I've been a Greenkeeper and Groundsman all my working life, working outside in all weathers. But, for the fact that I witnessed the event and the damage caused, you could not believe the storm that we encountered at Hampton School last week.
The beginning of the week started well, hot weather and dry squares, enabling my staff and I to work quickly on our end of summer renovations. Apart from the squares still hired out or used for the Old Boys, we have the good fortune to get on the school squares after term finishes, allowing an excellent period of regeneration before the cooler autumn weather sets in. We had cut the grass short, scarified vigorously, removing all the arisings. Each square was aerated using the Wiedenmann 8mm tines and sarel spiked as well. Seed had been sown at 50gms per square metre and approximately four tonnes of loam spread, looted and levelled per square.
Within a few minutes, Hampton in Middlesex seemed to have been transported to a remote Caribbean Island, directly in the path of a Hurricane Charlie or the like. As the lightening came down and the rain became monsoonal, we had no choice but to run for cover and sit it out. The storm lasted for about forty minutes and it was clear to see that there was structural damage everywhere. Tree boughs lay on the ground, ripped from their trunks, the cricket nets had buckled and twisted and four or our sightscreens lay in bits.
My first priority was a reconnaissance around the school and grounds to make the site safe. We have lost eight trees in total and we have since made repairs to forty more to make them safe. There was a lot of tree debris to clear from pathways afterwards. We have some very mature Oak trees on site, and although I've done the immediate work myself, I will have to call in a specialist at a later stage to assess the health of these trees. The tree loss is of course priceless, but to put a rough figure on replacing sight screens, repairing practice nets and re-renovating the squares as well as the hire of a cherry picker to remove dangerous branches will probably reach £20k.
Unfortunately the squares will now have to wait to be re-renovated. We have ten days to get the winter pitches ready and we have a big football tournament coming up at the beginning of September. For the moment all the seed and loam that washed off the square has been dispersed across surrounding areas using grading bars, brushes and loots.
We have had it estimated by the Met Office that around 115mm (four and a half inches) of rain in that forty minutes. Certainly on that afternoon much of the near pitches were 225mm (nine inches) deep in water after the storm.
Since last Thursday my staff and I have had to work very hard to make good all the damage, but I would feel for any clubs that had been caught out as badly as we were.So much for the great British weather!