April 4, 1916 – Worst blizzard in 35 years brings district to its springtime knees

blizzard

A SPRING blizzard with snow drifts of up to six feet is the big news of the April 4, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The best part of a broadsheet page is dedicated to a comprehensive round up in a style much copied by news websites today with coverage and comment from every aspect of the disaster.

THE STATS

The Advertiser says the weather in the opening months of 1916 was ‘particularly severe’ and the first day of spring brought ten hours of continuous rain. The blizzard of last Monday and Tuesday was the worst since January 18-19 in 1881.

It was the wettest March on record since 1858 with 4.71 inches of rain recorded according the Meteorological Office.

THE DRAMA

Market Harborough was completely cut off with telegraph and telephone lines down, trains brought to a halt and roads completely blocked.

The Advertiser says ‘Market Harborough was isolated from the rest of the world as completely as General Townshend is isolated in Kut’.

Local motor dealer Mr Berridge attempted to take the weather-bound mail out in his car to Dingley but only got as far as the Sutton Bassett turn.

“He ran into an impassable drift and with progress backward or forward impossible, he left the car and accompanied by the postman, carried the mails back to Market Harborough in the teeth of the blizzard. The car, which was completely covered by the blizzard, had to be dug out the next day.”

Three women leaving for work at the Snowdrop Laundry in Wigston ‘had a very narrow escape from death’ when a large telephone post crashed to the ground only a few feet away as they crossed a road and a schoolboy was slightly injured on the foot and head by another falling tree nearby.

Motorist Mr Geoffrey Thwaites was trapped in his car on the Oxendon Road and had to be dug out having spent a night in the vehicle.

Elsewhere in the country three men died in separate incidents in London.

“A tree in the garden at a house in West Kensington was blown down on a van, pinning the driver in the debris. It took the united efforts of six men to lift the tree off the man, who was dead when his body was released.”

And a ganger clearing snow from the rails in the same area was killed. “Owing to the violence of the gale he failed to hear the approach of a train and before he could clear the rails he was knocked down and killed.”

THE LIVESTOCK

“Coming as the blizzard did in the lambing season, farmers experienced a very anxious time and reports to hand show that many of them have suffered very heavy losses, while others have been most fortunate in digging their flocks out without loss. In addition to sheep and lambs some have been so unlucky to lose horses and beasts.”

The Advertiser sums it by saying: “Agriculturists generally have experienced a very rough time this year, the continuous rain and snow have prevented their getting on the land and the blizzard, as one described it ‘put the lid on it’.”

THE TRAINS

“Those who were unfortunate enough to be travelling by rail on Monday or Tuesday had some experiences which they would not forget for many a long day, for the rate of travelling would not have done credit to the days when Stevenson first set the world agog with his railway engine.”

It took seven hours to get from Leicester to Market Harborough before the trains came to a complete standstill. Those travelling from Harborough to Kettering did not make their destination at all when the train broke down near Braybrooke and they had to sleep in the carriages overnight.

Kettering Station ‘was one of the worst sufferers of the storm’ according to the Advertiser. Seven trains became stuck in the station itself and another nine were backed up behind them. Mr Jones, the stationmaster, said: “We are in a mess, we are cut off from communication in all directions.”

THE RETAILERS

A big telegraph pole standing in Mr W H Stevens’ yard in High Street had ‘snapped in three pieces’ and damaged outbuildings; at the offices of Mr T C Rowlatt on The Square a chimney was brought down by the strain of wires and ‘it fell through the roof to the surprise of Mr Misterton who was on the premises at the time’; and the roof of the YMFS Institute ‘intercepted the fall of another pole and on every hand poles could be seen leaning at dangerous angles, with wires sagging from the them or hanging in broken strands’.

  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.
  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
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