Look Back With Little: Newsworthy weather

The Bagleys suffered a cinema setback
The Bagleys suffered a cinema setback

Last week I highlighted the recent destruction of Banbury Twenty Club’s cricket pavilion together with extant memorabilia. The culprit was a short but dramatic thunderstorm.

On September 26, 1935 there was a remarkably similar occurrence. It was a Sunday morning when severe storms swept across a belt of the Midlands in the early hours. What unfolded was dramatic to say the least. According to a former soldier the experience was ‘like a heavy artillery barrage in the war’.

Shortly after 3am two storm cells approached Banbury from the north east over Cropredy and another followed the line of the Cherwell Valley to the south.

Lightning resembled searchlights illuminating town and country and a tremendous wind accentuated the sound of the thunder.

Hailstones of about 1½ inches (3.75 cm) diameter imparted a mantle of white to roads and gardens. Because these stones coalesced into lumps of solid ice the consequence was a plethora of broken windows.

Beyond the edge of Banbury a combination of hail and storm water rolled across the fields surrounding Crouch Hill. Temporary water flows dominated the scene in many parts of the town centre.

West Bar was hard hit. Basement doors of houses occupied by Mr Cherry and Mrs Kilby burst open. A lorry load of ice had to be carted from their premises.

By the time flows of water reached the Cross this monument had become an island. From there ‘water flowed like a broad river’.

A bizarre situation at the Swan Inn in South Bar meant that two previously unknown wells were revealed by damage to a wall.

Elsewhere as in Horse Fair and Church Lane the story was about broken windows. At Banbury vicarage as many as 30 panes of glass were smashed.

This was nothing compared with Broughton Castle where a total of 1,200 panes had to be replaced. Nurserymen also counted the cost of the storm damage. At Overthorpe a Mr Carter lost the whole side of a 50 yard greenhouse.

At Sibford Joshua Lamb put the weather into perspective by looking back through records of earlier intense storms at specific locations. These were Brailes in June 1765 and Chipping Norton in August 1843.

On both occasions the hailstones were larger than during the storm of 1935 and ruined corn crops in those years.

As in 2014 so in 1935 the most newsworthy building struck by lightning was that of a two-storey warehouse originally part of Samuelson’s Britannia Works.

It had stood between Swan Close Road, Banbury and the Oxford Canal. Notable and more recent users had been the electrical equipment manufacturers Adkins and Philpotts.

Investigations into ownership suggested a recent acquisition by garage proprietor (also Mayor) Sidney Ewins.

This incident involving a lightning strike did not go unobserved. The Banbury Guardian recorded that a Mr H.G. Williams of Upper Windsor Street witnessed the flash that struck the middle section of the building, though subsequently he did wonder if the cause of collapse might have been a whirlwind, which also hurled some of the warehouse debris against the wall of a house occupied by a Mr and Mrs Huggett. Fortunately at the time the family was away at the seaside for the weekend.

At the heart of the story was the fact that the former Samuelson’s building had been used to store reupholstered furniture and seating as well as talking apparatus and other equipment belonging to the Grand Theatre in Broad Street, which was undergoing a complete renovation and renewal of seating.

Its manager Edward Bagley had maintained an office in the warehouse.

Of some concern to him would have been the pilfering which followed in the wake of the storm damage.

The contents of a cupboard were stripped of cinema tickets along with revenue stamps, chocolate and cigarettes.

Future historians will look back on the Friday storm of 2014 as one of a small number of occasions when intense thundery activity converged on Banbury and district and produced a weather event that was newsworthy enough to warrant a report in the local newspaper.