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Remembering the earthquake that shook the West Midlands in 2002

By Heather Large | Features | Published:

It was the biggest earthquake to hit Britain for more than a decade.

Adrian Durkin examines a brick which fell from Dudley Castle during the earthquake on the night of September 22, 2002

During the early hours of September 23, 2002, thousands of people woke in terror as 20 seconds of tremors rocked the Midlands.

Families fled into the streets as chimneys were shaken loose, glass shattered and walls cracked.

The epicentre of the quake, which had a force of 5.0 on the Richter scale, was at the junction of High Arcal Road and Himley Road in Himley.

But the impact was felt across the Black Country, South Staffordshire, Shropshire and even as far away as North Yorkshire, London, and Wiltshire.

A seismograph shows earth tremors in Dudley on September 22

West Midlands Police reported about 5,000 calls in the space of an hour after the quake, accompanied by a loud rumbling. Fire alarms were set off and people turned up at police stations in their nightclothes to ask what had happened.

One woman was in the process of giving birth to a baby boy at Walsall Manor Hospital just as the quake hit.

Catherine Mortimer, of Achiles Close, Great Wyrley, was in the last stages of labour when the tremor started rattling the maternity unit.

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Her sister Helen Steadman, aged 35, of Shelfield, said: “The earthquake happened just as the little boy’s head appeared. They thought it was a bomb had gone off.

“But she just carried on and Max William was born. I don’t think my sister will ever forget it.”

Streets in darkness

Describing the moment the earthquake struck, Oldbury resident Richard Flynn said: “The house started shaking quite violently at about 1am. All the power was cut off and seemed to be so for about a five-mile radius.

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“The shaking and trembling was really quite severe. Quite a few people came out of their houses wondering what was going on. The streets were in darkness.”

Barmaid Gemma Clark is ready for tremors at the Crooked House - 500m from the epicentre of the earthquake

Duty officer Bill Rice, of West Midlands Ambulance Service, said he also felt the tremor from the control room in Dudley.

He said: “The building shook for about 30 seconds and all the alarms sounded.”

The tremors were also felt at the Crooked House, the pub famously left on a slant by subsidence more than 50 years ago.

Manager Sue Holloway said:”I was just about to get into bed and I heard a rumble and then all of a sudden there was a big bang that sounded like an explosion and the building shook from side to side.”

Castle damage

Dudley Castle was damaged during the earthquake, splitting the stonework and sending bricks tumbling from the ruins.

Stones from the walls of the kitchen area, which dates back to the 16th century, fell to the ground.

Castle keeper Adrian Durkin told the Express & Star: “A brick arch in the castle kitchen chimney collapsed and a 12ft crack has appeared between two main walls.

Stan Stephens enjoys a pint of the beer named after him... and the Dudley earthquake

“As a safety precaution we asked a structural engineer to take a look at it.

“Routine inspections are carried out on the site daily, but obviously the close proximity of the epicentre meant the castle structure was shaken quite badly.

“However it has been standing for more than a thousand years and the building must have experienced similar tremors in its long history.”

All across the region people were woken by the tremor, some frightened that their ceilings were about to cave in.

Many thought that lorries had ploughed into the side of their homes or that there had been a gas main explosion in their street.

Glenn Ford of the British Geological Survey said: “It’s an extremely large earthquake in UK terms but not large in world terms. We’d only classify it as a light earthquake.”

He added that the tremor was the equivalent of an explosion of 1,000 tonnes of TNT or a small nuclear weapon.

In honour of the earthquake – as well as Stan Stephens, the chairman of the Dudley and South Staffordshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale – a special beer was brewed for that year’s annual winter ales fair.

Shaking Stephens was produced by the Church End Brewery from Nuneaton – and had a 5.1 per cent alcohol content to match the quake’s measurement on the Richter scale.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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