Tales of a Blandford blizzard | Then & Now

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Roger Guttridge recalls a Victorian snowstorm that cut the town off – and the local newspaper publisher who abhorred the evils of drink

The Blandford Express office in 1891 (or possibly 1881). Image from the Barry Cuff Collection

A light dusting of snow on my lawn today prompted me to dig out this Victorian picture as a reminder of what a serious dose of the white stuff can look like.
The eminently recognisable location, of course, is the point in Blandford where Salisbury Street divides and Whitecliff Mill Street peels off to the left.
The horse-drawn cart appears to be loaded up not with the latest issue of the Blandford Express that was printed in the building behind it but with snow, shovelled from the streets outside.
Whether the boys lined up outside the office window were waiting for copies to deliver or just posing for the camera, we will probably never know.
Printer J. A. Bartlett launched the Blandford Express in 1869 (some sources say 1859) and it continued to roll off the press until its closure in 1894.
Bartlett was a devout Christian, and he used his professional situation to further the campaign against alcohol abuse that was ruining so many lives in Victorian Britain. His newspapers also included the Dorset Abstainer and the enticingly-entitled Dorset County Temperance Advocate.
Bartlett lived at The Plocks and died in 1900 aged 73.
At some point the Blandford Express building’s original attic area was extended with the addition of three gable windows and, in keeping with Bartlett’s views on the evils of drink, became a coffee house and temperance hotel.
The date of the photograph is disputed. Most sources date it to 9 March, 1891, when a blizzard produced 10ft snow drifts and cut off the town from the outside world.
The Blandford Express’s competitor the Dorset County Chronicle reported: ‘The snow storm made its appearance on Monday afternoon and continued with increased severity until just after 11pm Tuesday.’
The railways and the postal service ground to a halt – so no change there then.
Dissenters from the 1891 date are Mark Ching and Ian Currie, authors of The Dorset Weather Book, published in 1997. They claim – unconvincingly in my view – that the picture dates from 18-19 January, 1881, when a ‘furious blizzard’ swept Dorset, claiming three lives. Henry Hawker was fatally entombed in a snowdrift within sight of his home at Thorncombe and two children suffered a similar fate while trying to walk from Hamworthy to Morden.

A similar view today minus the snow. Note the addition of the second-floor gable windows.
Image: Roger Guttridge

The perennial struggle of local media
The Blandford Express did well to survive as long as it did. Its other rivals included the Blandford Weekly News, which published from 1885 to 1892; the Blandford, Wimborne and Poole Telegram, which appeared from 1874 to 1886; and the Blandford Gazette and Three Shires Advertiser, which survived barely five months from August to December 1903.
Throughout this period the Blandford papers also had to compete with the Dorset County Chronicle and two big regionals, the Western Gazette and the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, both of which survive to this day.
More than 130 years later, the former Blandford Express building is now a hairdresser’s.

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