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Langford History Society
 

Langford Incidents:

Aviation Incidents

Death in Mill Lane

Fatal accident in 1904

THE BATTLE OF LANGFORD – SHOTS FIRED FROM RIFLES!


Aviation incidents
For a village that has no airfield and no obvious connection with aviation apart from nearby Old Warden and RAF Henlow, Langford has seen four aviation incidents over the years, the earliest only 10 years after the dawn of the air age.

The photographs and some of the information below formed part of the collection of the late Malcolm Handscombe, a local photographer, which he left to the Society.

1912/1913: Short S38 lands on the Mushroom Meadow
The aircraft, a Short S38, one of a batch with maker’s numbers 554–562, was used by the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and was a pusher biplane and a large aircraft for that time, having a 52 foot wing span, a length of 36 feet and a wing area of 500 square feet. It was taking part in manoeuvres when it made a forced landing in Langford.

Naval Plane 1
Naval Plane 2
Naval Plane 3
Naval Plane 4

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

Mr Handscombe’s note with the photographs places the incident in September 1913, but the description at page 25 of Langford through the Lens (vol. 1, 1990) said it took place in October 1912 and states that the landing took place on ‘Mr Inskip’s land, mid-way between Baulk House and the sewage works’. The Pilot Officer of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps was following the railway line when he lost sight of it in the mist and decided to land wherever he could. The landing caused great excitement in the village but the plane was quickly removed.

This type of aircraft was very flimsy and had a service life of just one year. The one that was used by the Central Flying School was wrecked by a gust of wind.

Hawker Hind trainer, Balls Farm, 24 February 1941
A Hawker Hind trainer, L7226, and belonging to 501 squadron, RAF, built in 1938, crashed at Balls Farm, Langford, on 24 February 1941.

Hawker Hind 1
Hawker Hind 2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

The Hawker Hind, designed by Sir Sydney Camm (designer of the Hurricane), began to replace the Hawker Hart as the RAF’s standard light bomber in late 1935. The prototype flew on 12 September 1934, and was really an improved Hart with a more powerful engine and better aerodynamics. 527 Hinds were built, and it equipped 47 RAF bomber squadrons from 1935 to 1939, until replaced by more modern aircraft. 501 Squadron RAF flew Hawker Hinds from March 1938 to March 1939 when they were replaced by Hurricanes but the aircraft that crashed at Langford, L7226, was retained as a trainer. It was probably on a flight from 501 Squadron’s base at Filton, near Bristol, when it crashed. The Hind differed from the Hart in having a tail-wheel in place of a skid, a better exhaust system and a cutaway rear cockpit to give the gunner a better view.

There is very little other information due probably to wartime restrictions.

Hunting Jet Provost, Langford Common, 16 November 1960
Just before lunch time on Wednesday 16 November 1960 a Jet Provost blew up over the village. The wreckage was scattered over a wide area but fortunately fell in open spaces so that nobody on the ground was injured and there was no damage to property.

Hunting Jet Provost 1
Hunting Jet Provost 2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

One of our members recalls: ‘I was playing in the village on that day, as were most Langford kids who were off school, as it was General Election day. When the plane exploded, most people thought that fragments of falling plane (glinting in the sun) were party political leaflets! One of the plane wings landed close to the school.’

The aircraft involved was G-AOUS which was a T2B development aircraft owned by Hunting Aircraft, Luton. The pilot, Lt Cdr J R S (‘Jack’) Overbury, 35, of Studham, Nr Whipsnade, sadly died in the accident. The accident occurred when the aircraft was recovering from a dive, the nosewheel doors opened which were then ripped off, this affected the balance of the aircraft and it went into a nose-high attitude. The aircraft was severely overstressed and the wings detached causing it to disintegrate over Langford. The cause of the undercarriage doors opening at speed was that the nosewheel had been lowered on a previous flight, then raised by the emergency undercarriage system and it was not locked in place. This additional information was supplied by The Jet Provost File, http://jetprovost.org a history-based web site listing the histories of every Jet Provost built.

Mr Overbury had served in the Fleet Air Arm as a Lieutenant Commander and had won two international point to point records. In 1954 he flew a Sea Hawk from London to Amsterdam at 571 mph and in 1955 a Sea Venom from Rome to Malta at 531 mph. He joined Saunders Roe in 1956 and assisted with the experimental rocket powered SR53, which in 1953 killed John Booth, the chief test pilot. In the same year Mr Overbury was badly injured in a crash at Sandown. He was told he was permanently grounded but four months and four operations later he had recovered and was allowed to fly again from 1959.

 

Glider No 73
Glider No 73 belonging to the RAF Glider and Sailplane Association forced landed on Langford Playing Field sometime in the early 1950s and was photographed by Malcolm Handscombe. We heard from Nigel Perry, who was an Air Cadet instructor at Henlow for 12 years, 1981–1993, in April 2016,that the glider is a Slingsby Skylark 3F andindeed owned by the RAFGSA. The glider was in a competition from the London Regionals at Dunstable.The date was Monday, 28 July 1958. The pilot was Flying Officer Dave Cretney and the article in Sailplane & Gliding magazine for October 1958 states that he landed on a playing field three miles East of Henlow having flown 17 miles from Dunstable. On 2 August he flew the glider to Martlesham Heath and won an award for the best flight. Dave Cretney was on an exchange posting with the US Air Force later and in 1964 piloted the B-52 mother ship for the X-15 rocket plane.

Glider 1
Glider2

All photos: Malcolm Handscombe Collection

Fatal accident in 1904
Sir William Rattigan (1842–1904), a distinguished judge in India and the grandfather of the playwright Terence Rattigan, was motoring through Langford in July 1904 when his hired Darracq car left the road. As the car approached an awkward turn in the road at 10 mph it overturned:

‘Sir William was thrown against the glass screen in front of the car and Lady Rattigan and the chauffeur were imprisoned beneath the glass screen. Some labourers rushed forward to render assistance and found Sir William was dead. They extricated Lady Rattigan, who was suffering from cuts and shock.’
[Bedfordshire Times]

The body was taken to The Boot public house which probably indicates that the incident took place at The Boot corner where the road was improved many years later. The Coroner’s inquest was held a few days later at the Corner House, which used to stand on the south side of the junction between The Leys and the High Street. The roadworthiness of the car was not discussed but the coroner needed to decide whether anyone was to blame. The car was hired out by Rawlings of Gloucester Road, London, even though it had previously been in collision with a coal cart. A verdict of accidental death was returned, for although ‘the car was not in a fit condition to go on a journey’, the driver was ‘acting under the instructions of his masters’ and was exonerated from all blame.
[Details from Bedfordshire by Simon Houfe (Pimlico, 1995).]

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Death in Mill Lane
The Biggleswade Chronicle of 27 November 1925 carried a shocking report of a fatal accident during the night of 25/26t November in Mill Lane. Mr Horace Charles William Sells, aged 27, of Church Cottage, Mill Lane was killed while out with a horse and scavenging cart collecting night soil (the contents of outdoor toilets) from the village. Horace Sells, with Thomas Potton had just finished their work in Mill Lane at 12:30 am and were about to proceed to another part of the village. The horse, with the harnessed cart, took fright, possibly spooked by a tethered black and white goat, and bolted down Mill Lane towards the River Ivel with Horace Sells holding the nearside rein trying to stop the horse and loaded cart. After travelling 140 yards the cart mounted the grass verge and then slipped into a deep, water- and mud-filled ditch. Horace was pinned under the water by the axle. The water was 3ft 6ins deep and he drowned in the pitch black darkness of the night. Horace was due to marry his fiancée at Christmas. She worked as a nurse at the local mental hospital.
The inquest, was held at The Wrestlers in front of Mr G J M Whyley, Supt H W Church and the local policeman PC A E Piggott. Dr R D Bridger had been called two hours after the accident and pronounced the death by drowning. The horse was owned by Thomas Potton and it had never bolted before. Mrs M Sells, widow and mother of the deceased was the owner of the tethered goat.
Part of the ditch mentioned in the newspaper report is still in Mill Lane – where it flows into the river, although most of it has been converted into a culvert which now flows under the road surface. Church cottage may have been one of those demolished in 1937 which is shown on the map taken from the this website. Mill Lane was probably much narrower in 1925 to accommodate the cottages. Horace Sells was market gardener’s labourer in the employment of Arthur Potton for 14 years. His father was also killed in similar circumstances on 29 March 1901 when he was driving a horse and cart between Langford and Biggleswade in a heavy snowstorm.                        Contributed by John Shipman

Langford and the Black Death
In 1348–1349 a terrible and very infectious disease swept through the country. This plague, known as the Black Death, was spread by rats and their fleas. In Bedfordshire the disease reached its peak between March and August of 1349. The first known case in England was a seaman who arrived at Weymouth in Dorset from Gascony in June 1348. By autumn, the plague had reached London, and by summer 1349 it covered the entire country.
Little is known about the effects it had on Bedfordshire but it is estimated that up to a third of the population may have died. In Langford, the vicar, Richard de Geynesburgh died and it is recorded that at least another 54 vicars in Bedfordshire also died of the plague. John de Kerebrook was the next vicar of Langford and he survived until 1364. As a general rule the survival of the Lords of the Manor was better than that of the common people due to their better living standards. Isabella Wahull held the manor of Langford and she might have witnessed the de-population of the village from her manor house which was probably sited close to the church. Her principal manor was at Odell.
The blackened, stinking bodies of the afflicted were carried to the churchyard and red crosses were painted on the doors of the victims. The shock and terror in the small Langford community of about 175 people is unimaginable. Farmers and cottagers in Langford died in their houses and in the fields. There were vacant and uncultivated farms, sheep and cattle ran loose. Cattle died in the ditches and were ‘so putrid that neither beast nor bird would touch them’. The churchyard probably had a plague pit to accommodate about one third of the population that died between 1349 and 1369. At nearby Ashwell an unknown scribe cut on a stone the words ‘only the dregs of the people remain’.
People had little idea of the cause of the inflammation of the lungs, the shivering and retching, the foul smelling breath, and the ominous scarlet blotches and hard, black boils in the armpits and groin. The latter were often called “Gods tokens”. There had been three working mills in Langford fifty years before the Black Death but in 1368 records show that ‘two mills are in ruins and worth nothing for want of repair’.
A further pandemic of the plague in 1369 probably claimed the lives of two more Langford vicars – John Lucas and Richard Stoghton.
The Black Death greatly impoverished the county of Bedfordshire. Labour was scarce and wages rose rapidly. There were not enough people to cultivate the land or to construct new buildings. This decline lasted well into the next century. The plague and the subsequent economic depression was the beginning of the end of the feudal over-lords and the system of repressive serfdom.
In 1361–62 the plague returned to England, this time causing the death of around 20% of the population. After this the plague continued to return intermittently throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, in local or national outbreaks. From this point on its effect became less severe, and one of the last outbreaks of the plague in England was the Great Plague of London in 1665–66.
Source: The People at the Long Ford by Michael Rutt Bedfordshire County Library, 1976; History of Bedfordshire 1066-1888 by Joyce Godber (Bedfordshire County Council, 1969).

Contributed by John Shipman

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THE BATTLE OF LANGFORD – SHOTS FIRED FROM RIFLES!
The Biggleswade Chronicle carried a report of a gun battle in Langford. The year was 1912 and it was real enough by all accounts. Can anyone recall their parents re-telling the story?
The government decided that the British Army should take part in a large military exercise to practice strategy and tactics and no doubt to detect the strengths and weaknesses in moving large numbers of troops and supplies to support fighting troops. The forces of an imaginary country (Red) had crossed the frontier dividing Red from Britain (Blue). Red forces were pushing south as quickly as possible. Blue had ordered a general mobilisation and its prime goal was to stop Red forces entering London: Blue forces were based around Cambridge. Time was of the essence for both sides. The forces were nearly equal in size. Each consisted of a cavalry division, two infantry divisions, army troops, two aeroplane flights, and an airship. In the manoeuvres, Sir James Grierson decisively beat Douglas Haig, calling into question Haig's abilities as a field commander.
The Biggleswade Chronicle takes up the story with the conflict between the two armies: 6 September 1912 Friday was a great day in the district and great excitement prevailed in consequence of the military manaevoures which extended over many miles of countryside from Caldecote, Stanford, Shefford, Baldock and Langford. The 4th Cavalry Brigade arrived at Shefford overnight and were billeted at various farms for several miles around. There were about 1,200 men and horses belonging to the 20th Hussars and Scots Greys and Lancers with guns and waggons. The headquarters of the general and the staff being at the White Hart hotel in Shefford. These troops were the Red army that were retreating back to Royston and were closely pursued by the Blue army. They arrived much fatigued by the long 38-mile march from Tring and the various fighting actions on the way. The troops were up early next morning and the chief incidents were at Caldecote, Stanford, Langford and Toplers Hill. The main body of the brigade with a great number of waggons stretching hundreds of yards moved out of Shefford along the road to Langford via Clifton. There was already a line of waggons along the road between Clifton Church and Langford. There they stood under cover of the hedge, screened from view from the opposing forces operating from Arlesey and Stotfold. Their goal was to avoid or fight the Blue army at Langford and then regroup at Wimpole Hall marching via Edworth Road, Dunton, Wrestlingworth and Tadlow.
Upwards of 130 men and horses stayed on 5 September, Thursday night, at Broom, and Old Warden. In the morning a constant stream of soldiers and their transport proceeded towards Langford and Henlow, several skirmishes taking place on the way.
At 6.50am on 6 September, Friday, a monoplane passed over Langford and Biggleswade and a biplane came into range at 7.10am. Both returned to Baldock after circling Langford. It is thought these planes were identifying the location of the various detachments. Several squadrons with their baggage carts and a few cyclists passed through Biggleswade on Friday and about 80 men and horses belonging to the Red army partook of their midday meal in the market place.
A good number of people cycled over to Langford when it became known that fighting was taking place at Langford. The Scots Greys were defending the River Ivel against a strong force of mounted men belonging to the Lancers, Hussars, etc, who were trying to get through from Shefford to Cambridge.
The first shot was fired before 6.00am and the enemy was repulsed after a couple of hours hard fighting. Three times the oncoming army, assisted by maxim machine guns, were repulsed during the morning, the victory being awarded to the Scots Greys by the umpire. The latter also held up the Blues again at the Langford railway bridge in Edworth Road and again at Toplers Hill where the prolonged fighting at Langford ended. Very little work was done in the village on Friday morning as large, interested crowds watched the battles. One horse from the Blue army got stuck in the river as the rider was trying to outflank the troops holding the river bridge.
Source: Biggleswade Chronicle archives
By John Shipman

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