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Dartmoor’s Great Blizzard 1927.



Christmas 1927, will be noted for the ‘Great Blizzard’ which swept the country from end to end. Christmas Day opened damp and gloomy, but during the late afternoon there was a sudden change in the weather, and towards night the wind rose and the rain quickly changed to blinding snow. All night the blizzard continued, and on Boxing Morning the country was more or less snowbound. Dartmoor experienced the full force of the blizzard and snow drifts in some places were up to 16 feet deep. In and around Devon the major effects of the Great Blizzard were; shipping in distress, residents maroon in the homes due to huge snow drifts, Princetown completely cut off by road and rail, motor and road traffic ground to a halt, telegraph wires broken and communications interrupted, large trees blown down, pedestrians and motorists injured by road accidents and sports fixtures cancelled,

Here are a few reports of the effects of the ‘Great Blizzard’ on and around Dartmoor.
The Western Times -Friday December 30th 1927
Ashburton – paths have been cut to some farms, but Holne has not yet been reached. It was freezing this morning, although the day was bright. A postman from Widecombe had a terrible experience. He had climbed over big snowdrifts and crossed frozen fields, but on several occasions was lost. Roads have been opened, but the passage between Exeter and Plymouth is narrow and dangerous on account of the ice.
Bovey Tracy and District – The baker is having a troublesome time in the neighbourhood of North Bovey. On Wednesday he had to walk his rounds and the conditions were such that he had an extremely trying time. Postal deliveries have altogether been very difficult and vehicles cannot travel on the main road. Narrow footpaths have been cut through the snow in some places, in order to maintain communication with neighbouring towns. Owing to the small number of men available, it has been impossible to do more than cut away for the foot traffic, and if the hard weather holds no vehicles are expected for some days, the ground being frozen hard.
Bridestowe – a wedding fixed for Tuesday at Bridestowe was postponed. The bridegroom started in a motor from Dartmouth, but at Whiddon Down found the road impassable. A motor car returning from Plymouth to Okehampton on Sunday night was snowed up, and the car was only found again on Tuesday night. It was found by pushing poles through the snow.
Manaton – the relief of Manaton was carried out this morning when the bakers from neighbouring towns got through. It was reported on Wednesday that the village was getting dangerously short in spite of the fact that a butcher struggled through the snow across the vale with a supply of meat. No bread however had reached the village since Saturday last. Fortunately big supplies had been taken in for Christmas and nobody therefore has gone short, though no kind of bread store was in sight, and there was no reasonable hope that the roads would be cleared for days. This morning, however, a joyful message was received that a baker had started on his way, and although it would be impossible to get right through to the village he would bring supplies to the nearest point he could reach. Hearing this, all the villagers set out to meet him. He got to a place within two miles of Manaton, and here handed over the loaves which were carried in triumph to the respective homes of the messengers. The roads are still impassable for vehicles although it is possible to walk along a track which has been made under a sheltered hedge. On the other side rises a bank of frozen snow up to 12 feet in height.
Moretonhampstead – had its full share of the Arctic conditions which commenced on Christmas Eve at about 5 p.m., snow falling steadily throughout the night blocking the main roads to Plymouth, Exeter and Newton. At the top of Court Street a wall of snow five feet in height stacked across the road and there were huge snowdrifts eight feet in depth at Cossick Cross. All this did not interfere with the spirit of Christmas. On Boxing Day tobogganing was in full swing on the Sentry, Bearlands, and Budliegh Fields, and on Wednesday all roads led to these centres.
 Okehampton – Early in the January of 1928 an experienced moorman reported that after checking an area where between 3,000 and 4,000 sheep were known to be pastured he only found 16 dead ones along with one young pony and the cattle came away unscathed.
Princetown – ‘no trains and no road traffic’ is the report from Princetown. This important moorland town is entirely cut off and has been since Sunday. No letters have arrived and the towns people are ignorant of the condition of affairs outside, and don’t even know the fate of the occupants of farms in the immediate neighbourhood. On Wednesday it was reported that 80 men and a snow plough were trying to cut through drifts from 10 to 15  feet deep on the railway, and they had hopes last night of seeing the first train from Yelverton. Up to noon yesterday, however, there was no sign of the relief party, and the inhabitants are still waiting for their trains. Everything is at a standstill, and the men have occupied their time in clearing the streets and making passages through the snow which lies deep everywhere. The convicts of the penal establishment have been employed since Sunday in clearing the road to the boundary of the estate. They have also devoted much time in digging out sheep and cattle, forming part of the prison stock, which had been buried in deep drifts on the moor.


Widecombe-in-the-Moor – among the most isolated villages in Devon is that of Widecombe, situated in the heart of Dartmoor. The inhabitants were cut off from the outside world, except by wireless and telephone, from Christmas Day till Wednesday, when the postman managed to get through from Ashburton, seven miles off. He brought with him newspapers, which had been published in the previous two days and they were eagerly sought after. The journey occupied the postman for four hours. For a considerable part of the seven miles he had to walk on the tops of the hedges, and the journey could only have been possible to one so thoroughly familiar with the country. There were drifts at some points 15 feet deep. Fortunately it being the festive season, households had in extra stocks of food, and they have supplies which are estimated to be sufficient for at least a week. Roadmen are busy clearing the roads between Ashburton and the village, but a considerable time must elapse before traffic can be resumed.
Ponies, Cattle and Sheep – it is estimated that hundreds of ponies, cattle and sheep have been buried in the snow on Dartmoor and that many of them have succumbed. Rescue parties are busy, Dartmoor ponies have a keen instinct for recognising the approach of bad weather, and on Christmas night they sought shelter of the nearest villages. Many, however, were too far in the moor, and these, it is feared have died from the effects of the cold and the inability to obtain food. Ponies and sheep rescued on Wednesday have been reduced to such a state of weakness that they could not stand. On the way between Ashburton and Widecombe ponies were seen by Mr. Mugridge, the postman who made the journey on Wednesday, huddled together in the valleys, and they appeared to be still alive. From one of the drifts in the neighbourhood 130 sheep were dug out on Wednesday.
Mr. Moses – is in charge of the signal box at the G.W.R. at Fowey. He had been staying over the holiday at Foggin Tor, near Princetown, and he was due back at Fowey for duty on Tuesday afternoon. The only means of getting there was by walking to Dousland, a distance of five miles, and this he set out to do in the face of a blinding storm of wind and snow. The roads, too, were in an almost impassable state, drifts eight feet deep being encountered in many places. In negotiating these, which was only done at extreme risk, Mr. Moses often sank up to his waist. After battling for several hours Mr. Moses reached Dousland in a thoroughly exhausted condition. His clothes were frozen on him, and icicles were hanging fro his hat. On the way Mr. Moses saw grouse on the Moor which were too weak to fly, and could only walk away at his approach. There are no habitations of any sort on this road, and some birds and a few sheep were the only living things he saw.
Home for Christmas – one unfortunate prisoner who had been serving a three year prison sentence was finally given his freedom on the Boxing day. Sadly he found himself snowbound at Princetown but so determined was he to spend what was left of Christmas at his home he decided to walk all the way to Yelverton from where he would catch a train to Plymouth and then to London. Despite the Governor of the Prison advising the man to wait until conditions improved he set out across the snowy moorland. Unfortunately his efforts were in vain and he had to turn back to the prison. However such was he resolve that he once again attempted the journey on which occasion he did manage to reach Yelverton.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

One comment

  1. I found this so interesting. I’m very glad you are writing these pieces of history about Dartmoor.

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