Thursday, 31 January 2013

Big Freeze 1962/63 part 1 - conditions, the effects during those long dark frozen days ...


The recent BBC broadcast ‘WinterWatch’ showed an archive film on The Big Freeze of 1962/63 – I have followed/taken extracts from this footage ...


There will now be three parts ... a great deal in note form ...

1.      Big Freeze 1962 and conditions stayed as Siberian weather ebbed and flowed, but mostly stuck for 10.5 weeks ....  (long post and long freeze  this one!)
2.    Weather forecasting 1960s style ... and reported outcomes of big freeze
3.    Fun stories, silly outcomes, housing stock and floods – various ...

Forewarned is forearmed ... it’s now three more weather posts ... !!

The snow came from the north reaching us in Surrey on December 26th 1962:  The newspaper headlines told the story ...

Now It’s Siberia
Britain Snowed to a Standstill
It’s Chaos

Bleak Scotland


Cliff Michelmore in the 1963 broadcast noted that the BBC Tonight programme would be using the Fahrenheit scale (it had changed on 15 October 1962) ... as we, and as many of us still, are used to 32 deg F rather than 0 deg C.



Snow covered buses still ran – there was no reason to think otherwise!

Dartmoor - became impassable 
Worst blizzard in living memory with the South-West bearing the brunt ... with the temperature dropping to 19 deg F (- 7 deg C) – I do not know how cold it got, but these temperatures were in the milder part of the country in those very early days ....

Advised not to travel or go out

Towns were isolated

200 main roads were impassable – in that first week – minor roads were completely cut off ..

1962 went out with a bang leaving the southwest littered with abandoned cars ...

Dustbins weren’t emptied – because the dustmen were also road clearing staff ...

Gold and creamy, Silver now
classified as full fat, Red was
skimmed milk

Housewives accused of hiding milk bottles! – they were buried in the snow ..

London: 1 in 10 parking metres in use ... plenty free!

Road clearing held up by lack of rock salt ...  or actually lorries couldn’t get through to deliver ... and in 1963 sand was not added to the salt for spreading ...

Transport paralysed – roads, railways and airports were buried ...

Resources of shovels, rock salt, snow ploughs, dynamite and muscle were in very short supply or snowed out or in (whichever way you want to look at it!) ...  

Railway tracks disappeared under the snow ... some trains kept puffing along ...thankfully they did – because snow ploughs couldn’t get through ...

Steam train not functioning - not much snow
And trains became the only way to get around ... rerouted often – eg Birmingham to London – went via Oxford ... the trains used the branch lines -  thank goodness that the Beeching Cuts (restructuring of Britain’s railways – mid 1960s) hadn’t come into force then.


On Dartmoor – a goods train on a branch line tried to get through – it got stuck ... two more engines with snow ploughs froze solid too – it took 80 men over a week to dig them out and get the engines moving again ...

At Heathrow one runway was kept going .. the planes were frozen in  ...

Farmers stopped thinking about producing and thought about surviving ...

No modern media then

The landline telephone was the only link to the rest of the outside world ... villages, hamlets, farms were in 20 foot snow drifts (over 6 m) ...


In Wiltshire 30 children under age 5, in an orphanage, were cut off for 3 days – helicopter pilots dropped supplies ... helicopters had never been so busy ... dropping off medical needs, baby food, helping new borns, expectant mothers etc ...  including animal feed ...

14 people were marooned in a pub – eventually left with only booze – plenty of whisky!!

The prison at Princeton, Dartmoor, Devon was cut off for days ... the officers and villagers became imprisoned (along with the prisoners) by the conditions – again relieved by the helicopter service ...

Sheep on Yorkshire Moors 
The nation became short of coal, medicines, baby food, fresh vegetables ... it was impossible to get them out of the ground, let alone deliver them – potatoes, carrots, cabbages – the prices shot up ...  factories closed ...

... milk nearly ran out – as the milk lorries couldn’t reach the collecting points ...

4.5 million sheep died in 1947 ... how many in this 1963 winter is unrecorded here ... the deer in Richmond Park fared better, but they were given extra feed ...

Saturday afternoons – instead of being sport for the men – it was find your car, find shovel and get clearing – the steps, pavements, back paths ... and then move onto house rooves ...

Two ladies both over 75 (& dog) didn’t want to move out of their marooned home in Devon ... but they got bored with their own company, and perhaps decided a trip in a helicopter was a change for the better!

RAF Fylingdale
The longest walk of all was by 100 people at (now RAF) Fylingdales, who walked crocodile style, out of 3+ metre (14 foot) snowdrifts across the Yorkshire Moors – it was only 4 miles ... but the snow was very soft ... and by the time they reached the railway – they were ‘done in’ ... but the railway, luckily still running, took them home ...

That was the first week ... of 1963 ...

The brief insufficient thaw brought the story of ice: middle of January 1963 ... the appalling weather continued:

Blizzards were on an unheard of scale ... 

Rowing on the Thames at Kingston
- 1963 new ice sports invented
Unrelenting frost – nothing thawed
-              - Nothing melted
-             - Cold and frost just went deeper and deeper into the earth


Now it was the waterways turn ... rivers, lakes, canals froze – many completely ...  the Thames froze at Kingston ... at Windsor bicyclists rode over the river ...



The Grand Union Canal froze ... (London to Birmingham)
Greenwich Peninsula looking east - taken from
Canary Wharf

Frozen waters were converted to

  • ·        ice racing
  • ·        car racing
  • ·        ice skating (and to work)
  • ·        ice yachting

An iceburg 10 foot high (3 metres) was sited at Greenwich ...

The sea froze ...
·        as it came over the sea wall at Torquay
·        there was pack ice in most harbours
·        sheets of ice were to be found in the docks
·        the London to Paris train was suspended ... as the Channel froze at Dover and Eastbourne (here) ... while at Dunkirk the ice stretched for 5 miles ... Britain was nearly connected to Europe once again!

Torquay Harbour 1842
Countryside was beautiful ...  but ...

Chaos turned into Crisis – as the country struggled to cope with the cold spells and their severity and duration ...  electricity failures abounded, shortages of

salt, water, gas, paraffin, milk, milk bottles, vegetables, coal, disposable nappies (commercially available after the War), vegetables, candles ...

There was a water crisis – the brief thaw in January led to mains pipes’ bursts ... while hundreds of underground service pipes were frozen solid ...

.... water rationing was the order of the day – water tanks became familiar sights ... but you needed hot water to thaw the tap ... to get cold water ... to make hot water ....

Shipping on the Clyde

.... then you couldn’t wash up – because the waste pipes were frozen ... housewives searched for enough buckets and kettles ...

... school kids were very happy when the loos froze = that was the end of school!

The Electric Grid couldn’t cope and no-one in the country had full power throughout the 1963 Big Freeze winter ...

Freezing fog – broke cables ...

Gas couldn’t cope either as demand rose everywhere ...

Households had to fetch their own coke ... reserves at the coal yards shrank fast
One of Beeching's axed branch lines

Coal was used for – gas for industry
-         the railways transporting the coal trains
-         generating electricity
-         and finally we used it at home

Emergency lorries ran through 24 hour days ...

January 25th 1963... Burn’s Night – a thaw began ... and even slush looked beautiful ... mains pipes burst ...

It was too good to last wasn’t it ... yes the blizzards returned with a vengeance (particularly in the West Country and Wales) ..

The country took stock again and found the conditions were even worse ... on 8th February 1963 ... many were stuck in cars, or on trains ...

Hot chocolate anyone?!

In early January 90,000 miles of highway were closed, this time (early February) 130,000 miles were shut off – Scotland and Cornwall were completely cut off ... five feet (one and a half metres) of snow had fallen ...


Here endeth part 1 of three

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

32 comments:

rosaria williams said...

My Lord! This was a major problem. I guess compared to that winter, this one must feel mild. Most of us can't fathom that much snow and break in routines and services. Better stock up on necessities.

Jo said...

I was 24 and apart from the freezing on the Medway, I don't remember anything about it. I think I was living in Clapham Junction at the time. Do you remember it from your own experience Hilary? I think you are younger than I.

JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE

Optimistic Existentialist said...

You know what I love about your blog Hilary? I always find that I learn something historical :)

MorningAJ said...

Fylingdales hadn't been open long then. I remember visiting it with my Dad before it officially began working. He worked for GCHQ and we had special permission to see inside the 'golfballs'.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow!
I'm sure once those people in the pub got down to only whisky, they didn't care.
Scary to think of so many cut off from everything.

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

I well remember that winter, it was the winter before I got married, my then fiancee lived the opposite side of Bristol to me and we couldn't see each other and work was out of the question as the buses was unable to get to where I lived.
I saw the programme on the TV and the memories that came back was all to evident.
Wonderful post Hilary.

Yvonne.

Chuck said...

Hilary, I am now freezing cold just reading this. And being stranded in a pub...worse ways to go. Amazing reading as always...stay warm!

A Lady's Life said...

Gosh even then we had huge changes in temperature.
In Montreal we always had hot summers and winters heavy with snow.
It was just a part of life and we all enjoyed it.

Suze said...

I'll take a hot chocolate with some of the milk from the bottle I've been hiding. ;)

Theresa Milstein said...

Wow, I've never heard anything about it. Must've been a scary time. It's not like you guys get all that much snow as it is!

Manzanita said...

Hilary, That was so well written. I can well imagine the hardship and I think it would have even a greater negative impact if that happened today. Then, people had a source of coal and a place to burn it and the people were not entirely dependent on electricity like they are today.
Winters must have gotten milder all over. I thought I remembered much, much deeper snow when I was little but then I passed it off as just being small and short. BUT.... I was looking at some old pictures of my grandparents house and there was a path shoveled through the snow and to the house. People were standing in the path and the top of the snow bank was over their heads.
WOW this is really something, Hilary

juliet said...

That was serious cold, for sure. In December 1962 I married my English husband here in NZ while his family huddled together in London and celebrated our wedding there. I don't remember them saying anything about the cold, but even if they had I would have had no idea how drastic it was.
Your post certainly lays out the consequences. Thank you Hilary for another interesting slice of history. (you should have been a history teacher!)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Rosaria - well I think it is warmer now - the houses are better insulated, there's central heating and for some reason it's less damp - it used to feel very damp when I came back from South Africa ..

Having stocks in - today yes .. then - the cupboards might have been full of jams, pickles, jellies etc .. - not sure .. but times have really changed.

@ Jo - my previous posts mention my experiences ..

@ Keith - many thanks .. this programme highlighted many things ..

@ Anne - I thought that Fylingdales hadn't been opened long - so thank you for letting us know .. and how fascinating you had a tour of the 'golf-balls' .. also for leaving a memory here about a visit with your father ...

@ Alex - it must have been very scary .. I certainly was wary being driven back to school .. but this country had coped with a great deal during the War and were very hardy .. I'm not sure what I would have done with whisky -not liking it - more for the others, I guess.

The country must have been really worried - life must have been atrocious and so difficult.

@ Yvonne - so you remember town life in the West Country at Bristol in the Big Freeze - I can imagine your memories flooded back watching that programme ..

@ Chuck - sorry it made me cold - and I'm wondering if more cold weather is headed our way this weekend ... At least they were indoors ... with pub games etc ..

@ A Lady's Life - I remember when life was normally 4 seasons - today the temperatures are inconsistent to say the least - let alone the weather ..

It's nice to know vaguely what the weather's going to do! Makes human life planning somewhat problematical ... I'd like spring in Spring, and summer in Summer this year if possible!

@ Suze - I've had the occasional hot chocolate recently ... and the bottles might just be out there still hiding - I'm glad I got the picture of the three types of milk.

@ Theresa - we don't usually get wallops of snow like this - you're so right .. but recently we've had a fair amount and the country's almost ground to a standstill.

@ Manzanita - I think the BBC did most of the writing .. which I summarised!

Yes - our living quarters today may be more efficient and have gas or electricity .. but if they go down we are sunk ... parts of Britain are still occasionally without power .. and there's a resurgence in wood burning stoves ...

Generally the temperatures seem to be milder - and huge snows were an anomaly - we had some snow every year usually, then frosts, then the days lengthened and Spring appeared - warming ... til the Autumn mists ... now - who knows!

Lovely that you've got those pictures of your grandparent's house in the snow .. with a very young you dwarfed by the banks of snow ... I think I have some photos somewhere .. but they're in slide form. Interesting to read your remembrances ...

Thanks so much everyone - these remembrances bring out many other aspects - which are good for us in the 21st C to be reminded of .. Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Wow! That would be really scary. Especially here...we just don't usually get that kind of snow in the south and we all run out to the grocery store and wipe out the shelves whenever we do! I'm thinking y'all probably don't get quite as much snow, these days?

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I've lived through a few big freezes but always with modern conveniences like central heat and indoor plumbing and other things that make me hardly notice :)

L.G. Smith said...

I love this post so much, and for purely selfish reasons.

While it's horrible what people had to suffer through, I find all the details fascinating. I have a chapter in my current WIP that is supposed to be the worst winter in memory for my characters, so I thank you for generating some great ideas on how to portray it!! :)

Bob Scotney said...

We had just moved into our first house with our one year old son. Although it was very cold and we had no central heating, just one coal fire we just got on with it. I was working in a steelworks, The buses ran as normal. We just put up with it and were not incovenienced much.
Now everyone panics at the first mention of snow and cold temperatures.

TALON said...

It has to be incredibly difficult to deal with an element such as frigid temps and snow in an area that doesn't experience that routinely. We're in the midst of another freeze here with snow squalls and white outs and, though we have it every winter, it still takes some adjusting to ie. driving, walking, etc. The only ones who seem utterly delighted with it are the dogs :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Fascinating reading, Hilary. I guess being reminded of that brutal winter of '62 helps England put this year's cold and snow into perspective. (It could... and has been... worse!)

Shirley Wells said...

What a fascinating post, Hilary. That should teach me not to moan about our recent weather. :) Mind you, I love the idea of being stranded in a pub. I think I could cope with that for a few days!

I remember a local farmer talking about the winter of '62. He said "even the horses couldn't get through". He was a great champion of horses over tractors and horses not being able to get through was the worst thing he could imagine. :)

Julie Flanders said...

It's really cold here today but I suddenly don't feel so bad after reading this!
I felt like I was reading a suspense thriller reading this post. Can't wait for parts two and three.

Have a great weekend, Hilary! You've now made me want to make a nice cup of hot chocolate and settle in for the duration. :)

Tamara said...

Wow. So crazy to think of a whole country being snowed in like this! Makes me feel silly for complaining over how much it rains in GA. haha

Great post, really interesting stuff!

Teresa Coltrin said...

Wow! And to think I was upset because the lock on my office door would not let me insert the key the last two days - frozen water inside the lock. It could be worse.

Great post. Can't wait for the others.

Laura Eno said...

Yes, pass that hot chocolate over!
Being marooned in a pub is almost funny...but not frozen loos.
I can't even picture the Channel at Dover freezing!
The worst part of it is the continuing problems - starting to thaw, then freezing over again and again. Amazing. I wonder how this present winter will end up comparing to '63?

Robyn Campbell said...

Thank goodness for whiskey! This is super interesting, Hil. I'm going to use it in homeschool. Really great stuff, pal.

Those poor folks. And animals too. Gosh, I want snow, but not that much.

xoxo

Ciara said...

I'm from Florida, so this is something I can't even imagine.

Ann Carbine Best said...

As Manzanita said, people did have coal and other resources. I remember the old coal stove in my childhood house in the 40s when I was a child. Never this much snow, though. The British have lived through a LOT of tough times. They're tough! This is a wonderfully informative post. I went brrr, brrr, brrr all the way through it--and was grateful I've never been through such extreme circumstances--and hope that with Jen I never do!

Saw your comment on Karen G's post, about Aviva's wonderful YA novel: The Mist on Bronte Moor. I've always liked a good YA and still do!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Juliet - well you in NZ were in the right place - it was 'terrible' here! In the beginning .. it was it will go - the trouble was it didn't! I cheated .. most of this was Beeb info - but always grateful for the credit!

@ Elizabeth - well we do the same now .. but then we had no idea what was coming .. I expect farmers, shepherds etc would have realised something was afoot ...

Well this year - there's been some pretty awful blizzards and banking of snow in the west and north .. we haven't had it so bad here - so I'm not exactly sure - but from longevity point of view = No ... those 74 days must have been loooong!

@ Karen - exactly .. we can cope now-a-days unless the electricity goes off - then it's frustrating!

@ Luanne - well if this inspires you re your WIP - that's great .. the weather was terrible ..

@ Bob - gosh you must have been freezing! We had an aga, and a coke boiler for the water - but I'm sure the pipes must have frozen ..

Exactly - you show us how it's done ... in your mid twenties ... walk to work or get the bus and get on with work - that essential of British life.

Panic is the right word isn't it .. the amount of shelf clearing that goes on is ridiculous ..

@ Talon - we get snow .. but not this complete blanket coverage and this was an exceptional winter.

I've noted from bloggers that the weather in north America is strange - snow and ice, yet warmer weather elsewhere .. and I happily drive in the snow - taking my time and being careful - must admit now I don't as I inherited my uncle's car and it's an automatic - not good in the ice-snow!

Can quite believe the dogs love it ... great walks they'll take you on too ... so good to see you back!

@ Susan - well it's good to write about it and remember what I can as a 14/15 year old .. and the longevity of the snow is nothing now - but on the other hand we get immediate tv and radio reports .. so can see what others are going through: we haven't it as bad since thank goodness!

@ Shirley - I know I do think back and remember those days and wonder what all the fuss is about today! If the pub functioned it'd be fine - hopefully I get a share of the cider rather than the whisky!

If the horses couldn't get through .. that is an amazing read ... but the blizzards and drifts were over 20 foot in many places - so very difficult for everyone. But thanks for leaving the comment about the horses - fascinating.

@ Julie - I'm like you .. I do think Brr freezing weather .. but then think back to my parent's day .. We're about to have more snow and freezing conditions next week once more .. but nothing like the 60s.

Thanks re the thought this might be like a suspense thriller

- given me a thought for part 2!

@ Tamara - disasters are so horrid for those involved .. but as you say this did affect the whole country ... so pleased you enjoyed it ..


Too many characters - rest of replies coming up ..

Cheers everyone - thanks so much .. lovely to have your comments - enjoy the Superbowl tomorrow .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Tamara - disasters are so horrid for those involved .. but as you say this did affect the whole country ... so pleased you enjoyed it ..

@ Teresa - oh gosh keys and locks - they frustrate don't they .. I couldn't get into the car the other day! - so empathise with the lack of entry to your office! Thanks.

@ Laura - you picked the best bit first the hot chocolate! The Brits must have wondered what on earth comes next ...

This winter is a piece of cake compared to that winter - it was terrible .. even though being at school in Oxford I was cocooned - yet our loos worked - I don't know - I'd love to find out more ..

Europe has much worse weather than we do .. my next part gives some idea of the changes in the 50 years ..

@ Robyn - not being a whisky lover - I sure hope there's water available to go with it ..

I hope the kids enjoy the different take on learning ...

The animals were in mostly totally inaccessible in the fields ... and as Shirley remarked above - even the horses couldn't cope ...

@ Ciara - not good to experience either!!

@ Ann - we did have coal - but it had to be delivered .. funny story coming up re that - part 3.

We seem to be fairly resilient as a nation ... I'm quite glad I can't remember the privations - because I must have experienced them ... I sure hope you don't have to experience these sorts of conditions ...

Yes Aviva's "The Mist on Bronte Moor" sounded a good read - especially being based on the Brontes and the Moors - they'd have had terrible winters too ..

Cheers everyone - thanks so much .. lovely to have your comments - enjoy the Superbowl tomorrow ..

Lovely sunny day here, cold though ... Hilary

Patsy said...

Brrrrr. Great chilly pictures and facts. It feels like spring is here today though so I'm pretending it is.

Julia Hones said...

This is why we don't have to take anything for granted, Hilary. What a detailed post. I also love the pictures. I am very impressed.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Patsy .. it was freezing - I'm glad I portrayed it like it was .. Saturday was sunny wasn't it - but that wind was cold ..

@ Julia - as you say we never know - thanks re the pictures .. they bring the posts to life and I like to see what I'm talking about!!

Cheers to you both - we're in for a wintery week ahead by the sound of it .. Hilary