A tidal wave in 1929

Brighton beach east of Palace Pier c1930
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

At the end of July 1929 my mother and I were on holiday with my grand-parents in Hove. My mother was anxious to teach me to swim in the glorious warm weather so most days we would go to the beach. One morning my grandfather, a gentle man whom in his spare time did a lot of sea fishing, said in quite a stern voice, “Elsie don’t take that child to the beach today, there is something wrong.”

A fantastic sight
My mother who was a dutiful Edwardian daughter said, “Yes father,” and down to the beach we went! The sea was a fantastic sight about 2-3 feet deep as far as the eye could see. After managing just a few strokes my mother grabbed hold of my swimming costume and said “Quick, Vivie run.”

A huge wall of water
Our lovely ‘mill pond’ was receding at a rapid rate seaward, a quick look back showed me this high, huge wall of water racing towards us. The beach had not been crowded but I remember a man staggering up it with his wife in his arms. Then I don’t remember anymore until walking into my grandmother’s kitchen and her saying, “Elsie, get that child out of those wet clothes, I’ll light the fire and make her a hot cup of cocoa.”

Fear stays with you
I am now 90 and know the fear stays with you all your life. I subsequently became quite a good swimmer and diver, but the fear standing at the edge of a swimming pool or by the sea momentarily paralyses me. Even getting into the shower I have to tell myself I will be safe.

Comments about this page

  • I remember my mother, Peggy (was Woodard) telling me that she and her sister Enid were at the beach when their uncle, Billie Mason, suddenly grabbed one under each arm and ran with them from the sea. She said there was a huge wave. Both she and her sister became strong swimmers.

    By Pat Salmon (01/10/2011)
  • I am 90 years old in June, but I remember the tidal wave vividly. We were warned, and we did race up the beach as it got darker and darker. Boats overturned. There were screams. We used to swim by the peace monument. We lived in Hove from 1923 to the war years.

    By Sylvia Brooks nee Padgett (07/01/2013)
  • This was a Tsunami. The plate shifting obviously continued. Almost exactly four months later on Nov 18/29 at around 5pm seismic tremors occurred in Newfoundland. About two hours later a 15ft Tsunami hit the Bruin peninsula killing 27 people, mostly women and children, affecting 10000 people. Houses were ripped off their foundations and carried into the water. Livelihoods were lost and stores of food ruined. The stories were very sad and some miraculous. 

    By Anna (15/08/2015)
  • Hi Anna. I understand that the tidal wave that hit Brighton in 1929 was a meteotsunami (or squall line). To the observer on the coast, it would look like a regular tsunami which is seismic in origin. However, a meteotsunami has it’s origins purely in the weather – air pressure disturbances, etc.   

    By Janet Beal (17/08/2015)

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