The landslip near Hawkley
Even after more than 200 years the signs of the landslip that occurred here in 1774 are still visible. Gilbert White, the famous naturalist, described what happened: “The months of January and February, in the year 1774, were remarkable for great melting snows and vast gluts of rain; so that by the end of the latter month the land-springs began to prevail, and to be near as high as in the memorable winter of 1764.
“The beginning of March also went on in the same tenor; when, in the night between the 8th and 9th of that month, a considerable part of the great woody hanger at Hawkley was torn from its place, and fell down, leaving a high free-stone cliff naked and bare, and resembling the steep side of a chalk-pit.
“It appears that this huge fragment, being perhaps sapped and undermined by waters, foundered, and was ingulfed, going down in a perpendicular direction; for a gate which stood in the field, on the top of the hill, after sinking with its posts for thirty or forty feet, remained in so true and upright a position as to open and shut with great exactness, just as in its first situation. Several oaks also are still standing, and in a state of vegetation, after taking the same desperate leap.
“That great part of this prodigious mass was absorbed in some gulf below, is plain also from the inclining ground at the bottom of the hill, which is free and unencumbered; but would have been buried in heaps of rubbish had the fragment parted and fallen forward.
“About a hundred yards from the foot of this hanging coppice stood a cottage by the side of a lane, and two hundred yards lower, on the other side of the lane, was a farm-house, in which lived a labourer and his family; and, just by, a stout new barn. The cottage was inhabited by an old woman and her son, and his wife. These people in the evening, which was very dark and tempestuous, observed that the brick floors of their kitchens began to heave and part; and that the walls seemed to open, and the roofs to crack. The miserable inhabitants, not daring to go to bed, remained in the utmost solicitude and confusion, expecting every moment to be buried under the ruins of their shattered edifices.
“When daylight came they found that a deep rift had opened under their houses, and torn them in two, and that one end of the barn had suffered in a similar manner; and that a pond near the cottage had undergone a strange reverse, becoming deep at the shallow end and vice-versa.”