The worst blizzard since 1881 blocked roads and railway lines in Luton, felled large numbers of trees at Wardown Park, Luton Hoo, Putteridge Park and Leagrave and demolished part of the Luton Town FC grandstand on Tuesday, March 28th, 1916. One woman was injured by a falling branch which also damaged the roof of the Vauxhall mess-room in Kimpton Road.
The trouble began towards the close of a comparatively fine day on Monday, March 27th. The atmosphere assumed the dull, leaden appearance foretelling a heavy fall of snow, and whirlwinds of dust made the streets uncomfortable places during the late afternoon.
The ensuing driving snow was of a slushy character and, although it continued through the night, there was not a great depth on Tuesday morning. Rain during the day helped to clear the snow, but at about four o'clock in the afternoon it became evident the town was in for something exceptional.
The storm was moving southwards and trains from the north were hours overdue. One of these that should have arrived in Luton from Glasgow at 7am came in at 4pm with the driver reporting, "I have never seen a blizzard like it in 30 years experience". After 9.30pm there were no more trains from the north and on Wednesday morning they were still missing.
By 4.30pm a terrific storm was in progress in Luton and lasted unabated for two or three hours. At the Luton News office in Manchester Street an iron-framed window which caught the full force of the gale was blown in, frame and all.
By 6.30pm the Luton-Dunstable-Leighton railway line was blocked. A passenger train which left Dunstable for Luton got hopelessly snowed in at Blow's Downs and had to be dug out on Wednesday. The passengers were able to get back to Church Street station in Dunstable.
The 6.23 from Luton started out with the hope of getting through to Dunstable, but after going a as far as the Co-operative Factory had to return. It did not leave until after 7 o'clock with a double load of about 200 passengers as another train was due to leave at 7.03. The passengers had the choice of endeavouring to walk to Dunstable or remain in Luton for the night. Many of them were girl workers.
Later in the evening the storm abated almost as suddenly as it had begun, and by 10 o'clock it was a clear, starlight night.
The extent of damage was revealed on Wednesday morning. Standing in a high and exposed position at the top of Hazelbury Crescent, the Luton football ground caught the full fury of the gale.
Between five and six o'clock in the evening the wind took the roof of the grandstand off completely. Corrugated iron and wood was ripped apart and sent flying in all directions, several Great Northern railway carriages being damages by parts of the flying roof.
At Wardown Park many huge trees had been torn up by the roots, an estimated 200 trees were lost at Luton Hoo and Putteridge Park, while at the Grange, Leagrave, 29 full-grown old elm trees were brought down on a five acre site. A weeping maple at Rookwood in New Bedford Road was blown down, as were other trees in the road and also in St Mary's Road, Stockwood Crescent and Farley Road.
Fifteen telegraph poles were also blown down and blocked New Bedford Road, while the road at Butterfield Green, Riddy Lane, Bramingham Road, Marsh Road, Oak Road and New Mill End Road were among those impassable due to fallen trees. Villages such as Caddington, Woodside and Slip End also had much tree damage.
Other damage included part of a chimney on Messrs Welch's premises in Gordon Street, when a passer-by had a narrow escape; a chimney in Windmill Street was blown down; and part of a chimney on Chief Constable Teale's house in Dunstable Place fell through the roof.
Other than a woman spraining her ankle near the Bute Hospital, only one serious injury was reported in Luton. Vauxhall employee Mrs Primett, of 35 Cromwell Road, received head and leg injuries from a falling branch as she was entering the mess-room. As the works were snowed in no doctor could be obtained for her and she had to stay the night at the works under the care of a certified matron and night nurse.
There were, however, two deaths near Hitchin. George Jackson, a Breachwood Green farmer, was found dead underneath his overturned horse cart on his journey back from Hitchin Market, and Robert Perrott, a market gardener at Stondon, was found unconscious and later died near Hitchin.
Also outside Luton, a Red Cross train carrying 132 wounded soldiers, including 90 serious cases, from France to a hospital in Leicester became stuck in snow drifts for many hours. A journey of six hours eventually took 29 hours, and when food and water supplied gave out a van filled with full milk churns was commandeered for the hungry patients.
The problems for travellers were highlighted by Mr and Mrs G. Elgar, from Scarborough, Yorks. Mrs Elgar, formerly Miss Cissie Sell from Luton, was travelling back home to run the sweet stall at the Luton Guild of Kindness which she had run since it first started. The couple left Scarborough at one o'clock on Tuesday and got as far as Leeds. Then, after a wait, they were brought to Leicester and later to Market Harborough. There they had to wait two hours and were then sent back to Leicester, which was reached at 8pm.
They spent the night on the Leicester station platform and in waiting rooms. On Wednesday afternoon at one o'clock they and other stranded passengers were sent across to Rugby, where there was another wait of four hours. Then they gradually got down the line to Bletchley and Leighton Buzzard, and finally reached Luton about midnight, 35 hours after they started out and obviously too late for the event they hoped to attend.
The slideshow pictures are of damage to the Luton Town stand, trees felled near Luton Hoo (W. H. Cox) and snow scenes near Luton (M. W. Judge).
[The Luton News: Thursday, March 30th, 1916. Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: April 1st, 1916]