One hundred and thirteen years ago, in July 1909, the Luton Reporter was one of several newspapers to describe how the Three Counties Asylum had recently been visited by a summer storm that sent a “shudder … through the foundations”, to the “great anxiety” of staff inside the building.
It went on: “Their alarm, however, quickly abated, when it was discovered that the force of the vibration had spent itself on the windows of the building in a very strange manner, about 500 windows on the men’s side of the Asylum being cracked from top to bottom. No other damage was done, and no one was injured.” The affected panes were small – about nine by six inches each – and each of them had been cracked rather than shattered.
Lightning protection was invented by Benjamin Franklin in America in the middle of the 18th century, and it was available in Britain when the Three Counties Asylum was built 100 years later (and certainly by 1909) – but it was primitive by modern standards, it was not mandated, and its use was not regulated. It seems likely that a strike on one of the towers might have run to earth through the building’s metal window frames to produce this kind of damage.
The Luton Reporter went on to say that “the curious part of the affair was that no flash of lightning was noticed before the clap of thunder” – leading those inside the building at the time to think that the thunder itself had caused the damage. Of course it’s far more likely that those inside were not paying close attention to the storm before the strike was felt. Modern Fairfield Hall residents can rest assured that the building now benefits from 21st-century lightning protection and that any summer storms we experience in 2022 are likely to remain outside where they belong.