At 2.15 a.m. on Thursday 27 August 1914 a number of horses belonging to the Staffordshire Yeomanry broke loose from Great Havers Farm, Bishops Stortford and scattered in all directions. It is believed that the horses were frightened by owls and resulted in several horses crashing through the gate into Havers Lane, whilst others broke through the iron railings at King’s Cottages, South Street. They left behind them a trail of damage to lamp posts, iron railings etc. which did nothing to deter their progress!!
Seventeen horses ran into a deep ditch of water and many were killed. Several horses galloped through Sawbridgeworth and Harlow and 40 or more through the main streets of Stansted and Little Hadham.
A couple of horses were actually captured by Mr Sidney Thomas as they ran passed his house and 30 were secured by Harry Cox and his colleague at Great Havers Farm.
The men of the Stafford Yeomanry were sleeping in the Great Hall and after the alarm was raised by the captain of the Fire Brigade, Mr H Lee, they set off to try and capture as many animals as possible.
One of the horses met a dreadful death after crashing into the Epping to Bishops Stortford motor mail. The poor animal was practically cut to pieces, the mail van was beyond repair and another van had to be sent for to complete the mail delivery to Bishop Stortford.
When reported in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 29 August 1914 there were still 80 animals unaccounted for but some were subsequently captured at Epping, Harlow, Buntingford, etc. There were also 6 further deaths reported.
However……………..this story does not end here !!!!!
Was it sabotage?
At 11.00 p.m. only 21 hours later, another stampede of horses from the lines of the Staffordshire Yeomanry occurred. On this occasion, all of the horses in the camp broke loose and bore down on the gateway into Havers Lane. Several of the 54 men on duty were injured and the horses caused a serious amount of damage to fences and hedges with horses falling down and the following horses jumping over them!!
Almost 300 horses charged through the main street narrowly missing pedestrians but breaking a plate glass window and damaging the roof and wall outside the Chantry. Gas lamps in Rye Street were broken, one horse lost a leg and had to be shot and the roads were covered with blood.
On Friday the horses started to be brought back to the camp looking very bedraggled, some sporting several bandages and many were wounded. They had been rounded up as far away as Buntingford, Walthamstow, Audley End and Standon..
At the time of the press report many horses were still missing.
The origin of the stampede is not known but it is thought that it was sabotage. Pickets have said that they had seen unauthorised personnel about the camp on several occasions and a house in the corner of the field, which was where the first animals had broken away, was duly searched but to no avail.
To prevent a reoccurrence of the stampede, new quarters for the regiment were being sought.
After the war a Stortfordian man hitched a lift with someone who had served with the the Staffordshire Yeomanry during the Great War. The ex-soldier had been billeted in the New Town area of Bishops Stortford and had lived just next door to his passenger’s aunt! He had remembered the night of the stampede and said how at the time people were convinced it was caused in some way by spies and treachery. However he recalled there had been a severe thunderstorm and he was convinced that it was that, that had spooked the horses not some undercover spy.