LANCASHIRE was given a rude awakening early today when an earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale shook large parts of the country.

Police received a number of calls from people concerned that they had intruders in their houses after the shaking caused furniture and ornaments to move.

And even though no structural damage was reported in the area, scores of nightshift workers felt the earth move at around 12.54am.

The British Geological Survey said the epicentre of the earthquake -- the largest to hit Britain for 10 years -- was "right under the city of Birmingham."

But people as far apart as south and west Wales, Northamptonshire, south Yorkshire and Oxfordshire felt the tremors which shook homes, broke windows and set off alarms at around 12.54am.

Inspector Stuart Coates, Lancashire police incident manager, said: "We have taken around 10 calls regarding this earthquake from across the county.

"Calls mainly related to people fearing they had intruders in their property but there was a pretty small number of calls."

Police in East Lancashire received a calls from the Longridge area reporting earthquake-type tremors, and also in Clitheroe and Accrington reporting suspected intruders in homes.

Bill Richardson, security officer at Lancashire Evening Telegraph, said: "I was outside the building in the car park when I felt the vibrations around 1am.

"It felt strange, like something had been dropped on a flexible floor or a suspension bridge.

"It was just a matter of seconds and I didn't think anything of it until I heard it on the radio and thought 'blimey' when other people were talking about it."

Glenn Ford, of the British Geological Survey (BGS), said: "It's an extremely large earthquake in UK terms but not large in world terms. We'd only classify it as a light earthquake.

"This would have been right under the city of Birmingham itself and we've already had reports of the fire brigade being called out to fallen chimneys."

The earthquake would have lasted for at least 10-15 seconds, he said.

The BGS only registered one tremor, though some members of the public reported feeling two separate tremors.

Mr Ford added: "This will have been felt by the whole of Wales and England."

Though large for the UK, the tremor does not compare with the earthquakes that hit Japan, India or South America which can reach seven on the Richter scale -- equivalent to 32 million tonnes of TNT or the largest thermonuclear weapon.