On the evening of 24th October 1923, Solihull was battered by a whirlwind (now believed to have been a tornado) that travelled a path from Sharman’s Cross to Elmdon Heath, and killed a man sheltering in a barn. Lasting only three or four minutes, reports of the whirlwind, also described as a cyclone in some articles, appeared in newspapers across the country.
The gale was preceded by a thunder and hailstorm (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25th October 1923) and the onset of the storm was marked “by a roaring and screeching sound” (Westminster Gazette, 26th October 1923).
Eyewitnesses told newspapers that the air took on a grey tinge, and “the gale, resembling a whirlwind, made a noise as if several express trains were travelling abreast.” (Coventry Herald, 26th October 1923).
The wind was first noticed high up above the tree tops in Shirley. The tornado first struck at Sharmans Cross and travelled a path to Elmdon Heath across Streetsbrook Road, Ashleigh Road, Lode Lane and Damson Lane before apparently blowing itself out.
The track of the whirlwind was about fifty yards wide, in which trees were uprooted, telegraph wires blown down, and cottage roofs and chimneys demolished. A hayrick was carried from a field into the road, and a waterproof sheet, lifted from a horse’s back by the wind, was caught in telegraph wires, where it flapped like a sail.
A high wall bounding the grounds of The Hermitage in Lode Lane, Solihull was also demolished.
Roads became impassable and one motorist, held up by a fallen tree, found on turning back that another tree had fallen behind his car so that he could not go either way.
Patrick Murphy, a 42-year-old navvy, was killed when the force of the wind caused the collapse of a barn at Silhill Hall (pictured, top) in which he and two colleagues were sheltering. His two companions, named in newspapers as Pritchard and Clark, were badly injured when the roof of the barn was lifted into the air and then crashed down on the men. The three men had apparently been working on the new road from Ashleigh Road to Birmingham Road.
Silhill Hall was reportedly the oldest domestic building in Solihull, which was illegally demolished by the owner in March 1966.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian