’ve had. Canterbury cathedral’s bell tower was severally damaged and the six bells shook down according to reports from the time. The tremors were felt in London. Three days later there was an aftershock of 5.0 which in itself is one of the more powerful recorded on the British mainland.

Straits of Dover, English Channel, 5.8, April 1580

This rumble caused a land-slide along the Dover cost which exposed more of the white chalk cliffs. It was also the first case of a recorded fatalities as a result of an earthquake, killing two children in London who were crushed by falling debris.

Llyn Peninsula, Wales, 5.4, July 1984

This was felt across Ireland and western Great Britain. It produced hundreds of aftershocks and became the largest onshore earthquake since recording began and caused widespread chimney damage as far afield as the city of Liverpool.

Derby, 5.3, February 1957

Almost all of central England felt this one. Until 1984 it was the largest post-war earthquake to hit the country. It ended up being one of the most destructive shakes Britain has ever seen. There was much damage to masonary and roofs, one boy suffered a fractured skull when struck by falling building materials. the quake was felt as far away as Hartlepool, Pwllheli in Wales, Norwich and Topsham, near Exeter. Derby was also the epicenter of the first earthquake to be examined by the British Geological Survey in 1683.

Colchester, 4.6, April 1884

This was the most damaging earthquake since 1580. It became known as the Great English Earthquake. There were at least two fatalities reported, with some claiming between 3 and 5 people lost their lives. Tremors were felt in France and Belgium and around 1,250 buildings were damaged.

Hereford, 5.2, December 1896

Hereford has suffered three earthquakes, from 1853 to 1896, each time gathering in strength. The second, in 1863, was felt as far away as Kent where it was noted by Charles Dickens. To this day, the 1896 earthquake is the strongest recorded onshore tremor in England.

Argyll, 5.2, November 1880

This was the largest Scottish earthquake recorded in Scotland. Unsurprising when it is Scotland’s western side that bears the brunt of all the movement of the Eurasian tectonic plate out in the Atlantic. In fact, the Eastern side of Scotland is almost earthquake free.

Carlisle, 4.7, December 1979

Striking on Boxing Day, this far-reaching quake caused damage over 100km away in Glasgow.


Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, 5.2, February 2008

This was big news back in 2008 and was the first British earthquake of any note to be captured on mobile phones and digital cameras, with videos popping up on YouTube shortly afterwards. It was felt as far afield as Holland, Ireland and Aberdeen. In Barnsley it caused the ceiling of a boy’s bedroom to collapse, breaking his pelvis when it landed.



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