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Stormy weather in Haywards Heath: Telephone lines down throughout the town

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 14 January 1908




It was a great surprise to many people in Haywards Heath on Wednesday morning to see, on looking out of their windows, that the Snow King had cast his mantle upon the ground, but it was a still greater surprise to those who were on the telephone at the southern end of the town to find, when they went to “ring up,” that there was no response from the Post Office. Those who sought to know the cause received the startling intelligence that the blizzard which swept over the district shortly before daybreak had brought about the fall of the telephone standards and wires in different quarters of the district.

Fortunate indeed was it that the disaster occurred at an hour when there was very little traffic in the streets, for had it been otherwise, in all probability we should have had to record serious injuries or loss of life.

So far as we can ascertain the first iron standard collapsed a little after six o’clock, in Paddockhall Road. It was the one near the cottage occupied by Henry Green, coachman to Mr. T. Bannister, J.P., and its downward progress was luckily stayed by some trees. The wires dangled incessantly upon the roof, making such unearthly music that on first hearing the inmates were almost scared out of their wits. At the east end of Church Road the iron standard presented a curious sight, being bent after the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The longest line of destruction, however, was that of the trunk line from London to Brighton, which passes through the town by the way of Scrase Bridge, Oathall Road, and Sussex Road on to Wivelsfield. From Brunswick School in Oathall Road to the New Inn, Wivelsfield Road—a stretch of about a mile —every standard came to grief, damaging in the fall fences and trees. From Sussex Road to the New Inn the scene with the wires all over the road was strange one, and in dwelling upon what might have happened householders have reason to rejoice that the wreckage of property was so slight.

Mr.H.Chapman.draper, had a shop lamp damaged, the blind irons outside the sweet shop of Mr. Kingsbury were bent, and part of the roof of the cottage occupied by Mrs. Manners and family was knocked in. At Mr. Box’s shop, opposite the Heath Hotel, the falling wires struck a lad in his employ, named Reginald Backshall. who was sweeping away the snow, and slightly cut his forehead. Mr. Maynard, Jun., who was driving a milk cart in Hazelgrove Road, had a very narrow escape. The falling wires slightly injured, however, a lad in the cart. But for prompt assistance from passers by the horse would have bolted. In Wivelsfield Road a standard crashed into the window of the shop belonging to Mr. J. Wood, baker, scattering the plate glass in all directions.

Corporal Comins, the linesman, assisted by many willing hands, worked hard throughout the day to gather up the wires and to place the standards in positions that would cause the public no inconvenience. In the afternoon a Government official named Captain Roberts came down from London to inspect the disaster, as also did the officers in charge of the District telephones— Captain Rathbone, R.E., and Captain Cunningham.

In all thirty standards collapsed. We were informed that the breakdown was the greatest that had happened in the South of England since the installation of the telephone. The havoc played amongst the wires and standards was entirely due—according to an official report—to the extraordinary violence and the suddenness of the blizzard just at the time when the overhead plant was heavily weighted with snow.


The Post Office Telephone Department made application to the Haywards Heath Urban Council on Thursday for permission to erect wooden poles in place of the fallen iron standards to carry the Post Office telephone wires through the town, and on Friday afternoon there was held a special meeting of the Council to consider the matter. Mr. A. R. Pannett, J.P., presided, others present being Messrs. Hilton, Vivash, Attree, Dobbie, Longley, Plummer and Finch. Captain Cunningham, R.E., and Mr. T. E. P. Stretche, Assistant Superintending Engineer, G.P.O., had an interview with the Council, and urged the importance of the work of re-erecting poles being promptly proceeded with. The Clerk (Mr. E. J. Waugh) presented a numerously-signed petition from freeholders and occupiers of houses in Oathall Road and its neighbourhood, pointing out that the disaster to the telephone wires illustrated the disadvantage and danger of having such an immense number of wires carried through the thoroughfares overhead, and asked the Council to bring the strongest possible pressure to bear upon the Post Office authorities in order to persuade them to place all the wires underground in this section of the main road.

Mr. Stretche held out little prospect of the petitioners’ request being acceded to.

The Council unanimously passed a resolution regretting their inability to allow wooden poles to be erected, as requested, and we understand that the Postmaster-General is to be petitioned by the Council to authorise the placing of the trunk telephone lines running through Haywards Heath underground.


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