Stampeding cavalry horses

Greta Cull

200 horses scared by an owl!

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, Bishop’s 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 Bishop’s 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’s 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 !

After the war one of the Stortfordians was hitching a lift home and the person who gave him a lift had been in the Staffordshire Yeomanry and billeted next to the aunt of said Stortfordian in New Town area.  He recounted the story of the horses .

Treachery Suspected

Was this one sabotage?

At 11.00 p.m.  within 21 hours of the first, 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 recurrence of the stampede, new quarters for the regiment were being sought.

A postscript

After the Great War, a Stortfordian was hitching a lift home and the driver had been in the Great War, serving in the Staffordshire Yeomanry.  By amazing coincidence the Stortfordian man discovered that the ex soldier had been billeted next door to his aunt in the New Town area of Stortford. He was also treated to an account of the stampeding horses, probably the second occasion, and how everyone at the time had suggested that it had been caused by spies.  However he insisted there had been a thunderstorm and that was the cause of the horses being spooked and causing the second stampede.


This page was added on 18/06/2013.

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