Takeley Telephone Exchange  Explosion -

The Events As I Remember Them

by Don Dean

The explosion occurred at approximately 7.30am on 14th November 1962. At that time we lived at Cintra, Brewers End, Takeley. My wife had already left to carry out her post round and was delivering mail in Parsonage Road when the explosion occurred. I had just got my car out to go to work and was shutting up the garage when I heard the explosion.

I went to the gate and I could see smoke rising towards the Four Ashes crossroads. I ran to the scene of the exchange and saw Bert Laver standing at the rear of his van. He was shaken but was able to get a shovel from the wreckage of his garage and between us we smothered the flames coming from the ducting in the wreckage.

1At this time I looked around and saw the extent of the damage around me. Windows and doors were blown off, roofs off etc.  My thoughts were then on our friends in Hawthorne Close, Mr and Mrs Richardson, so I went there and they were shaken but talking to the local Policeman.  He asked me to try and get some help out here while he checked for anyone injured around the Close.

At the time I worked for the GPO as a mechanic in the Bishop's Stortford Garage. I rushed home, got in my car and went to the Engineering Depot at South Street, Bishop's Stortford. I alerted them of the position at Takeley and asked them to get the emergency services out. Mr Banyard, the chief engineer, asked me for further information and Post Office Engineers were sent out to Takeley to survey the position.

I went to the GPO Garage, my normal working place, and saw Mr Curtis, the Workshop Supervisor, and informed him of the position at Takeley and the reason I had not arrived earlier. Mr Curtis informed me he had to arrange for two Mobile Telephone Exchanges to be got for Takeley as it was the Transport Section's responsibility. He asked me if I would accept the responsibility of positioning the exchanges in a suitable position with the engineers and remove the wheels and fit the stands supplied on the trailers. While I was loading the van with the necessary jacks, blocks and my tool kit he informed me one exchange would come from Yeading in Middlesex and the other from Stone in Staffordshire.

2I returned to Takeley and met Mr Layton and Mr Wicker, the engineers from the local area. We had to decide the best place to put the exchanges so that they could be wired into the main circuits in the ducting. It was decided that as plenty of staff were available that we would position them in the school playground near the road and the house at the top of the playground.

While we were still in the playground other explosions occurred. It was the gas pressure blowing off the GPO covers. The first one blew some 30ft into the air. The engineers removed several covers towards Bishop's Stortford to release the pressure and prevent further blowouts.

As far as I can remember the first trailer exchange arrived from Yeading at approximately 12 o'clock and with the aid of the towing vehicle and staff support it was positioned near the road in the playground. The wheels were removed and the trailer put on the stands supplied with the exchanges. The second exchange arrived late in the afternoon. We had to manhandle this into position as the towing vehicle was too large to be of any use. We were able to remove the wheels and fit the stands so the engineers and jointers could carry on connections to the main wiring. We had to work with the aid of electric from mobile generators.

Within about 48 hours the phone service through Takeley was reinstated and engineers were working on private lines in the village

During our work with the exchanges the firemen and builders etc. were trying to secure buildings and cover broken windows with boarding and roofs with tarpaulins.

We were quite lucky for refreshments as the Police, Fire Service and GPO had mobile canteens and residents of Takeley could get a meal and shelter in the Village Hall.

3Our task was not fully completed on that day as wheels etc. had to be taken to Bishop's Stortford for storage.

I competed my duty that day at approximately 9.30pm and my wife had helped Mr and Mrs Richardson and they stayed with us a day or two until their chalet was repaired.

It was a considerable time before normal life resumed in the village due to enquiries, insurance claims and assessment for damages etc.






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