The Snow Storm of April 1908

Will we ever see such a storm again?

This past winter has been particularly mild in Southampton with no snow and just a couple of frosts.

Through April the weather has been sunny and warm and it would be fair to say that snow is probably the last thing anyone expects at this time. The citizens of Southampton in April, 1908 were probably thinking the same.

Early April had also been warm and sunny although towards the end of the month the wind turned north easterly and the temperature dropped.

At sunrise on Saturday, April 25 early tram drivers leaving the Portswood depot drove through a thin flurry of snow with just a dusting on the ground.

The wind picked up quickly though and brought with it a very heavy blizzard such that by the time people went out to catch a tram for work the snow was two feet deep and even deeper where it had drifted with the wind.

The trams could not grip the rails and the network ground to a halt with trams stuck in deep snow in London Road and in the Above Bar. Despite the efforts of the crews and helpers they could not be moved.

People were forced to trudge through the deep snow to get to work.

The Mayor in an effort to clear the snow and get the town moving drafted in gangs of men from the Workhouse to help.

Many residents cleared the snow from their doors to their front gates only to discover the pavements were almost impassable.

The weight of the snow did untold damage crushing spring flowers and weighing down branches heavy with blossom.

Property did not escape unscathed as greenhouses collapsed and guttering came down under the weight.

Police Officers knocked on doors insisting that householders comply with the bye laws and clear the pavement outside their homes.

The police were then called away to intervene in snowball fights between rival groups of youngsters.

Shopkeepers clearing the pavement in front of their stores became encased in snow as the blizzard continued unabated.

The horse drawn milk floats and delivery boys with bicycles were covered with snow and struggled to finish their rounds in the conditions with many giving up and completing their deliveries the next day.

The Dell, home of the Saints, was three feet deep in snow and that afternoon’s home match against Queens Park Rangers was cancelled. Such a blizzard had not been seen in Southampton since the 1880s and this was the first time the club had cancelled a game due to snow.

Snow played havoc with the trains with many delayed which affected the delivery of the mail to both the town and docks post offices.

In the port itself men working on the new dock extension were drafted in to clear roads and railway tracks and to provide access to buildings.

Shipping was also affected with sailings and arrivals delayed. The American Line ship the USS New York was delayed 500 miles off the Lizard with her arrival time in Southampton unknown.

Her sister ship the USS St Paul was in the Empress Dock ready to sail but waiting for the mail train from London which arrived 30 minutes late so that she sailed well behind schedule.

The St Paul made her way into the Solent sailing into the blizzard with much reduced visibility when suddenly out of the gloom HMS Gladiator crossed her path. The St Paul rammed her broadside creating an enormous hole.

HMS Gladiator’s captain tried to beach the rapidly flooding ship but she keeled over with many men thrown into the water.

Snow had to be cleared from the St Paul’s lifeboats before they could be lowered.

Volunteers from amongst the passengers, who had remained calm all the while, came forward to row the lifeboats and many men were rescued.

Sadly thirty lives were lost and many men were injured. The rescued men were taken ashore at Yarmouth and the USS St. Paul returned to port for repairs.

With global warming will we ever see such a storm again?

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with .