30th December 1671

Castle Cornet is struck by lightning

Castle Cornet was the official residence of the Governor of Guernsey until 1671 (some sources say 1672) but a freak bolt of lightning put an end to that practice when it struck and destroyed the castle’s keep.

Lord Hatton, who was Governor at the time, was lucky to escape with his life as the strike also destroyed several living quarters and killed Hatton’s wife, mother and several members of his staff. The Governor himself is said to have been blown out of the castle, still in his bed, and lodged on one of the high outer walls. In total, seven lives were lost and the keep (or Great Donjon, as it was known), Great Hall and chapel were entirely destroyed. Castle Cornet’s keep has never been rebuilt.

As a result of the loss of life, the Court announced that the following Wednesday would be observed as a day of island-wide fasting during which all inhabitants would be required to attend church to ask for mercy. Anyone who disobeyed would be punished.

Ready to blow

If it seems remarkable that lightning could cause such damage to a stone tower, it should be remembered that the keep was also used to store gunpowder, which was ignited by the charge. A single bolt of lightning can contain up to one billion volts of electricity.

The exact wording of the Court’s ordnance on the matter is solemn in the extreme:

…by the instrumentality of Divine Providence and during the night of Sunday 30th December last, the Powder Magazines situate[d] in the great tower of Castle Cornet were ignited by a terrible lightning flash from heaven; through which the tower was wrecked, the exploded portions also totally wrecking all the buildings and out-houses erected on the Castle… considering the extent of the loss experienced the inhabitants have arrived at the conclusion that God’s wrath is much incensed against them owing to the[ir] iniquities…

The position of Governor of Guernsey was abolished in 1835 following the death of Sir William Keppel the previous year.


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Other events that occured in December

French fishing boats prepare to invade 1st
Two cargo ships collide on their way to Guernsey 2nd
Guernseyman Herbert Le Patourel wrongly thought killed 3rd
A Guernsey funeral takes place in Cornwall 4th
Guernsey steamship SS Rossgull is wrecked 5th
The Guernsey Tapestry is completed 6th
Air UK Fokker overshoots Guernsey runway 7th
Naftel’s paintings go on display 8th
Guernsey and Jersey newspapers agree to merge 9th
Sark holds its first election 10th
Beau Sejour opens for business 11th
Victor Hugo flees France and Napoleon 12th
Explorer Edmund Kennedy is speared to death 13th
Author Mary Ann Shaffer is born
Herm bribery case comes to court 14th
Alderney’s evacuees return to their island 15th
Guillaume de Beauvoir appointed dean of English Church in Geneva 16th
Castle Cornet surrenders to Guernsey 17th
Telex, phones and telegram cables go quiet 18th
Guernsey shipwreck results in starvation 19th
Channel Islands Securities Exchange founded 20th
G-COBO has a bumpy flight 21st
Guernsey struck by an earthquake 22nd
William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou 23rd
Wombles author Liza Beresford dies 24th
Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour 25th
Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms 26th
The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation 27th
Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands 28th
Ebenezer Le Page author GB Edwards dies 29th
Castle Cornet is struck by lightning 30th
Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest 31st