'Sea is a powerful beast - people are right to be worried' - remembering disaster 68 years ago that cost 42 lives

Waves crashed on to the sea defences, sending a spray of mist over the copper hues of the sunrise along the horizon.

The dramatic scene on the beach at Ingoldmells this morning was caused by the natural wonder of the gravitational pull, which creates larger-than-normal tides called spring tides.

Flood gates were closed up from Fantasy Island and the caravan parks, but dog walkers out early to catch the sunrise before breakfast had no idea of the significance.

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On January 31st, 68 years ago the coast was just hours away from what has been described as the worst natural disaster in modern British history.

The sea crashing against the defeces at Ingoldmells on January 31, 2021 - 68 years after the spring tide breached the defences, causing loss of life and businesses.

Forty-two people north of Skegness died in the Great Flood of 1953 when the combination of a high tide and gale force winds brought the sea crashing through defences in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea.

Since then the 'powerful beast' which is the North Sea offers a constant reminder that we remain under threat and should be 'mindful of the risks.'.

Driven by the coincidence of the dates of the high tide in 2021 matching those of 1953, flood warden Malcolm Gabbitas has been keeping a keen eye on the forecast for weeks..

The Environment Agency has also been urging people to sign up for flood warnings because, in spite of the millions of pounds invested every year on replenishing eroded sand, the coast remains at the mercy of the elements and the pull of the sun and moon.

42 people died along the Lincolnshire in the 1953 floods, including 14 in Mablethorpe.

"Recently we've been getting south-westerly winds and although has swung round gusting strongly, it's been nothing to worry about," Malcokm reassured.

"But with it being the start of the equinox we are not out of deep water yet. We have neap tides until March now and if a depression comes in we could be at risk of flooding.

"What happened in 1953 should have been a once in 200 years threat but we are at greater risk than that.

"In 1978 a storm surge topped the defences flooding the length of Lumley Road.

Skegness seafront in 1953 after the sea breached the defences.

"In 2013 another reached the Clock Tower and destroyed the kiosks.

"Then in 2017 the army was brought in to evacuate residents when big spring tides threatened to bring flooding.

"On that occasion the tide only reached the flood gates but it is a constant reminder that the coast remains at threat."

The October 2020 high tides showed the power of the sea when it stripped tonnes of sand away from beaches and left trails of concrete boulders from old defences and rubbish in its wake.

Breaches in the sea wall in Mablethorpe in January 1953.

Just days after the beach replenishment was finished, deep gullies formed at Winthorpe and the EA were back moving tonnes of sand around.

Depressions forecast before Christmas saw the flood gates along the coast closed and businesses with kiosks on the foreshore preparing for the worst by putting up boarding.

The kiosk businesses have left the boarding up - just in case.

"Sea is a very powerful beast," warned Deborah Campbell, the Environment Agency's Flood Risk Manager for the coast.

"People are right to be worried but defences are bigger and stronger.

"There is evidence of more risk in the winter but this is what we plan for.

A high tide in October left a trail of rubbish in its wake.

"We monitor the coast regularly to protect the 20,000 houses. 25,000 static caravans, 1,700 businesses and 35,000 hectares of land along the coast.

"In addition to the £7million beach replenishment scheme, .which sees 400,000 cubic metres of sand being put back on the beach, we are looking at the sea defences put in after the 1953 floods to see what work needs doing there..

"Going forward a new strategy for defences, including installation of groynes, will see a further £1/2billion investment. This has been approved, however it doesn't come with the money.

"In the meantime we are prepared but we ask the public to be prepared too and sign up for flood warnings."

Covid-19 and the closure of caravan parks hoping for an extension of the holiday season lifted some of the EA's concern for the safely of people in the area.

"We were totally against this. There is evidence of rising sea levels and 2017 showed there is still a huge amount of risk," said Deborah. "if the coast flooded there is nowhere for the people staying in caravans to go.

"We support safe tourism but ask, when visitors return they have a plan should the worst happen."

The Environment Agency says it does not set out to scare people but asks they are mindful of the risks.

"Should there be a flooding risk we work alongside the emergency services and the Local Resilience Forum, but people need to have a plan," said Deborah.

*Sign up for flood warnings at https://www.gov.uk/sign-up-for-flood-warnings or call the Flood Warning number on 03459889188.

Flood alerts and warnings are also available at https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/warnings


The floods that occurred on the night of January 31, 1953, has been recorded as the worst natural disaster in modern British history.

A tidal surge caused the North Sea to rise up to five metres above its average level, which led to widespread flooding along the east coast of Britain.

Franklin Whaler of Anderby was in the Royal Navy when he returned home on that fateful night only to be faced by the worse peace-time disaster the east coast of Britain had seen.

“My sister managed to get out of the front door and made for the bridge that was across the dyke on the front of the properties," he recalled.

“Unfortunately, she missed the bridge and fell in the dyke. She scrambled out to the pavement making her way up to my mother’s.

“It wasn’t until 2am that I knew she was safe.”

It was just after dusk that the first waves crashed through the sea defences in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea.

Within an hour virtually the whole town, including the high street, lay underwater.

Floodwater left devastation along a 34-mile stretch of coast

The Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea and Skegness areas were the most seriously affected parts of the east coast and 42 people lost their lives.

Skegness escaped loss of life but among those who died were 14 in Mablethorpe and three in Ingoldmells. There were also lives lost in Anderby Creek.

Tonnes of sand had to be moved to replace what was eroded in Winthorpe in October.
Tides in October left gullies and debris at Winthorpe.