A hoax from 1790

Sometimes enquiries come my way for the most obscure events. One recent example concerned a supposed earthquake at Ormside, Westmoreland. The source is the chronology of British earthquakes at the back of Peter Haining’s book “The Great English Earthquake” (published by Hale in 1976). Haining cites Gentleman’s Magazine and states that two fissures over 200 [...]


I gave a talk at the Festival of Science in Birmingham last week, largely reporting on the new Archive of Historical Earthquake Data (AHEAD) as a resource for studying past earthquakes. One of the relevances is that an earthquake that has occurred once (or twice) in the historical record can reasonably be expected to recur [...]

Shakespeare's earthquake

One of the original descriptions of effects experienced from the 6 April 1580 earthquake was written by Gabriel Harvey, who felt the earthquake in Saffron Walden. Harvey is perhaps more often cited today for what he wrote about Shakespeare, rather than for his own works. It’s likely that Shakespeare would have felt the earthquake himself, though there [...]

Wednesday in Easter Week

“On Wednesday in Easter Week …” is a common beginning of accounts of the earthquake of 6 April 1580 in the Dover Straits, that did much damage in SE England and NE France. This year, the 430th anniversary, Wednesday in Easter Week falls on 7th April, one day out.

It was certainly one of the largest [...]

The Earthquake Mass

The reference to earthquakes in the Easter story is responsible for most of the appearances of earthquakes in the musical repertoire. The office of Lauds for Easter includes an antiphon on the text “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from Heaven”.

The plainchant melody for this antiphon was [...]

Good Friday

“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent … Now when the centurion, and they that [...]

Tribal words for earthquake

In cases where the a study is being made of historical earthquakes in a low-seismicity and largely pre-literate area, one sometimes sees the argument made that the language of the local tribe has a word for earthquake, therefore they were familiar with the concept, therefore the area has been subject to earthquakes in the past.

Unfortunately, [...]