While parts of the world live in understandable fear of earthquakes, the UK does not. Seismic activity in Britain is rarely strong enough to knock even a picture off the wall, so no one is on alert for “the big one”.
This might help explain why Britons react with such shock and good humour when earthquakes do strike, as they did on Teesside on Thursday morning when a 3.0 magnitude quake hit a suburb of Stockton-on-Tees.
We should not be quite so surprised. According to the British Geological Survey, about 20 earthquakes which are strong enough to feel occur each year in the UK.
Market Rasen, February 2008
The biggest earthquake to hit in the UK in the past 36 years was a 5.2 magnitude quake in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire in 2008.
The worst damage reported was a collapsed chimney and a cross falling off the church. But the imagination of a resident, Adrian Campbell, ran wild. “We went to see a film last week about a giant lizard loose in New York, and I honestly started to wonder if something like that had come for us,” he told the Guardian at the time.
The quake prompted some other vivid descriptions. Kirstie Silson, who was 16 at the time, said: “You know that noise radiators sometimes make? Well, ours was making it, but it was shaking and dust was flying off it as well.”
Rutland, April 2014
Similar domestic imagery was used to explain what it felt like to experience a 3.5 magnitude aftershock in Rutland in April 2014. “It really rattled the doors of my shower!” said Dave Stevens from Oakham.
Kent, May 2015
Just over a year later a 3am quake measuring 4.3 sparked some surreal dreams in Kent.
“Either a giant just bounced on my roof, or I just felt a little earthquake,” tweeted a musician, Jake West, from Canterbury. He added: “It was very odd. It felt like there was someone very heavy who was stomping down the stairs.”
Swansea, February 2018
A 4.4 magnitude earthquake in south Wales briefly stopped a Welsh League football match between Port Talbot and Taff’s Well.
After the delay Port Talbot went on to win 2-1. “Were your opponents quaking in their boots?” asked one commenter on the club’s Facebook page.
Grimsby, June 2018
A 3.9-magnitude earthquake in June 2018 made Grimsby the focus of shocking jokes such as this one:
Somerset, December 2019
Last month’s 3.2 magnitude tremor in Somerset made the windows shake in Taunton, Siobhan Pestano from Langport said: “It briefly felt like somebody had dropped a bit of Stonehenge on the house.”
Another Somerset resident said: “My ears were ringing. Smaller objects in the house were moving. Our wifi cut out and the dog was going crazy. Absolutely amazing.”
Stockton-on-Tees, January 2020
The 3.0 Teesside tremor occurred a day after Jessie Jacobs launched her campaign to become Tees Valley’s Labour metro mayor. “I said I wanted to come into politics to shake things up,” she joked.