Snowscene, Christ Church, Swindon, 1908

This photograph of our Old Lady on the Hill immediately conjures up romantic notions of an early 20th Century Christmas.

Until you check the date on the left hand side, that is.

This snowy scene of Cricklade Street looking up towards Christ Church was actually snapped on 24 April 1908, and if the two pedestrians felt the cold keenly that day, it was nothing compared to what they were to endure within 24 hours.

On 25 April, the Midlands, Wiltshire/Berkshire borders and north Hampshire were in the grip of a ferocious blizzard that raged across the region all day. It was to become the most notable snow event of that century.

The good people of Swindon woke on the morning of 26 April to find the snow was at least 15 inches deep across the town, with drifts of six feet in places. The clock on the Corn Exchange stopped, gutters collapsed under the weight of snow, and trees split.

When families depended on a single domestic fire for heating, cooking and hot water, and when many relied on vegetables grown in their own gardens for food, the arrival of such harsh and bitter weather conditions when May was just around the corner must have tested their resolve to the limit.

And although temperatures began to rise to the late April average before the month was out, the thaw brought its own problems. The milder weather meant the snow began to melt rapidly, causing serious flooding through meltwater.

So while we may wish for a white Christmas, let’s look ahead a little to 2019 too, and keep our fingers crossed that a white April is firmly off the agenda.

*Last week we asked whether anyone could help us date a photo of Wood Street, Old Town, taken one Christmas – some time in the 1950s or 1960s, we thought.

One reader told us: “I think your photo is 1960s… the car in the foreground is an Austin A40, the next one is an Austin 1100 (I think), and the next one is a Triumph Herald. I don’t think they were around in the 50s.”

Another correspondent could give us some more information – because he has particular memories of one Christmas there.

“I believe the photo was taken in the late sixties - possibly 1968 – as at the time I was working for Edward Bays, the iron mongers, in Wood Street (which is sadly no longer there).

“I was the person who switched on the very first Christmas lights in Wood Street. The switch was in G A Days premises, which was formerly Edward Bays. We held a raffle to see who pulled the switch and I won. Edward Bays were taken over by G A Days in I believe in 1967.”

You can find out more about Swindon’s story at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4.30pm.

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