‘Feeling of horror as I surveyed the scene’: Memories of working to clear Newmarket’s roads of trees felled by the Great Storm of 1987

From the archive...Robert Fellowes with James Waugh and his team at the scene of devastation on Newmarkets Bury Road following the hurricane which hit Britain on October 15, 1987.
From the archive...Robert Fellowes with James Waugh and his team at the scene of devastation on Newmarkets Bury Road following the hurricane which hit Britain on October 15, 1987.

As the Great Storm battered the country 30 years ago, like the rest of the country Newmarket suffered a huge amount of damage with 5,000 homes left without power, thousands of trees uprooted, homes damaged and roads blocked.

Contractor James Waugh contacted the Journal with his memories of the night of October 15, 1987, and his part in the clear-up operation.

“On going to bed the night before I noticed how low our barometer was,” said Mr Waugh. “I was woken up in the early hours by the sound of the wind. At about 4am I could see from my bedroom window the whole horizon lit up by blue flashes from what was clearly the result of falling electricity wires.”

By 6am James’s phone started to ring, with callers asking for his company’s help with clearing fallen trees and debris. Staff and machinery were dispatched to try to get the town moving again.

At noon, Mr Waugh was alerted to serious tree damage in Bury Road.

“I immediately went up to assess the problem and had a feeling of horror as I surveyed the scene and tried to decide the best way to clear the appalling mess that confronted us,” he said.

“The trees, some 80ft tall, were lying across the road from hedge to hedge, blocking all traffic access.

“There were other trees that could have fallen at any time.

“There followed a short meeting with the late Robert Fellowes, then the Jockey Club’s Agent.

“Sometime before the storm there had been discussions about what needed to be done to the Bury Belt – but at the latest meeting following the storm, we came to the conclusion that fate had decided for us.

“A programme of work was decided upon and a handshake sealed the deal.

“Three weeks of hard work followed in order to clear the road while diversions were put in place.

“The tangled mess had to be torn apart and sorted into saleable portions.

“Some 60,000 cubic feet of first grade timber were sent by road, two or three lorryloads a day, for furniture making.

“Many hundreds of tons more of lower grade wood went for processing into chipboard. Twenty-three wagons in all were dispatched one week-end from Thetford Station.

“Many tons of firewood were also carted to Southfields Farm ready for sale locally. The whole site had to be levelled and made ready for re-planting.

“I wish to place on record that the foresight and vision of Mr Fellowes and the stewards of the Jockey Club and, more importantly, the hard work and dedication of my loyal staff and my family, helped to give us all what Newmarket and many of the surrounding woodlands have today.”