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When sand was being transported in the 17th century the poor quality road system of Leighton Buzzard consisted of pack horse tracks. Cities were connected by old Roman roads plundered for their stone. The means of transport consisted of packhorses, carts and large wagons, most cattle and poultry were driven to local markets or towns, where the tracks and roads passed through clay areas they became impassable ‘sloughs’ of mud.

Sand was collected from the working face of the pit by local carters and delivered to building companies, tile and cement works, mostly in the centre of Leighton Buzzard.
When the Grand Junction canal came to Leighton Buzzard in 1800 the carting traffic increased to meet the demands of pairs of working boats each loading 20/30 tons to be delivered to London and the Midlands. The canal had a monopoly on transportation only for 38 years; the rail link came to Leighton Buzzard By the end of the 18th century the roads were being further damaged by the solid tyres of steam engines and wagons

1910s. Sentinell steam wagon. By kind permission T. Lawson

World War One brought about several changes in the road transportation of sand. The demand for local sand increased to supply the munitions industry and to fill the shortfall in cheap sand from Europe. Consequently the damage to the local roads was increased, fortunately the Government offered to pay the road maintenance for the duration of the war.
When the war ended in 1918 the sand companies and hauliers had to resume paying for road damage and quickly resurrected an idea for a local light railway first proposed in 1899, this had three big effects on sand transportation by roads.

1920s'-30s'. Hoppers emptying sand on to petrol enjine lorry.jpg

First the near monopoly of the horse carters was removed and this was reflected in the Leighton Buzzard Observer for Tuesday 2nd December 1919.

“The opening of the Light railway has sounded the death knell of a local institution-the sand carter – He was never loved and not likely to be lamented – He was generally young (15-18 yrs old) and hefty; a knotted muffler was his neckware;he wore his cap at a ‘don’t care ‘ angle and a fag end gave him a final touch of freedom and independence – He had the reputation for beating all records in the twin art of wearing out horses and roads. The war brought him to the height of his prosperity –Whilst lesser fry were called up he was protected –Saturday saw the dismissal of a big batch of carters – the 36 horses at the auction will not shed a tear.”

Then there was a reduction in steam tractors which was also greeted with thankfulness-Leighton Buzzard Observer for Tuesday 11th February 1919.

“Leighton Buzzard has seen the last of the steam tractors. And there are few people. who are not devoutly thankful? The tractors worked Sundays and weekdays alike and people who had 5/10 ton loads of sand waltzing past their houses every few minutes of the day reached a speechless stage of indignation…Cottagers aver that whilst they lay abed on Sunday mornings the foundations rocked and that pictures and ornaments have been jarred off the walls and mantelshelves and broken”.

The third consequence of the Light railway was a considerable reduction in traffic through the town centre.

1950s' North Street 4 wheel trucks. By kind permission R. Co

World War Two again produced a demand for local sand but by now the railways had displaced the canals and road transport was providing a ‘door to door’ service. Rail transport would have continued to expand but the rail strike of 1958 allowed road haulage to predominate. The decline in the canals and rise of road transport directly affected William Vaughn who worked canal boats for Arnold, Garside and then drove a range of vehicles for A.C. Biggs, and other local hauliers

With the end of the war, men with military vehicles were looking for new employment. One example of this was the R.K. Browning haulage company who started in 1947 with one ex- military vehicle. His son has traced the developments in sand transport from the early four wheeled tipper trucks of the fifties, the first pressurised tankers of the early sixties using dried sand which in the seventies could be blown directly into the filter beds of water treatment works or storage silos.

1974. First flatbed lorry, converted later to tipper.

1985. Eastern Way. Mercedes Benz1617.

Loading methods for sand have progressed from shovelling in and out of open carts through hand bagging and tying of recycled hessian sacks to paper and plastic sacks filled automatically and palleted ,then loaded by fork lift truck.

In the 21st century sand transport is being measured for its carbon footprint as much as the cost per mile. At least one sand producer is investigating the re-use of the inland waterways. We will see the return of horse carters in the high street?


copyright Greensand trust 2010