Flood Report Introduction from the Three Wealds Newsletter –
The floods we hoped we would not see again came just before Easter. By mid-morning the village had flooded and vehicles had stuck in a way that we were all accustomed to including the motorists who pass the warning signs in Upper Weald and then seem surprised at what they find in Lower Weald.
However the familiar floods had turned into a disaster. The pavement at the corner of Lower Weald, just above water at 1.30pm, was 27in. under water by 5pm and the houses alongside were devastated.
It is about 20 years since we had a flood like this and most of us won’t appreciate the full enormity of the disaster until we read the first-hand accounts from the flooded families and see the accompanying photographs.
26, Lower Weald
“Have you bought it? You know it floods here!” Peter Luckett announced as we waited for the estate agent so as to view 26 Lower Weald in 1986. Later we were assured that the Water Board had made improvements to the Stony Stratford sluice gates and that as an extra precaution the owners had two barge boards made to slot in front of each external door (front and kitchen). We bought our dream cottage and since then the highest flood has barely reached the front gate.
On Thursday 9 April it had rained heavily the previous night, and it poured and thundered that morning but by 1.30pm the water had only reached the gate again. The morning had been eventful: the usual “Stranded Motorist Panto” with this year’s cast of a family of four from Maidenhead, two van drivers and an L driver plus instructor. I was not worried and decided to make a batch of pastry.
About 2.30pm a very noisy Panto (Act 2) drew me to the window. My help was not needed but I noticed the water had crept up the front path and my lawn had been transformed into a huge water feature complete with bubbling muddy fountain issuing from a submerged manhole cover.
I remembered the barge boards. A hasty telephone call to Peter at the office. A fifteen minute search amongst the garage debris. Then one minute slotting them into place and adding plastic dustbin liners to make a watertight seal. Home and dry! Feeling smug I returned to the pastry. Half an hour later I realised that the kitchen floor was wet. Water appeared to be seeping under the kitchen door. Thinking that the problem lay with the barge boards I collected every plastic bag I could find, climbed out through the dining room window facing the street and pushed even more bags into every crevice (excellent practice for the Christmas turkey).
Back inside I added old towels behind the doors. Spotting Cleo with legs and whiskers crossed meant another trip through the window returning with her cat litter tray and, since the water had risen, my wellies full of water. The grass verges had vanished. Chaos reigned in Act 3 of the Panto between a recovery truck, a van and a huge lorry. Ignoring them I checked the towels by the front door and thought that the extra water had been caused by the bow waves from the vehicles.
I went upstairs for reinforcements and added two pillows but puzzled that the far side of the room was squelchy. In the kitchen I bent down to mop up the wellie drips and realised to my horror that mini fountains were springing up between the floor and the skirting tiles. Water was pouring down the step into the dining room and lounge.
My campaign plan changed drastically. Unplug all electrical appliances. Start at floor level. Lift damp rugs and dripping video recorder. Untangle “spaghetti junction” at the corner where telephone, computer, modem and transformer come together. Lose computer pen and batteries beneath the muddy water. Find later. What about insurance?
CONCENTRATE! Move favourite items first – grandma’s sewing table, side tables and chairs. Water now calf deep. Telephone rings. Whoops! Slip on kitchen floor – saturated from waist to toe. “Hello darling. Yes, found the barge boards”. Get dry trousers, abandon wellies. Welcome help arrives in the form of Michael, future son-in-law, and his father Neville who clamber in through the window. Five minutes’ respite listening to amazing travellers’ tales.
Back to work. Move books, video tapes, lamps, maps, bottom drawer of bureau, music and precious boxes of photo albums. Logs from the fireplace float past. Peter arrives home through the window. More travellers’ tales! The kitchen lino floats, it’s like walking on a squashy Lilo. Four people create bow waves into the cupboards. Progress slow, becoming dangerous, with no more room anywhere. The largest items of furniture are now left sitting in 10in. of water. A quick rendition of “Singing in the Rain” on the piano with the pedals under water. Michael and Neville depart – forgot to offer them a cuppa! New problem – will the electric cooker work? A quick prayer and then its omelettes for supper. ( Ed: did you really use the electric cooker whilst standing in the water? Thank the Lord we still have you!!)
We kept our eyes on our own Gorrick’s Spring – water pouring out of a power socket a foot above the floor. By 9pm. it was down to a dribble and we knew that the flood outside was receding. Peter lifted the bargeboard at the kitchen door and kept sweeping the water out over the step for the next two hours. I stood in the dining room bailing water out through the window into the night.
For a little respite we stopped from time to time to unstick albums of very damp photos of parents’ courting days, my 21st birthday, baby pictures etc. They were laid to dry wherever we could find a space. Our dream cottage had been transformed into a set for Steptoe and Son and the water was still lapping at the bottom step as we climbed the stairs to bed.
Next morning we could not believe our eyes. All the water had drained away, presumably through the walls. The scene before us looked normal but a second look revealed soggy carpets, furniture with a 10in. tide mark, stained curtains and kitchen lino in dirty wavy ridges like a sandy beach when the tide goes out.
The flood was over but another tide began – of visitors all offering help. The most welcome was Geoff Wilkins who cheerfully helped Peter to cut up heavy and dripping carpets into removable pieces. Then came the electricians, the insurance assessors, the plaster removers and finally, as everything started to dry out, the ANTS!
23, Lower Weald
Jenny and Andrew Donaldson
Here we were on Easter Monday, back from a two- week stay with our daughter and her family in California with our home in quite a state of chaos. The cottage had been under about 4in. of water throughout the ground floor with the back kitchen extension recording 12in. The telephone had conveyed the news to us on Good Friday so we were prepared for the worst. In fact when we got home we thought that things, though bad enough, were less formidable than we feared.
Our daughter and son-in-law from Wolverton had done a great job before we returned in hauling out all the ground floor carpets – a major task considering they were saturated and underneath a good deal of heavy furniture including a piano and four heavy bookcases. All the furniture was displaced so it did not seem a bit like home even had it been warm and dry. The pile of carpets on the rear patio presented a very sorry sight as we came down the garden with our luggage.
Thank goodness we were well insured. Already our two insurance companies had been contacted by Peter Bowtell and our daughter, and we were told to get on and throw out ruined items. Within three days both had sent their insurance assessors to see us. The contents people were particularly helpful and gave us instant authority to replace the washing machine and dryer which enabled us to get on again with the important parts of living after about a week.
Fortunately the central heating was working because the wall mounted gas boiler was upstairs well away from the chaos. The electricity supply was operational once some trailing leads from the ground floor ring main were disconnected. The circuit itself was above the floor level but had to be tested and pronounced safe. The security alarm had apparently gone berserk on the Saturday but family and friends had managed to take out the battery.
Most of our furniture has survived but the estimates from a furniture restorer to treat the lower parts of various antique items, including our Victorian piano, stand at £1000. Carpets are to be replaced throughout the ground floor, and a settee, an armchair and some curtains are a write-off.
Slowly life has returned to near normal if walking around on bare concrete everywhere can be considered so. It’s a luxury to go up stairs where, apart from furniture and effects being stored from downstairs, life seems relatively normal. Drying out is a long job – three weeks after the flood and we are still not there. Skirting boards have been removed in one room and quotes are being obtained to replace the kitchen units where the chipboard has blown. Every downstairs room is to be decorated so that is all going to take quite some time to achieve.
A major regret is that so many family photographs residing on the lowest shelves of our bookcases have been ruined. A vast array of them have been spread out in the attic to dry so many of them have survived in a rather crinkly state.
The whole affair is a major organizational task – assessors, builders, carpet suppliers and furniture restorers coming and going, estimates for this and that to be obtained, replacements to be selected for carpets, curtains and furniture.
The silver lining is that spring has arrived and when it is all over our cottage and its contents will eventually again be as neat as a new pin.
Brook Cottage, Lower Weald
Ian and Georgina Avery
On Wednesday 8th April 1998 I paid a visit to the Point Cinema, Milton Keynes and pre-booked tickets to see the ‘Titanic’ for the 5.30 pm showing the following day, Thursday 9th.
On the morning of the Thursday I had driven to the Midlands, taking our boys to their grandparents. As we all know, it was raining hard, and travelling back around mid-day I noticed that there was a lot of water in places you don’t normally see water! Nevertheless it didn’t concern me greatly and I still wasn’t too worried when I saw the normal area in front of my house, Brook Cottage, flooded. We have lived here approximately eleven years and to see the area outside the front windows looking like an area of The Wash is no surprise to us.
By 3.30 pm the rain was continuing and the floodwaters getting higher. By now I was getting concerned; “It’ll be OK” I was saying to my wife Georgina, “There’s nothing to worry about”. I was desperately trying to convince myself, if the truth be known.
At 4.00 pm I was outside in the road. Like King Canute himself, I thought that if I put on my wellingtons and actually stood in it, it would stop raining and the flood would subside. I had not before known it to flood so long and quite so deep. It was now inside the walls of the front gate.
Vehicles were still attempting to drive past, the flood signs put out as a mere joke of course! The wash being caused by these vehicles was soon going to breach my front door step and the low height letter box.
Over the years this is one of the things that has greatly annoyed me. As soon as Calverton floods, every one who owns a 4 x 4 vehicle within a fifty mile radius of Milton Keynes has to make that urgent journey through Lower Weald. To be certain their vehicle is up to scratch, this has to be achieved at no less than 50 mph. I stood outside my front door shaking my head and hoping that someone would see, possibly stop and want to remonstrate. Through frustration and sheer despair I needed a good remonstrate!
At about 4.30 pm, savior, or so I thought. A police Land Rover appeared. I was going to point out that total road closure was necessary in order to prevent damage to property due to reckless, foolhardy driving in hazardous conditions.
Unfortunately the patrol vehicle drove through so quickly they became a white fluorescent flash, the prevailing wash causing the two curious ducks at my front door to drown and waves now up to my thighs.
I could see that now things were actually very worrying indeed. I told Georgina that what I had said earlier was in fact rubbish. Things were looking bad and that she should make the last few telephone calls because very shortly the wires would be submerged in flood water. I think it was only when she saw the tear in my eye that she believed me.
It’s funny; I have been a Police Officer for nearly twenty years. Many a time I have come across an emergency or been called to an occurrence of some kind; you take charge, right whatever you can and sort the situation out. I’m sure somewhere along the line, someone somewhere has said “Thank goodness the police arrived, I was in a total panic etc etc.” There I was, in my own home, more water inside my wellies than out, staring blankly at the flood waters about to consume my property, not having a clue what to do next!
I remember thinking I must ‘phone my father before the line goes. It was just like a message from the Information Room at Scotland Yard. “Keep the kids. The house soon to go under water. Don’t know when we’ll contact next”. The reply seemed to shock me into action. “Get out what you can, electricity off, call the Fire Brigade”. I was standing on the front door step and as the conversation finished a Land Rover came along the footpath right outside the house. Yes, it sent gallons of water straight through the front door, crashed through the hallway, cascading its way into the lounge. Can you imagine watching thirty odd gallons of brown muddy water crashing over your powder blue fitted carpet that had just been cleaned ready for the Easter holiday? I threw the telephone into the water; with Georgina’s scream of disbelief ringing in my ears, I raced through the kitchen, ran down the back garden wailing and screeching like a raving banshee. If my wellies hadn’t been so full of water I might have caught up with it as it left the flood water at the bottom of the drive. It’s a good job I didn’t.
I trudged back to the house. The Land Rover had only been a precursor. The water was by now pouring in through the air bricks. We both stood in the front lounge listening to a distant waterfall as the water poured under the floorboards.
With a sudden jolt of reality I now realised that we were actually going to flood. With a mad scramble we threw what we could into Safeway boxes, cardboard boxes, anything. Luckily the sun-lounge at the back stands two foot higher than the rest of the ground floor rooms and everything that we could quickly move between us was unceremoniously thrown in.
By 5.30 pm we both stood at the doorway of the lounge. Everything looked strangely normal. What I did not initially realise was that the carpet was floating! I trod on it and my foot disappeared into murky depths. I was totally soaked through and dripping wet, which was a good job because at this point they were tears running down my face, not raindrops. At that stage I felt totally helpless and frustrated.
Over the next few hours the water rose to approximately twenty inches high in the lower floor areas.
I had formulated a plan by now. There was nothing else for it, I had to get thoroughly soaked on the inside. So with our good friends Mike and Sandra from next door we waded to the Shoulder of Mutton and had a drink. Quite amazingly, after six or seven pints of beer things aren’t as bad as they first seem. We also had a greatly appreciated offer of accommodation from John and Teresa who had been stranded also whilst attempting to have a relaxing weekend away. As it was we spent a comfortable night with our neighbours; their cottage was not as affected as ours.
The next morning we ventured back to Brook Cottage not knowing what to expect. All the water had gone. Very little damage had been done and it was basically a salvage and cleaning operation. I had over the years heard of a number of insurance horror stories, and so during the height of the flood I had rescued my camera, loaded with film, and snapped away inside and out. What foresight this proved to be because due to the extremely hard work of Mick, Sandra and Georgina, within a few hours, carpets had been cleared, walls, floorboards washed, electrics dried, tested etc. etc.
Due to the Bank Holiday I contacted my insurance company early on the Saturday morning. By 11.00 am the assessor was on scene. He was met with a scene resplendent of a house that had received the best spring-clean it had ever received. The floorboards shone, the walls were beautifully clean with a roaring log fire gradually receding the dampness. It had stopped raining and the sun was shining. The back garden however, did resemble Steptoe & Son’s back yard. Thank heavens for those photographs! Within days I had received a sizeable cheque to order new furniture, carpets and restoration work. On a number of occasions the insurance company assessor refused my claim for various items. This was because I was not claiming enough to replace them. They insisted that the claim should be increased! I for one, would never consider changing my insurers.
Months later we have now fully recovered, redecorated, new furniture. We never did get to the cinema, but as I said to Georgina, the only thing that was missing was the Ship; other than that it was very lifelike indeed!
Ardvassar, 36 Lower Weald
I should have been in my office in London but I was in Calverton. My plan for that Maundy Thursday was to drive to Stratford-upon-Avon and collect my mother, aged 82, her sister, aged 79 and brother-in law, aged 80.
As I left the house at about 9.30am, the water in my stream was rising. I reassured my uncle, aged 78, whom I was leaving in the house, that the sluice gates would be opened later in the morning and he would be amazed how rapidly the water would recede. I stopped at Tescos in Brackley (yes, I do lead an exciting life) where the sheet lightning was hitting the car park. I should have turned back but I knew that the “ancient team” at Stratford-upon-Avon would be waiting. I carried on with my journey, the car now loaded down with Easter fayre.
Arriving at Stratford at about 11.00am, I had already driven through flooded roads and as we all saw from the late news bulletin, the Avon had by then already burst its banks. Having got the “ancient team” into their seat belts we headed for home. At Buckingham the cars in front of me were already doing U-turns as the main artery into the town was deeply underwater but we managed to get in behind a large van and followed in his wake. I was deeply impressed by the support of my elderly relations; little did they know that I was terrified.
Arriving into our village at about 12.15pm, the flood warning signs abounded. The few cars that were around busily flashed this arrogant woman who continued to drive her car through the water. By this stage I just had to get home. We did – I suspect with about 10 minutes to spare. I got out of the car shaking and I have to admit that my gin & tonic went down with alarming speed. My neighbour, Celia Barnes had been to make sure that the uncle, whom I had left in the house was OK; neither of them thought we would make it and both were greatly relieved.
Later that night I went to meet Colin at the bottom of our driveway, who had bought a pair of sailing boots. In the City of London this is not an obvious purchase. We encountered Jim Barnes who had walked over the fields in a very sensible pair of plastic bags.
Mary Douglas-Campbell sadly passed away on 23 December 1998.
21 Lower Weald
No. 21 Lower Weald has been in the Barnes family since 1957, when it was bought by Tim Barnes’s grandfather. Tim remembers the flood of August 1980 when water last entered the house. Midge, the tabby cat has lived there, or next door, since 1981, but that’s another story.
Tim and Kathy were in the process of moving back to Lower Weald after living in Germany for 9 years. No. 21 had been let during this time together with the cat.
On the morning of Thursday, 9 April, Kathy was well pleased at how their home was progressing. The dining-room extension was complete, the house had been redecorated inside and out, new carpets were down and only two bedrooms upstairs needed to be finished off. The furniture was being sorted out, stacked up in various rooms – some going, some coming. Now Kathy looked out that morning on a bleak scene. It was raining and the road was flooded, not such an unusual occurrence in Lower Weald. So later on, as planned, she went to town with her mother and her neighbour, Brenda, to look at beds and other household bits and pieces.
They returned about 3.30pm, and as they approached the double roundabout at the end of Calverton Lane, Kathy remembers the feeling of panic that took hold of her. The roundabout was under water and Kathy had not experienced this before. What hope was there for Lower Weald to escape such flooding? They returned home via Stony Stratford; her fears were justified – water, water everywhere. They abandoned their car outside the Old School House and made their way over the fields, approaching their homes through the back gardens.
At No. 21, the dining room extension being 4″ higher than the front rooms in the house, was still just above the flood, but in the front room and kitchen there was 3″ of swirling muddy water, and it was a rising tide. The poor cat was marooned on the sofa.
What to do first? Kathy tried not to panic; she tried desperately to save the dining room by damming up the inner door, to no avail; the waters continued to rise coming in first from the front, then from the back of the house, and then finally rising up through the floors, reaching a maximum height of 7″ at about 5pm.
Kathy rang Tim, he had returned to Germany a day or two before, and broke the news to him. What was that splashing sound he wanted to know, not believing what he was hearing. By that time Tim’s father and sister, and her son Tyrell, had come over to help move the furniture and things upstairs. The splashing was Tyrell paddling in the kitchen. At one stage during the conversation the telephone dropped into the flood.
By 5.30pm they had done all they could, there seemed to be no point in hanging around, they switched off the electricity at the meter, locked the doors and made for higher ground to stay with Brian in Stony Stratford. More trouble lay ahead, the High Street was flooded at the river end, and was choked with cars. The approach to No.127 High Street was very difficult.
During the evening the Council came round telling people to turn off their electricity, and they also provided sandbags to houses at risk of flooding. Water was lapping around Brian’s home. The police closed the High Street. During the night youths roamed the flooded streets hurling sandbags into the water. Next morning they found that their car cut off by water on all sides, and there was nothing for it but to walk back to Calverton, stopping briefly to force an entry into Castle’s Army Surplus Stores (not yet officially open but very helpful), to buy Wellingtons, socks and plastic bags.
Lower Weald looked like the tide had just gone out leaving debris all over the road and pavement, but the water had gone. The mopping up operation commenced. Jim and Celia Barnes came over to help and between them they moved what was left of the furniture to get at the carpets, which were too heavy to lift and had to be cut up to carry outside onto the pavement.
The insurers were informed, damage assessors came over to inspect, and floors and walls were sprayed with decontaminant. Every room downstairs was fitted with a huge industrial fan which created a fearful racket day and night, turning the place tropical. It was five days before dehumidifiers were available to be brought in. These have to be watched carefully, they are so powerful that they can ruin beams and furniture when they extract too much moisture and can cause cracking. The buckets of water created by this process needed to be continuously emptied. Later on the plaster work downstairs had to be replaced to a height of 3 feet.
Now, a year later, after months of disruption, with all the house furniture and fittings fresh and new, and everywhere redecorated, the memory of the flood has receded like a fearful nightmare, and the cat is once again peacefully sleeping on the new sofa.
20 Lower Weald
In our time in Lower Weald, 14 years this April, flood water has never been above the steps at the front door. That morning in April 1998, I knew the road was flooded fairly early in the day but never thought it would get as high as it did.
It was my neighbour, Jenny Luckett, who phoned me at work at 5.30pm, to say that flood water had entered our house. I arranged to leave my car at my partner’s house at Two Mile Ash, rang Anne and she picked me up and together we returned to Lower Weald leaving her car near the church. From there we made our way across the fields, wearing borrowed Wellingtons, and got home via our back garden.
The whole of the downstairs was flooded, except for the kitchen which is at a higher level. We had always thought the water would enter through the front door, but this water was definitely coming up through the cracks in the flooring. The water was only about 6 inches high at this time so we were able to get the furniture up onto bricks. All the carpets and curtains and video recorder had to be replaced, and all the downstairs rooms had to be redecorated. Our insurance company readily accepted the claim.
We lit both fires and it took around two weeks to take away the dampness.
I reckon that heavy rain over a long period had caused the flood and I don’t know whether different use of sluice gates along the river would have helped.
18, Lower Weald
The flood of 1998 was very similar to that of 1980, coming in both at the front and the back of the house – I managed to seal up the front fairly well. I had done that at lunchtime because even if the water doesn’t rise up to the house flooding level there is still a lot of wash from the idiots who insist on driving through the water.
I returned to the office expecting it to be no worse than many other times the road has flooded, but before I could get into the meeting I was supposed to be at, my daughter Rosie rang to say the water was coming into the house. I made my excuses and returned home and flew into action again – paddling around in Wellingtons lifting as much as possible out of harm’s way. It’s not nearly as devastating now – we know what height the water will rise to, I built the extension 2 feet higher than the original floor level, there is a lot less clutter at floor level and still the only bits of carpet that get wet are to the bottom stair and the steps to the living room.
We believed that the additional culverts and keeping the stream and other culverts clear would prevent the water damming high enough to enter the houses again. It was supposed to be “a 50-year” flood in 1980. Obviously not. Further measures are needed to solve a situation not helped by the silting up and filling in of ponds and of land drainage schemes that speed the runoff of water from the fields upstream.
Causeway House, Lower Weald.
This was a day that the people of Lower Weald, Calverton will long remember, the flooding of the village exceeding the last big flood in August 1980.
When we woke that day at 7am the rains were beginning and bigger and blacker clouds were accumulating in the west and menacingly blowing east across the village. There was thunder and lightning, and twice during the morning there were brief power cuts.
David my son and I found it difficult to settle to anything at home, our gaze continuously drawn to the window watching the flood waters rise and the traffic, 4WD ‘tanks’ and lorries still roaring through, throwing up arches of spray, but smaller private cars proceeding with caution, until a learner driver plus instructor got caught and somehow managed to kangaroo jump out using the ignition.
Another car – a Citroen with a whole family on board also foundered. They had stopped to ask Jonathan Muston if they could get through, and he thought they might just make it, so when they didn’t he felt obliged to push them out, wading up to his knees in the racing waters.
One of the more bizarre sights was the County Council landscape contractors strimming the fast disappearing grass verges, until Julia Bowtell told them to cease and come inside for a ‘cuppa’.
At 11am Jan Evans rang to ask us what it was like at our end of the flood; she was unable to get her car out, so we suggested she wade up to us and David drove her in to work at Oxfam, taking the high road through the Wealds, up to Watling Street and round to Stony.
11.30am David and I gave up doing whatever we’d been trying to concentrate on at home, and camera in hand went for a paddle through the village. Before the Mustons’ entrance the Watling Street Brook culvert under the road, blocked, raged across the road in a series of fierce rapids, to join the ditch on the other side.
The road was flooded to a depth of about 2 feet opposite Causeway House and getting deeper as the road approached Rectory Farm and the corner. About 2 feet of the stream markers was still showing. Stones and earth had been thrown up onto the raised pathway outside the cottages with the spray of passing vehicles. The deepest part was down by the Averys’ cottage. Miriam and son William Wilkins and dog Hudson, were at the gate by the Meadow, and we took some photos.
12.45 pm and I also had to get to Oxfam to work with Jan, also taking the upper road, shooting up the rapids by the Mustons’ as our Sierra is never very happy going through floods. In the shop Jan and I beavered away all afternoon, occasionally glancing apprehensively at the dark clouds and still pouring rain.
5pm: Jan and I made our way home by Watling Street, traffic moving slowly as it negotiated huge lakes of water, stalled and abandoned cars here and there. Calverton Lane awash, just beyond the Gipsy Camp the Sierra fizzled out, but after a few nerve-wracking minutes was persuaded to start again. Large ‘Road Closed’ sign on road to Calverton at the T-junction, with deviation signs through Whaddon. Tudor Cowley and Keith Harris watch the Doctors’ Wives go through, and eventually we reach Lower Weald and leave Sierra in Mustons’ gateway, no question of the last few yards of raging torrent this time.
Bob Sturgess out taking photos. Time now 5.30pm and the Flood now up to last 6 inches of stream markers and still rising.
Jan and I take a detour to her house across the fields and down Church Road, abandoning her shopping in the car. Calverton Place standing above huge lake. Meet the Williams with bright umbrellas, out to marvel at the waterscape.
On the Causeway, a built up track running from gateway beside the W.I. seat, across beside the Meadow, to gate and field beyond, Peter Bowtell plus stick was making his way gingerly across what looked like the edge of a waterfall. We followed him, climbing over the gates; he had not been home yet.
As we passed in front of the cottages newcomer Jo Groom, from the Charters’ old house, asked for help moving sandbags. I go to help; Jan and Peter return anxiously to their homes. Outside the cottages the water is rising still. Freda has put bin liners at the bottom of front and back doors, Margot is there too, baling water out of their porch; they fear that John Walsh’s house may already be flooded. Neither the Wilkins’ nor the Grooms’ cottage had been affected yet; nor were they later.
Tucked away beneath much rubbish, and old machines in a shed at the top of Freda’s garden were about 20 sandbags which Mary John had persuaded the Council to part with many years ago (1980 after the last major flood). These we manage to manhandle down to the cottages. Margot phones for David to come and help us. At one stage an unknown young man appears, dripping wet and clutching a mobile phone; says he’s fallen into the brook on his way with sandbags for his aunt’s home. He asks the way there. Turns out to be a nephew of Tricia, a neighbour of the Bowtells, whose sofa’s afloat.
David visits the Bowtells – their house badly flooded – water came up through the floor – Pete Martin says the same thing. Bowtells under 2ft water – and someone sees Julia baling water out of the dining-room window with a saucepan. It was about this time that Ella West was brought back to her home from the Hospital after a hip operation. What a night to choose! Having done what I can, and wondering how to return home, I spy a man and two children climbing over the fence into our field; they had seen the stile and assumed it was public right of way. I join them.
Back home John has returned, and Geoff Wilkins and William come calling and borrow some wellies that turn out to leak. He also had not been home yet and had had a horrific drive from Towcester all the main roads blocked by broken down cars.
John and David set off to return Jan’s shopping to her at about 7pm, David prepared for anything now wearing his wet suit. The flood had already reached its maximum by then and was beginning to go down. Worst of the flood between 5 – 6.30pm?
John takes photos, views toward Causeway House, the W.I. seat, Evans’ house, Village Pond, view across Meadow towards Averys, and Judith Fountaine using flood water to wash her jeep. The light was not good enough to photograph the Lion’s Mouth, but the water was up to its nostrils and just bubbling.
Miriam calls about 8pm – in order to report to British Telecom that their phone was out of order, and to collect their shopping from their car left this end of the village.
Next day, Friday, news came through of fishermen having to be rescued at 2am that Thursday night from lake at Great Linford, when 3ft tidal wave of water engulfs them. Also people having to be evacuated from Buckingham, Newport Pagnell and Northampton where things were very serious. In Stony Stratford at 9.30pm Lindy Swindell looked out of her front door to see the flood rising and neighbours positioning sandbags.
There was talk of the great rains of 1947 but the general consensus was that it had never been this bad. (Milton Keynes Observer 15 April 98) Friday John goes to Haversham Sailing Club, to see if his sailing dinghy is OK, and becomes involved in preparing boats to help with the Newport Pagnell evacuation. Account of what happened from David Marle, owner of the Lake at Great Linford where 9 people including 2 children were night fishing when they were struck by a “4 foot high wall of flood water” surging down the River Great Ouse at 2am. Mr Marle said that “the Fire Brigade had had a call from the Water Authority giving them 20 minutes’ notice that they were going to open all the weirs downstream of Buckingham and let it all go. Apparently the water was rising round an electricity generating station or big sub-station at Buckingham and they decided that had to be protected so they just let it all go. We had no warning of what was happening. If they rung people along the river I could have gone out and got those guys to safety before the flood came through. But they didn’t. The way it was handled was appalling. We could have lost nine lives and it was a miracle that everyone managed to get out….”
A spokesman for the Environment Agency dismissed allegations of the sluice gates being opened as “rubbish”. He said there were no structures to open. The only weir is a fixed weir and the water was coming straight over that.
“We have checked with Anglia Water and they say the same. What affected the level was the massive amount of rainfall over a short time. The lakes are balancing lakes to protect the towns and that is what they did” (Milton Keynes Observer, 15 April 1998)
Causeway House, Lower Weald.
In the usual student way I had little to do during the day of the flood. I did have some work to do but all the excitement produced by the flood put paid to any of that. Every twenty minutes I would check at one of the windows as to the height of the flood using the reflective posts. I was dying to see another car try to get through.
In the afternoon the Milton Keynes Herald phoned, asking about the flooding in Lower Weald. I told them it was the worst I’d seen in ten years, and I was quoted as saying “it was thigh high in the centre”.
Mum came back at about five in the evening with Jan Evans, and told me they were unable to walk along the main road back to Jan’s house because the flood was too high. I thought they must be joking so I decided to carry out a little test myself. I walked along the pavement in front of our house and managed to get to Pete Martin’s drive. At this point the water decided to enter my wellies. I quickly scuttled back to the safety of Causeway House.
At about 5.30pm I got a phone call from Margot Doughty saying that they would appreciate some help down at the cottages across the Meadow. I made my way across our field and down onto the road just down from the entrance to Calverton Place. I passed a man who had stopped in his van at the edge of the flood. I started to wade into the flood along the pavement trying carefully not to let the water over my boots (little did I know!). I managed to get about five metres and then realized that this was a vain hope and that ‘water in boots’ was going to be part and parcel of a flood this size.
I then saw that the man from the van was in fact carrying sandbags. I asked if he needed a hand and found that he was trying to take them to his aunt whose entire living room was afloat. I understood that his aunt lived in the houses I was heading for, so he loaded me up with two sandbags and I was on my way.
At this time (about 5.45-6.00pm) the water was about upper thigh high (on a good day I’m about six foot) and extremely cold. On the sign for Lower Weald only the words were visible, the supports lay beneath the flood water. As I made my way to the Meadow I began to appreciate just how heavy the sandbags were, and having got to the gate into the Meadow managed to drop one of them. I scrabbled around in the water and eventually found the bag but decided it might be best if I took one at a time. I eventually got across to the cottages and found there were loads of bags already available. I helped Freda, Margot, Jo Groom and my mother move more sandbags having told them that another man was on his way to help.
However I found out later that he was not on his way, and had in fact been swept a short way down stream in the flood. He did manage to clamber out.
When all the sandbags had been positioned around the cottages I returned to the sandbag I’d left on the railings, and carried it up the main road to the corner by the Bowtells’ house. It was 6.30 by this time and wading up the road was extremely hard work against the speed of the flood, probably about 15 miles an hour, the pace of someone running.
At the corner I spoke to Julia Bowtell and found that all the houses on the corner had been flooded. I left the remaining sandbag in front of the house next door to the Bowtells (which turned out to be the house that the man I was trying to help had been aiming for). By the time I had laid the last sandbag the flood was beginning to subside and it was possible to see the drop in the level of the flood on the stonework of the Donaldsons’ house.
Manor Farm, Lower Weald
Richard and Judy Fountaine
Flooding on the whole is not a problem for livestock in the fields in Calverton. The cattle are not in danger, they move to higher ground and wait until the flood recedes, which is never longer than 12 hours.
The River Ouse flood plain can be a problem however, but usually flooding occurs in the winter time when the livestock is in the folding yards. But sometimes after excessive rainfall, in March/April time, when the river is already high and the ewes and lambs have been put out to graze, Richard and Judy have to be ready to move them. They know the warning signs: when Calverton Brook floods over the field opposite the Farm (Cow Field), they have 12 hours before their fields on the Passenham side become affected. Sometimes if the sheep get stranded they can be coaxed to swim for it; the problem sheep have is getting out the other side. Sometimes ewes and lambs have to be rescued by tractor and trailer and taken to higher ground. Another problem with livestock on waterlogged land is “poaching”, when the ground gets broken up into muddy patches by their hooves, and then is no good for grazing. Richard remembers the August 1980 flood as it was after haymaking and a lot of hay-bales in the fields got swept down the river.
In the April 1998 flood the livestock was safely moved to higher ground but it was weeks before they could be returned. Besides the fear of them damaging the ground, the flood plain meadows stank of silt and sewage. Cattle will not graze until the rains wash all this away.
For Richard, now in his 50th year at Manor Farm, floods are accepted as part of the seasonal cycle. Judy too knows what the warning signs are, and together they do what needs to be done, in all weathers. At 5.30pm, at the height of the April 1998 flood Judy was to be seen washing her jeep in the flood water outside Calverton Place. Too good an opportunity to miss was the way she viewed it! They still had the 12 hours to go before other action was needed.
Fairfield Farm, Upper Weald
Ivy recounts how she spent the day at home watching from the lounge window as the rain poured down outside. She watched Whaddon Brook overflowing its banks and the water spreading out over the fields on either side until there was one vast lake – a fascinating sight she records.
She said the farmhouse itself was not affected, but the ditch around the outside of the building became a moat. Water did get into the cellar, up to the height of the window and four steps up the stairs. Tudor came to the rescue and estimates that he pumped 3,000 gallons of water out of the cellars. A previous flood had reached the sixth step.