Monday, 4 February 2013

Big Freeze 1962/63: part 3 - fun stories, silly outcomes, housing stock and floods ...



This is really! my last post on the Big Freeze – though every time I turn round I find another x number of posts I could write – that’s the British weather ...


Part 3: Fun stories, silly outcomes, housing stock and floods, various ..  


I have a wonderful book “The Wrong Kind of Snow – The Complete Daily Companion to the British Weather” ... and only looked at it yesterday ...


Fifty years later has brought out plenty of articles and remembrances for me to draw on, while you have added further to the rich tapestry of notes from history ...

2013's snow - it didn't last long .. but
trains got stuck
 The entry from the book above for 6th February (1963)... reads the phenomenal blizzard that begins today continues for 32 hours.  It buries tracts of the west country, Wales and Ireland beneath 5 feet (1.5 metres) of snow ...


Interestingly the book comments on the new American site manager at Fylingdales Early Warning Station on the Yorkshire moors (see previous post) ... who had just arrived from Alaska ... he describes the conditions (80 mph (130 kph) winds and snow thick enough to bury a double-decker bus in an hour) as worse than anything he’s experienced: says something?!

Rookery painted by Alexei
Krondayevich Savrasov (1871)

The book mentions a story about a woman in Leicestershire carrying bread rolls – she is attacked and knocked down by ravenous pigeons.  Army engineers dynamite sea ice to get ships of the east coast ports ...


Another new book review, which sounds interesting, called “Britain Begins” by Barry Cunliffe reminds us that our distant ancestors were made of stern stuff....


Sometime after the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago, a few hunter-gatherers strayed onto the tundra that was to become Britain and Ireland.  But ahead lay upheavals that “dwarf modern fears of climate change”.

Doggerland before the
waters broke through
creating the Channel

Melting ice separated Britain from Ireland, and drowned Doggerland, where hunters had roamed in what is now the North Sea; thick layers of sand along the Scottish coast suggest “an ominously large” tsunami around this time.


The English Channel was formed at this time by the wall of melt water pushing its way through to the Atlantic Ocean.


More precisely dateable by tree rings, to 3,000 years ago, was a 20-year winter caused by volcanic ash.  So who were these hardy peoples – well that’s for another day!!

Illustrated London News
floods 1865

So climate change is ongoing and always has been ... every time we have a flood rivers change direction, earth and trees are moved on ... coastlines change with the ongoing seas pounding our lands ...  life goes on ...


The thaw set in on 6th March 1963, but apparently it wasn’t as bad as the flood had been when the big freeze of 1947 thawed, the flood plains and rivers coped – yes there was flooding as I’ve described in my earlier posts, but the weather remained dry – the extra rainfall of 1947 was not added to the soaked countryside.

Housing as today ...

We still have major floods ... these, pre the War, were dissipated by the natural flood plains ... in the last 70 years we have been building on these flood plains to fulfil the country’s need for housing ...


.... but do we, the country, need the cost of repairing the flood damage, or providing flood defences all over the place ... that law of unintended consequences springs to mind ... 

Victorian Housing in Manchester

The Victorians knew what to do.  The built homes with cellars, with steps up to the front doors ... but now we build boxes with front doors at pavement level where the merest trickle of water across an area of concrete or tarmac cascades in and around these new abodes.


The Victorians had their challenges too – in some of the major floods the cellars had been occupied by the poor, so there was loss of life – but theoretically we know better now ... 

... but do we – we’re still building fast and furiously on flood plains and messing around with things we can’t really control – ie river systems, protecting coastlines ...

Southern coastline with chalk cliff falls

Do we have ... the wrong type of snow – wrong type of rain ... ?!?

Transport experts assert that Britain really does suffer from the wrong type of snow. In Scandinavia and Siberia it's so cold that snow is like sand and can be blown out of the way. In Britain it tends to melt and refreeze.


Swollen river in Spring
They’re now referring to the wrong type of rain from which many of our recent floods occur ... it rains, but gathers and delivers a deluge ... rather than spreading it evenly across the country ...


Some stories from the papers of tales gone by:

The Big Freeze: 

Expect this was the kind
of shovel the poor chap
would have used
SIR – The coal merchant’s telephone was always engaged. Word went round the village that those who called at the local sidings the next morning would be able to buy as much solid fuel as they could carry away. I took the car, queued for over an hour in a biting wind and managed to get about a hundredweight into the boot.

When I arrived home, my wife made me a hot drink, and I was just beginning to feel a bit more human when the coal lorry drew up. On the back was the 15cwt of anthracite ordered six weeks earlier. The joke that morning was definitely on me.

Or – this one on the early flooding in late January 1963 before it froze once again in February ...

Frozen pond ... fine for the geese,
but not for us humans!
SIR – I remember as a girl sitting on our garden wall looking into the flooded lane and wondering if my wellies were up to the job, when my brother and a neighbour appeared in a punt and invited me aboard.

Later when the water froze we skated in the garden. My mother claimed a snowball brought inside lasted six weeks on the stairs. Well, housekeeping was not her skill.


Sometimes we have to marvel (or be totally impolite more likely) at the stupidity of the human:

Early Spring carpet of snowdrops

In 2009 police in Co Durham and Lewes, Sussex tracked down burglars by following their footprints in the snow ...


... in 2010 police in Leicester discovered a cannabis factory because it was the only house in the area without any snow on its roof, thanks to the heat used in plant cultivation.

The brewery moved after the
flood


The natural floods are one thing ... but the seriously unfortunate and unlikely floods I leave you to wonder at ...


The Great Boston Molasses Flood, USA – the tragedy occurred on 15 January 1919 when a large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 kph) killing 21 and injuring 150.




Manor House of Toten Hall c 1813
now the area of Tottenham Court Road
The London Beer Flood on 17 October 1814 at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, when a huge vat containing over 135, 000 imperial gallons (610,000 litres) of beer ruptured, causing other vats to succumb in a domino effect.  As a result, more than 323,000 imperial gallons, (1,470,000 litres) of beer burst out and gushed into the streets.



The wave of beer destroyed two homes and crumbled the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub ... the poor houses and tenements of St Giles Rookery, where families lived in basement rooms that quickly filled with beer – 8 people died from the incident ...

William Hogarth's etching 1851:
Beer Street and Gin Lane 


I’d never realised that ‘a rookery’ was a colloquial term coined in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum ...


Just to round off the last of these weather posts ... our weather will always be a talking point – this tiny island sits on the cusp of systems ... Siberia to the east, Arctic to the north, Atlantic to our west and on occasion European heat or freeze from our south ...

The gentleness of Spring is a-coming

The jet streams weave their necklaces around us and occasionally bring us gales in January, frosts in May, snow in April, hail and thunderstorms in July and August, Indian Summers in October, fog in November and December ...


All this weather has exhausted me ... and the week ahead portends wintry blasts ... the only thing that doesn’t change too quickly is the time – our days are getting lighter and that brightens the mind ... roll on Spring!


Thanks for bearing with me and this post is the last on weather for a while!

Posted by IanVisits on 17 October 2014 ... further details on the London Beer Flood ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

25 comments:

Lynn said...

Being knocked down by ravenous pigeons would be terrifying! I hope spring rolls around sooner, rather than later, for you.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

New construction here in Charlotte, NC rarely includes basements. My husband and I have both remarked on that. Where do you go in a bad storm?

Ravenous pigeons--ack!

I'm wondering if we'll even get a flake of snow this winter...

Val Poore said...

I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed these posts, Hilary. Absolutely riveting reading. I shall miss them! Maybe you could put them in a special place on your blog so that those of us who are interested can go back and read again! By the way 1 February was the 60th anniversary of the great 1953 floods here in NL. There was an article in the paper about a man who was part of the rescue efforts at the time. The death toll was bad, but not as bad as is sometimes suggested. Nonetheless, he says he still cries over the memories. He's 82 now. Thank goodness we have these incredible flood barrier systems now.

Manzanita said...

Dear Hilary, Posts on weather has been of great interest to me because I never realized the UK is a sitting target in a crossfire of all this weather, fighting for number one spot. Your first paragraph was a grabber when you talked about burying a double-decker bus in an hour. People do build in flood planes. I notice this again and again. Really takes some gamblers to build there.
That beer story was something. A beer drinker's love gone awry.
Thank you for providing us with all this information in such a lovely way.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Pigeon attack!!! Very Hitchcockian!

Jo said...

Flood plains is something I know about because we had to worry about it in North Carolina when hurricanes came calling. Damn silly place to build. Loved the pigeons story, how scary for the woman.

A beer drinker's nightmare.

Slamdunk said...

Twenty-year winter?

Thanks for the powerful reminder of how it could be worse; I'll stop complaining about being cold now...

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

I have really enjoyed these past three posts Hilary, brought back many memories of events and people.

Yvonne.

L.G. Smith said...

I've read about that beer flood before. Tragic. And I can't imagine being attacked by starving pigeons!! Ack.

Amazing story you've been telling here with this series.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I do hope we as a species learn that mother nature is terribly fragile and yet ferocious when messed about! Sigh!

Golly those pigeons must have been hungry!! Take care
x

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Lynn - that story sounds terrible doesn't it .. and Spring - yes please come soon

@ Elizabeth - you get bad storms in Carolina too ... the house is more likely to ripped apart without that solid underground foundation ... sounds like you have a basement, I'm pleased to infer.

You haven't had snow - yet the States has had its fair share ... obviously not in NC ... and the pigeons -- ack!!

@ Val- I'll see what I can do - I want to redo the blog .. give me a little time. I just thank you that you're so appreciative of them ..

Yes - I was going to put in the bit about the storm surge - I mentioned it in my post on 20 January .. and showed the flood barriers .. and we were reminded of the dreadful tragedy ...

Looking in my book ..the Stranraer car ferry sank on 31 January 1953, as the storm was belting down the east of England as well and then into the Netherlands - that was another 133 deaths apart from the 2050+ in the UK and Holland.

I think being in one of those surges and seeing your loved ones being swept away ... must be just so difficult to live with .. and those memories must stay with you - poor chap.

Thanks Val - so appreciate the additions you've given to the posts - loved your comments ...

@ Manzanita - well picked up .. we're a tiny island exactly as you say .. in the middle. That was the American- Alaskan manager who recorded those words - and I guess might well have been in the 100 that walked to freedom through the snow.

Unfortunately we're still building in flood plains here - the thing is the gamblers don't suffer .. the people that buy or live in the houses do ...

Delighted to read you've enjoyed the posts

@ Keith - yes I'm going to see The Birds when it comes out soon ... pigeon attack would be just as bad though ..

@ Jo - the pigeons seem to have taken everyone's fancy .. flood plains and building just don't go together do they ..

@ Slamdunk - 20 year winter does sound rather dreadful especially back then .... glad you're appreciating your 21st century life ... !!

@ Yvonne - the memories are fun to bring back aren't they ...

@ Luanne - I hadn't heard of either the devastating beer or molasses floods - so I thought worth adding in to the post.

The thought of the pigeons is a little much isn't it .. as everyone says aaaaccck! So pleased you've enjoyed the series ...

@ Old Kitty - I'm sure it's better if we live with mother nature and her earth .. rather than try and reinvent it - so totally agree with you ..

Everything must have been starving - survival of the fittest comes to the fore here ..

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments - really appreciate them - cheers Hilary

Morgan said...

I'm loving these weather posts!!! Fascinating.

TALON said...

Weather is fascinating, Hilary. Back in 1977 we had an horrific blizzard and I ended up with a scar on my forehead that happened when my sister and I were trying to shovel out one of the cars after 3 days of non-stop snow. It's incredible what nature's fury can unleash.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Killed by a beer flood - what are the odds?
The pigeon story was funny though.

Friko said...

Hilary, where on earth do you find all these snippets?
You must have a magpie’s ability to collect shiny bits and pieces

I like the pigeon story as well as the floods of molasses and beer.

Put your thermals back on, winter’s back.

M Pax said...

What an interesting book. It'd be my favorite if I owned it.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You touched on one really important point. All over the world, people build in flood plains... and engineers alter the natural courses of rivers, and make matters even worse.

I'm not a very strong swimmer, and nearly drowned a couple times when I was young, so I have a small fear of drowning, but even worse? The idea of drowning in BEER! YUK!

Another great post, Hilary.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Hilary,

Weather certainly is NOTEWORTHY... In Chicago, last Tues. was 65 degrees... The FLamingos were out at the zoo... (I posted about it) THe following day, less than 24 hours..... dropped to 23 and snow... 24 hours after that 9 DEGREES! With -20 windchills!!!!

I also remember our blizzard here a few years ago 2011... THUNDER SNOW. TWO FEET, winds 80 mph and lightning. I had NEVER experienced ANYTHING like this and I lived through Hurricane Andrew (92) and everyone after that until 2004!

Thanks for the interesting facts!

sue said...

Hi Hilary, I haven't been around for a while, life got complex, but it's wonderful to visit again. Your posts are always so interesting.
I love the idea of you having "the wrong type of snow" gracious - you have what you have - it'd be like us complaining we have the wrong type of heat, bushfire, drought ... or flood. Building on flood plains and low coastal areas is foolhardy. We have no excuses and building levee banks is temporary at best - we can't hold back the rising waves and storm surges.
Fascinating information as always.
Take care, and keep warm - I'd love to send over some of our heat!
cheers
Sue

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Morgan - thanks .. I've enjoyed everyone's memories ..

@ Talon - the weather and its impact is frightening isn't it - clearing up the aftermath. Lucky that accident wasn't worse by the sound of it - good to see you back ...

@ Alex - well small now-a-days I hope! We get the odd murder mystery ... but a SciFi beer murder? Everyone's picked on the pigeons ...

@ Friko - if I decide on a post I've usually collated some info - and then by some searching it gets added to ... yes I'm a magpie for snippets - my criterion is something that is different ... which then will interest you too ..

The pigeons have tickled everyone's fancy and the molasses and beer - came via searching for floods .. not what I expected to find ...

Winter is coming ... it hasn't completely reached us yet ..

@ Mary - I do refer to the book quite often - it's where I found out about Roman's and socks before sandals!

@ Susan - we can't turn the tide of weather back .. where we house people though makes life very difficult .. the unpredictability of the weather cannot be engineered though .. I wonder what history will tell us

I'm not a good swimmer .. and would rather be out of the water - but being drowned in beer - no time to get drunk beforehand ... or being stuck in molasses as another wave struck - that would be very unpleasant .. messy to say the least!

@ Michael - good to see you ... Chicago does have extremes doesn't it .. and I love flamingoes .. so elegant and so pretty - I'll look!

Your continental extremes are horrific ... winter is definitely for escaping!

When we see some of your snows here and the lightning shows - they look beautiful ... but the change is just unbelievable. Then we have the added insult of windchill - unpleasant ... when I see Arctic air or Siberian winds scheduled in the UK - time to wrap up ..

@ Sue - no worries I was sick earlier .. so been a bit switched off myself ..

Well it's probably true - wrong type of snow, wrong type of rain - the deluges have been very localised ... which has caused a few flooding challenges .. but your heat and drought - then the fires and some horrific rains recently ... nothing will hold nature back will it -

I'd some some of your heat - the first 70 degF would be fine with some sun!! But the days are lengthening so Spring is coming - I'm pleased to say ..

Wonderful to see you all .. Keep warm or cool wherever you are in the world .. Hilary

Robyn Campbell said...

Hahahaha. The pigeon thing was really funny. I hope spring comes sooner rather than later for you, Hil. That beer flood is amazing. Still using these for homeschool. xoxo

Ciara said...

Twenty year winter. Oh my goodness, I'd be a mess.

Elise Fallson said...

Attacked by pigeons?! I wonder if we really learn from the past. I mostly see the same mistakes made over and over. Sometimes I feel it's more about economics than trying to protect and keep people safe.

Oh, and this quote made me laugh, "My mother claimed a snowball brought inside lasted six weeks on the stairs. Well, housekeeping was not her skill." Haha! :D

Gattina said...

Interesting post again ! Yes prints in the snow are sometimes very interesting and a house with a normal roof instead of a white one too ... !

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Robyn .. well the snow and ice have arrived again - they may not make it down here ... but the birds will enjoy their feed. So glad you're using the posts ..

@ Ciara - me too ... I really am not a fan of winter - but you're in Florida ..

@ Elise - The Hour (film) comes on here next week - I'll think of the pigeons. It's political and economics - probably right there ..

Ah glad you picked up on the snowball .. and the fact housekeeping wasn't her skill - I laughed too ..

@ Gattina - burglars are crazy aren't they sometimes, and that roof story I thought was just incredible ...

Cheers good to see you all - Hilary