Monday, 28 March 2016

Blizzard Hits Bedfordshire

Bedford Embankment after the blizzard

Tuesday 28th March 1916: This afternoon Bedfordshire has been hit by the worst blizzard since the great snowstorms of 1881 and 1899. Train, telegraph, and telephone communications have been cut off, and substantial damage has been done by the gales which accompanied the blizzard. The snow began on Monday evening and continued overnight, but was slushy and was soon cleared by rain during Tuesday. The first indication that exceptional weather was on the way came when telegraph and telephone wires were down further north and southbound trains arrived several hours late – one train from Glasgow scheduled to arrive at Luton at 7 a.m. did not appear until 4 p.m.  According to the driver: “I have never seen a blizzard like it in thirty years’ experience. I took over the train at Trent, and from there to Bedford the blizzard was at its worst – a fierce, blinding blizzard; nothing could stand against it. Telegraph poles were blown down in all directions. At one place I counted thirteen poles down in succession. In some places even the strong double poles had collapsed. In other places the wires broke with the weight of snow. Once we had to stop to get the engine clear of fallen wire. At Wigston we had to wait five hours. Telegraph poles had fallen on a goods train and blocked the line. The snow was about two feet deep there. When the line was cleared we went on again, but with the wires down the train at times had to crawl and stop to find out from signalmen what trains were on the line."

The line from Northampton through Leighton Buzzard to Tring was also badly hit. A driver said “I went dead slow through all this mess, and it’s well I did so, for the frozen snow on the line was so hard that the engine bumped along just as though she might have been an old cart travelling along a badly cobbled road. From Northampton right as far as Tring we did the crawl act. Not a wire was standing. It was dangerous to look out, and me and my mate had to be pretty nippy when we did put our heads out in case the broken wires should tear our eyes out. We stopped at every signal box, and I got orders to carry on my train ‘on my own,’ to take no risks, and to feel my way every inch. With the wires down and a lot of the signal boxes out of gear it was a pretty anxious job, I can tell you. All along the home stretch platelayers were out working like slaves at clearing the line, and the last few hours of the journey seemed to me to be a ‘stop’ at every hundred yards or so.” The high wind caused drifting, and by 6.30pm the Luton-Dunstable-Leighton line was blocked, with a goods train and a passenger train both snowed in at Blow’s Downs; the passengers were obliged to walk the five miles back to Dunstable Church Street station through the snow.  

Sources: Luton News 30th March 1916

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