Houses collapsed, sheep ran wild, Westminster Abbey shook and the people trembled in fear of armageddon.
On February 8th 1750 London was shaken by the first of several earthquakes to hit the city that year. They weren't massive, around 2.6 on the Richter scale, but noticeable by all in the capital. The epicentre was believed to be round about Tower Bridge and had the great and the good leaving their houses to enquire as to what had happened.
Almost exactly a month later on March 8th came a second quake more intense than the first and covering a 40 mile radius and centred about 3 miles north of London Bridge. Horace Walpole a man of letters and an MP reported that,
'On a sudden I felt my bolster lift up my head; I thought that someone was getting from under my bed, but soon found that it was a strong earthquake, that lasted near half a minute, with a violent vibration and great roaring. I rang my bell; my servant came in, frightened out of his senses: in an instant we heard all of the windows in the neighbourhood flung up. I got up and found people running into the streets, but saw no mischief done: there has been some; two old houses flung down, several chimneys, and much china-ware.'
Isn't it great to have the actual words from approaching 450 years ago available to read. The reactions of the people were fascinating with some women making earthquake gowns, that is warm gowns in which they could sit outside all night. There was so much worry that 730 coaches were observed leaving the city via Hyde Park, with whole parties removing into the country. Of course there were people who endeavoured to make capital from the panic ranging from a trooper spreading fear who ended up being incarcerated in Bedlam and also religious preachers.
Charles Wesley, a founder member of the Methodist movement, bluntly sermonised,
'God is himself the Author, and sin is the moral cause.'
However, it was the Bishop of London, Thomas Sherlock, that attracted the most attention. He wrote a letter that sold 10 000 copies in two days, it was then reprinted several times and sold 100 000 copies in total. He predicted the fall of London at the hand of God. Naturally it didn't and the capital lapsed into a sheepish silence on the subject.
Eventually the scientific community became more fervent about the phenomenon and it was a rather flawed paper by a Cambridge astronomer John Michell, who had observed the London quakes as well as the Lisbon quake of 1755. He analysed eyewitness reports and concluded that earthquakes were caused by 'waves set up by shifting masses of rock miles below the surface'.
The fact is the world would not have known of these things if they had been written down. Even erroneous information can lead to eventual truths.