Thursday, December 22, 2016
..dreaming of a White Christmas..
If you are dreaming of a White Christmas, spare a thought for the folk of 1881. In January 1881 Britain witnessed hitherto unparalleled weather conditions and The Times reported 'a walk across London suddenly assumed the dimensions of an Alpine adventure.'
After several days of intense cold and black frost, blizzard conditions swept across southern regions of the country during the evening of Monday January 18. The storm raged for thirty six hours, at the end of which the death toll numbered twenty people within a 20 mile radius of Swindon.
One casualty was George Cook, a farm labourer at Walcot Farm. George had brought a consignment of milk from the farm for despatch from Swindon junction. Returning home via Old Swindon, he stopped off to collect medicine for one of his children who was unwell.
Travelling down the precipitous hill on Cricklade Street, George passed Christ Church where he suddenly plummeted into a snowdrift and became trapped. Fortunately residents in nearby Belle Vue Road heard his cries for help and managed to dig him out. It was reported that he called in at a cottage near the Gas Works in Drove Road where he told of his close call. That was the last time George was seen alive.
When he failed to return home a search party followed the route he would have taken back to Walcot. Despite digging through snowdrifts and searching the fields, it took them three days to find his body.
George had succumbed to the weather conditions just 200 yards from Walcot Farm house and was two fields away from his own cottage. He left a widow and seven children.
Another victim of the weather was George Head aged 22, who died walking home to Hackpen Cottage from Barbary Farm while Wootton Bassett postman Robert Strange had a lucky escape. Cut off while on his rural postal round, Strange put up for the night at a house in Bushton.
As Britain anxiously waited for the thaw, The Times reported how the regions had been affected.
SWINDON: "Weather in this neighbourhood unprecedentedly severe, and owing to snowdrifts, which in some cases are ten feet deep, the roads for many miles around are impassable. There has been no through communication between London and Swindon since the arrival of the 3 pm express from Paddington yesterday, trains being blocked. A man named Edmond Butler, 70, was frozen to death while driving from Shrivenham to Highworth on Tuesday night."
Images of the 1908 snowfall taken by William Hooper and published here courtesy of Paul Williams - for more of Hooper's work visit the Swindon Local Collection on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/