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 feet long appeared into which houses and cattle sank, after a violent shock and a loud explosion. “Later investigators have wondered whether the event might have been a landslip,” wrote Haining.

In fact, Gentleman’s Magazine gives the location as Arnside, not Ormside, on the 6 March rather than 27 February. As a general rule, any report of a British earthquake swallowing up houses and cattle is usually a red flag that something fishy is in the air, and this is no exception. There is a nice contemporary account from the Newcastle Chronicle on 13 March 1790 (p2), which despite a disparity in date and location, is clearly describing the same event.

Some of the morning papers mention an earthquake having happened near Milthrop, in Westmoreland, on the 25th ult. which swallowed up six houses and some cattle – The inhabitants of that neighbourhood find, however, some difficulty in swallowing the story.

In other words, a fairly typical hoax event.

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