1998 Easter Flood - Lower Weald - Calverton.


An Introduction by Lucinda Lourie.

On Thursday, 9th April 1998, between 5 and 5.30pm, flood water entered eleven houses in Lower Weald.

60's Motorists tried their luck (and failed). Lower Weald 1965 (Tootill) No warnings were given nor did we receive any help from the authorities. The road in Lower Weald frequently floods after heavy rainfall, due to inadequate and poorly maintained culverts getting blocked. They carry the water from two streams entering the village, and pipe the water under the roadway. One stream flows from Kiln Farm, the other from Whaddon, and together they form a brook at the Old Wood yard that goes under a causeway and then joins the River Great Ouse upstream of Stony Stratford. It is difficult to piece together the extent of past flooding and which houses have been affected in the past.

1921 - Cecil West remembers No. 28 (Brook Cottage), flooding twice in three weeks.

1947 - He also remembers water reaching the doorstep of No. 21 where he was living at the time. This would indicate that Brook Cottage and Nos. 23, 24, 26 and 28 were probably affected.

Freda Rice remembers, as a child the family cottage No.31 across the Meadow, was flooded that year up to the top of the bottom step of the stairs. She still lives there but the cottage has not been flooded since. Also she says that in those days the road between Old Pound Barn and Brook Cottage used to flood much more frequently than it does now after heavy rain.

Ella West recalls that sometimes the flood water from the Brook would rise up to Calverton Cottage garden fence, and once it came right up to the second bar of the gate into the Fountaines' field opposite Manor Farm Cottages. She remembers also when Mrs. Welch and the Clark family lived in the cottages across the Meadow, water used to pour off the fields and gardens behind and flood the cottages, due to drain problems.

1965 - Brenda Toothill describes a typical flood scene photographed from Rectory farm window, with a trusty Landrover preparing to pull a damp BMC Mini back out of the water while (she thinks) a young Tudor Cowley and Laurie Pell look on. (Historical note; George Cowley owned all the barns in the picture before they were converted - now Causeway House and Old Pound Barn. The building to rear of the large hay-barn gradually collapsed and is no longer there.)

1980 - 15 August, after a five-hour storm when 2½ inches of rain fell, was the last time that people of Lower Weald remember properties being flooded. Cecil West recalls the Taylor and Meakin's homes (Nos. 24 and 26) being flooded then, the level ranging from 4 - 24 inches in some homes. Tony and Olga Bright were living at No. 29 Lower Weald then and remember 2 inches of water in their house that morning and trying to dry out the carpet before their daughter's birthday party in the afternoon. In the road there was 3-4 feet of water; this had flooded their elderly Ford Cortina car up to the bottom of the steering wheel. Amazingly, when the waters subsided, the car started first time!

Ferry service calling at no. 22 Lower Weald, 1985. (Brown)1985 - Outside Nos. 21-23 Lower Weald. In the latter half of the 80's the water rarely rose much above the top step by the railings and only occasionally reached the front doorsteps of the cottages. The ferry passengers in the photo (opposite page) are Charlotte and Andrew Mitchell with Jonathan Muston about to disembark whilst Francesca holds the rope and concerned dad Dave Muston anticipates possible intervention.

1987 - The Louries moved into Causeway House and experienced their first main road flood in October, just before the hurricane force winds that devastated parts of southern England.

Sara Lourie and friend outside Causeway House, Lower Weald - October 1987 (Lourie)Our daughter Sara and a friend sailed down the road in a rubber dinghy. We soon learned that the road flooded two or three times every year.

1990 - Black and white markers appeared along the stream by the road at the foot of the field called Causeway Piece, and a photo dated February of that year shows flood water two foot deep. In October of that year Milton Keynes was on red alert after 4 inches of rainfall in 3 days. Millfield, Stony Stratford was completely flooded, and the road through Passenham a raging torrent.

View of 24 and 26 Lower Weald - 1992 (Lourie) 1992 - The road flooded at least three times, and in September the Milton Keynes Herald and Post reported Calverton as being ' imprisoned by floods as trenches failed to cope'.

1993 - On 14 October Milton Keynes Herald reports "Volkswagen in ditch during the floods at Lower Weald." There's even a photo of the unfortunate vehicle and owner.

1996 - On 5 July, under the headline 'Flooding cannot be stopped', the Herald quotes from a new report issued by Milton Keynes Borough Council claiming that flooding in Lower Weald cannot be stopped completely but can be reduced. They had set aside £20,000 for replacement of the inadequate triple pipe culvert.

In November the brook between the River Great Ouse and the Old Wood yard was cleared by the Bucks Drainage Board with funding from the Council and the landowners. The last time this had been done was in 1981.

View from entrance to Old Wood Yard - April 1998 (lourie)1998 - Easter Flood - On Thursday 9 April, just before the Easter weekend, torrential rain had fallen all day causing the road to flood as usual.

This time it was different though; this time the water came into eleven houses, not only through the doorways, but it actually rose up through the cracks in the floors, rising in some houses to a depth of between 12-17 inches. Also what took people by surprise was the speed at which the floors flooded and also how quickly the water went away again. The peak of the flooding was at about 5.30pm, and by 7.30pm it was already down 9 inches; the following morning people awoke to find that the water had completely gone from inside the houses. We were given no warning whatsoever. Water from our two streams had met water from the Great Ouse backing up into our valley, and Lower Weald was caught in the middle and was one of the first casualties. Inadequate culverts exacerbated the situation.

It would be interesting to know why there was this sudden surge of water, where it had come from and why it was unable to continue downstream. Also, why did we get no warning of this serious flood? There were rumours that sluice gates were opened below Buckingham to protect an electricity sub-station from being flooded, and that the mechanism on the Millfield sluice gate above Stony Stratford was jammed, and that this prevented water from moving downstream.

Lower Weald is the responsibility of three authorities, and it becomes clear that Lower Weald's flooding problems fall between three stools:-

(1) The Environment Agency (that took over from the National Rivers Authority in 1996). They are responsible for the River Great Ouse, and should provide a flood warning service for locations known to be at risk from Main River Flooding. In answer to CRA's queries about this flood, they told us that our flooding had been due to a watercourse under the jurisdiction of the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board.

(2) Buckingham Internal Drainage Board - They said in their turn in answer to CRA's queries, that most of the Easter flooding was associated with the Statutory Main River the Great Ouse and to contact the Environment Agency. However on 3 March 1999 CRA called a Special Public Meeting "The Easter Floods and Beyond" to meet representatives of the Board.

Lower Weald - April 1998 (Sturgess)(3) Milton Keynes Council - They are responsible for maintaining the highway culverts that carry our stream water to the Great Ouse. They replied, enclosing an interim report from the Environment Agency, that they are proposing to include the replacement/ improvement of the highway culverts in the 1999/2000 highways maintenance budget.

What happened to the £20,000 set aside for this purpose in 1996?

They also have a dismal record for keeping the culverts and streams clear of weed and debris as Councillor Paul Bartlett knows when he tried to shame them into doing something about this last summer. He finally went to the papers, and the weeds were cleared the next day.

Environment Agency Report

In September 1998 an independent report on the Easter Flooding was produced for the Environment Agency. Nowhere is the Calverton Flood mentioned, but it is interesting to hear how Buckingham and Stony Stratford were affected.

Buckingham - the automatic gauging station at Brackley above Buckingham had failed to give the appropriate warning as to the severity of the flood. The first reported flooding came through at 7pm on Thursday evening. 25 houses and 5 non-residential properties were affected. The last times the town had been flooded were during the great rains of 1947, and again in 1979 when 45 houses and 8 non-residential properties were affected.

Stony Stratford - the crucial flow gauge at Thornborough had failed due to the sheer weight of water so no appropriate warning was given. The first reports of flooding started coming through at 9pm on Thursday evening. This was the first flooding since 1947, and 9 houses and 4 non-residential properties were affected. The river level there was recorded as being 500mm higher than in 1947, a one-in-125 years event.

What The Papers Said

The only mention of the Calverton Flood was on Friday 10 April 1998 in the Milton Keynes Herald. Under the headline 'Storm Chaos' it reported that Milton Keynes Council was forced to shut roads, and Calverton and Ravenstone villages were closed by the Council. It went on to say that 'student David Lourie, 20, of Calverton, said flooding in the village was the worst he had seen for 10 years' and that ' it was thigh-high in the centre'.

The Three Wealds Newsletter - Issue 27 May/June 1998, gives an account of what happened, plus map, flood observations, and photographs.

Also Issue 31 April/May 1999 gives a report on the Special Public Meeting called by CRA with representatives from the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board. (See Appendix below)

In the Sunday Citizen, of 4 October 1998 it was reported 'commenting on the report by an independent review team into the Maundy Thursday deluge, the Environment Agency maintained it had been overtaken by the speed and severity of the flood.... It promised to do better warning the public if again faced by floods of that magnitude....The Agency has pledged to have in place a more efficient system of direct warnings to those in the path of any future floods... It will also survey flood affected properties, prepare maps of the Easter floods and establish self-help groups to disseminate flood warnings.

Milton Keynes on Sunday on 25 October 1998 reported that city MP Brian White was calling for a judicial review into the floods and why the sluice gates at Buckingham were opened allowing a wall of water to flow down the Ouse to Milton Keynes.

CRA has contacted Dr Phyllis Starkey MP with our concerns and she has replied asking us to let her have details of any correspondence regarding the flood, and any suggestions that we would like the Environment Agency to take into account.

Appendix

Report from Andrew Donaldson in The Three Wealds Newsletter - Issue 31 April/May 1999.

On 3 March 1999 the Calverton Residents' Association called a Special Meeting "The Easter Floods and Beyond" to which all residents of the Wealds had been invited to meet representatives of the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board.

"...The Buckingham Internal Drainage Board set up a small exhibition of their work for the meeting, which had a disappointingly small attendance. Representatives of the Board explained their responsibilities in terms of the smaller watercourses, which feed into the Great Ouse - the management of the latter river being the responsibility of the Environment Agency. At an early point in the meeting it became clear that the Board were just as interested in hearing what the residents had to say about the flooding as what the Board themselves were proposing to alleviate future severe flooding in Lower Weald. As far as the Board's proposals were concerned, these appear to be far from specific although it was acknowledged at the meeting these funds were allocated in the coming financial year for alleviation works.

The Board explained that complete avoidance of another severe flood could not be guaranteed, although it was acknowledged that the Easter 1998 occurrence was exceptional. (The Environment Agency has already reported the highest river levels in the Ouse at Stony Stratford since the historic flood in 1947 and the return of the Easter event has been estimated as a one-in-125-years chance). However, the Board had extended its detailed survey of the key watercourses further upstream than originally intended, and an ecological survey was also being carried out before any alleviation measures were finalised, these in consultation with the relevant landowners.

Residents at the meeting raised a number of concerns, including the frequent flooding of the road at Lower Weald (even when properties were not affected), the filling in of ponds on higher ground which might have created more run-off, the grids across culverts collecting debris and reducing water flow in heavy rain, the effective operation of sluice gates on the Ouse by the Environment Agency etc. The Board agreed to keep CRA posted on the progress of their surveys and the final alleviation measures proposed.."

(Some flood prevention measures have now been started in Lower Weald - October 2000.)

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Last updated 5th July 1999.