A Memory of the Floods 1968
By John Weeks
Saturday and Sunday the 14th and 15th September 1968 were very wet indeed; it never stopped raining on either day. On Monday morning from the police house in Cappell Lane we could see that the River Ash was abnormally high as we could see most of the boats moored there rather than just the tops of them. In the afternoon we went out for a drive to see what the situation was. Arriving at Barwick Ford on the Much Hadham side we were confronted by a torrent of water which had already washed out the footbridge. The garage of the house nearest to the river was already flooded and the water was getting closer to the house. Alec Bonnett, a farmer who lived on the other side of the hill was there and he recognised me as I had dealt with various poachers on his land. The owners of the house were away on holiday so Alec, knowing I was a police officer, asked me if it would be all right to break in and move their furniture to higher ground. I suspect he intended to do this anyway, but with my blessing he carried on with that. I told him that I thought the owners would be very grateful.
We moved on the the A10 which, in those days, went through the centre of Wadesmill and here the water was across the road but passable with care. Anchor Lane and the properties there were already flooded. On our return to Stanstead Abbotts one of my colleagues was in the High Street area telling people that there was a Red warning of flooding but many did nothing as their properties had been built “x” inches above the highest flood level. Despite my telling people what I had seen, many did nothing. We returned home but for the rest of the afternoon we could see with River Ash was getting higher. I was due to start work at 10.00 p.m. that evening but about 6.45 p.m. I telephoned Ware Police Station to say that I was turning out to help in the village. About 7.45 I walked back to the house in order to collect my torch and, when I got there, a man was speaking to my wife to say that the flood water had almost reached properties in Lower Road which were occupied by elderly residents. I returned to the bridge over the River Lea and managed to get a few volunteers to help with moving furniture.
I had always thought that the car park approach road was level but, clearly, it was not, as the flood water slowly crept towards the High Street and, just as it got dark, it capped the row of cobble stones and ran into the High Street, reaching a height of about 2’ 6” in a matter of minutes. Just after 10.30, having had something to eat I took up position at the end of the High Street to divert traffic from Roydon Road along Cappell Lane. After midnight the floodwater continued to rise with the sound of water everywhere which was accompanied by the burglar alarms on the two small banks and things were made worse as all the street lights went out, plunging everything into darkness.
About 2.15 a.m. I was called in to Ware Police Station to man the telephones as so many calls were being received enquiring about friends and relations and which roads were now impassable. I got home about seven o’clock on Tuesday morning and after a couple of hours sleep put on my oldest clothes and went to the High Street to help with salvage work at the water level had by then reduced considerably. My most amusing recollection of that day was wading out of the water in the High Street. I’d put on plimpsols (trainers) and my oldest jeans as the water level was well over my knees. As I reached “dry land” and elderly resident said to me, “You’ll ruin your feet, you ought to be wearing wellies.” There was no point in doing that as the water was deeper than the height of my wellington boots.
As a result of the flooding, we had friends who lived in the High Street spend a couple of nights with us as their house near the car park was one of those flooded, although they had moved most of their furniture upstairs before standing their sofa four bricks high: fortunately the water was only three bricks high in their living room.
In the aftermath of the flooding a public meeting was held at which quite a few residents complained that Stanstead had been flooded to save flooding further downsteam, but as was pointed out, this was not the case as at the peak of the flooding was four or five times the capacity of the river so the water had to go somewhere. We moved to Somerset in 1970 and I believe work was carried out on the river subsequently in an attempt to prevent future flooding.
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