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

Monday 28 January 2013

Re-introducing myself blogfest

This blog fest is being co-hosted by Elise Fallson (who did a Must-See VIDEO!), C.M. Brown, Mark Koopmans and Stephen Tremp’s Re-introduce Myself BlogFest, 

The history girl – the girl with a penchant for snippets of information – the girl that’s delighted to be blogging ...

I had no idea where blogging would take me – to the realisation that having many subjects at one’s fingertips inspire many – mothers and uncles who were sick and elderly – then finding that niche that bloggers enjoy visiting ... and making so many friends ...

Wikipedia's taste the tree of knowledge photo
... has done wonders for a girl who struggled at school, didn’t go to university, loved her sport and learning about food, then appreciated peoples in other parts of the world through work and travel ...

 – yet found she does love learning, loves people, realised that interaction is the best form of therapy ... and knowledge opens so many opportunities and doors ... let the 3rd age begin!

Positive Letters is here to stay ... learning is fun!

... probably not as long as Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that today celebrates 200 years as a printed novel ...

Happy Blogging one and all ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 25 January 2013

Haggis, Whisky and Poetry - Burns Night ...

Toast the “Great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race” tonight or this weekend with the finest single malt whisky you can find ... preferably a good-blended whisky with rich, smoky, heathery vital flavour-enhancing overtones – to whet one’s appetite for ....  

Piping the Haggis ... c/o BBC

  • Scotch broth

  • Haggis with neeps and tatties

  • Cranachan dessert – whipped cream, whisky, honey (preferably heather flavoured) and fresh raspberries, topped with toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in whisky


Enjoy the evening ... remembering 50 years ago perhaps when a brief thaw set in during the Big Freeze on 25th January 1963 ... which didn’t end until early March ...

Robert Burns wrote “To a Mouse” ... on turning up her nest with the plough, in November 1785 ...  this is the first verse:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murd’ring prattle!

So to all of you - enjoy your drink to a King of Poets ... enjoy your feasting ... remembering King Winter is still around outside ... but it looks like a big thaw is on its way next week ...

Before you aseat yourself and raise your glass ...

I have a long last post on the weather or two shorter ones ... I’d like to post them ... but would be grateful if you perhaps would tell me .. one or two?!

Many thanks and here’s to you all ...

Robert Burns works – Address to a Haggis ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Malingering – definitely not ... 1962/3 - some more weather information 2012 ... coral as a history book ... earth’s spin .... jet streams ... memories ...

Wild weather endured during 2012 ... the British winter drought was followed by the wettest April and June on record, when the jet stream got stuck in a holding pattern off the Atlantic ...

London circa 1300

It was a fitting end to a year in which the weather went crazy.  We have had near-record cold, near-record heat and in England the wettest calendar year on record ... yet in 1960 it rained every single day across a band of the UK from Cornwall to Fife.

Europe had had a fearsome cold snap in February 2012 killing 650 people and there were droughts and wildfires throughout the US, record high temperatures in Russia and Ukraine, record rains in India, snow in Johannesburg .... that last happened when I lived there in 1981 – and staggered everyone! 

Australia has been gripped in a severe heatwave with many wildfires ...
Hurricane Sandy sent a storm surge into New York ... reminding us that low lying areas are very prone to flooding from surges, storms or sea-level rises.

New York Harbour, circa 1770
Populations have grown up around transport ... and from antiquity settlements would develop around navigable rivers and the coasts – easy to access before the industrial revolution changed things and our world developed to be as today ...

Our unusual weather can be blamed on the two jet streams, high altitude narrow currents of air flowing from west to east.  In summer, the polar jet stream acts as a barrier (a few hundred kilometres / miles wide), separating its cool stormy weather from the more settled and warmer sub-tropical jet stream to the south. 

Showing (simplified) meanderings
of jet streams: polar and subtropical

Both these currents of air meander around the earth ‘moving the various climatic conditions with them’ – or on occasions getting stuck and not moving on – resulting in these extreme conditions.

It’s not clear why the jet streams are affected ... it may be the result of natural variations – together with the cycles of oceanic and atmospheric circulation in the Pacific known as El Nino and La Nina ...

Doggerland before the recent glaciation
delineation of Britain and Europe -before
the English Channel came into being
... but the melting of the Arctic sea ice may well have a profound impact on our northern hemisphere weather.  Remember the ice sheet came as far south as north London ...

Perhaps that explained the stoicism on show, a determination to get on with things ... rather than stay indoors – where it would not have been very warm without effective central heating or sufficient fires.

In the 1947 and 1962/63 winters there were announcements on the radio urging people not to venture out – but with the country reliant upon manufacturing and heavy industry (there wasn’t the option of working from home)- there was no alternative but to slip, slide and slither on until, mercifully, the thaw set in on March 6th 1963.

The Met Office believe that this recent batch of snow, which arrived 13th January, 2012, has occurred because of the tremendous upheaval in the stratosphere.

It is feared this could go on for weeks – the warm air will try to barge in from the Atlantic ... but there is a catch ... warm air meets freezing air and snow falls ... as has been happening. 

A 1490 recreation of a map from
Ptolemy's Geography showing the
'Oceanus Germanicus'
Northern Europe’s weather and into Russia is much colder ... so we need to usually count our blessings here in our Gulf Stream warmed little island.

I had not realised that the North Sea was originally called ‘The German Ocean’ ... 

The earth’s spin plays a critical role in defining the weather across our planet ... the spin moves oceans and gives us a global pattern of climate zones that can be seen from space ...

... the spin of the earth over the UK is unusually changeable and very hard to predict as the country sits within the boundary of the two jet streams – and those jet streams can, at times, meander erratically.

History of our earth from Coral ...

Coral, to the expert eye, delineates how old it is ... it creates a daily record as it builds its exoskeleton ... and so, as a tree does with its annual growth rings, the coral records how many days in a year there are ...

Rugose coral type - ancient

... a 400 million year old piece of coral is as good as a history book and shows us what life was like way back when ... it shows us that there were daily growth rings of 410 of shorter days ...

... a day would have lasted 21 hours not the 24 hours our day takes now ... and for that shorter duration period ... the earth needed to spin faster.

About 4.5 billion years ago a lot of debris was created from a planet colliding with the earth ... this is where our present day moon came from and which has ever since influenced our life on earth.

As the earth was created and due to the moon’s gravitational influence, huge tides of over 100 metres high crashed around the earth against the continents’ shorelines ... 

Ice floes forming in near stationary/
slow moving river
... but over time, as the moon drifted further away, the tides lessened, the days got shorter ... this is still happening in tiny increments.

Winter of 1962/63 and memories ...

Back in the 1960s I remember a period when we regularly holidayed with my grandparents outside St Ives, Cornwall ... and they used to have drinks and watch the 6.00 pm news on the Tonight  ... and I’d join them ...

Jaffa type Orange

... re the drink this is where I had a treat of Jaffa Orange Squash ... diluted with water ... for me it was delicious and completely different to the rather manufactured ordinary orange squash we had as a general rule.  For now I’ve given up trying to explain our squash drink ... it’s not juice is all I can say!

Tonight was a BBC tv current affairs programme and covered the news, the arts, sciences as well as topical matters, current affairs and included the weather.

European map showing isobars and fronts
The Tonight programme went out for eight years (1957 – 1965) ... and I used to be riveted to the screen when the weather forecasting was on .... I could see the isobars, learn more about the country I suppose ... etc etc – my interest in geography confirmed here ... 

... I used to love this programme: it was informal, yet so informative.  They used A3 sheets to show the weather - and it was in black & white!

It ‘must’ have been a precursor for the iconic BBC programme: “That Was The Week That Was” with David Frost ... when the satirical boom was in situ in the early 1960s ...

Atmospheric snowy picture -
the west country and Wales
are deluged in snow - whereas
we're welcoming the rain - til it
ices up tonight!
This is an eclectic post ... covering recent weather events, showing how coral has given us a history lesson in life at the start of lunar days ... then leading on to the BBC Two WinterWatch 1963 programme: The Big Freeze on Saturday 19 January ...

Tonight with Cliff Michelmore ...  see Wikipedia: Tonight (1957) tv series

That Was The Week That Was - see Wikipedia

The coral history I heard about on BBC Two's Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary Journey - shown Sunday 20 January - then found a New York Times Write up from 1982

There will be one last post with some weather funnies, some ‘odd’ floods, and some consequences of that weather ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 20 January 2013

Malingering not! – Winter 1962/3 - more weather stories and memories ... floods, storm surges, Dracula, Thames Barrier ...

Floods come in all shapes and sizes and from all directions ... the weather too – hot, cold, wet, dry ... nothing really changes ... the first three months of last year were so dry – if it had rained even a little early in 2012 – then the year would have taken the ‘wettest year on record award’! 
St Mary's Church, Whitby

But it didn’t ... and we had 1,291.2 mm (50.8 inches) of rain – only surpassed by the Millennium year when 1,337.3 mm (52.6 inches) fell.

Going back 100 years – the summer months of 1912 were the wettest in the meteoroligcal annals ... while on August 25th 2012 in Norwich, Norfolk 20cm (7.9 inches) of rain fell – a downpour unmatched before or since.

Windsor, Thames
- flood engraving 1865

102 years ago – 1910 – there had been high rainfall in the Seine’s catchment area ... and Paris flooded via the overflowing sewers and subway tunnels, seeping into basements through saturated soil and drains. 

The Seine in Paris did not burst its banks, but to the east and west of the capital the hinterland was directly flooded.   Parisians had to evacuate their homes and business, making their way around the city on makeshift footbridges for the week of the major flooding ...

Walking the plank in Paris 1910

Storm surges in the North Sea have been known and experienced across Europe for years ... recently we had the North Sea Flood of 1953 which caused over 2,000 deaths in the Dutch province of Zeeland and about 50 here in the UK ...

... a storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea.  If the surge coincides with a Spring tide, dangerously high water levels can occur.

Hamburg in 1160
Hamburg at the ‘end’ of the Elbe River – 68 miles from the North Sea at the west of Denmark – experienced, in 1962, a storm surge that spread across the North Sea affecting southeast England, Germany and southern Denmark – 318 of the 330 deaths occurred in Hamburg.

The 1953 North Sea Flood reminded the British of the previous Thames flood in London in 1928 when 14 people died ... and the issue of flood control gained prominence.

c/o BBC Science 2007: level 1 = lowest section of wall as
dictated by 1879 Flood Act; level 2 = update to Flood Act
before end of 1800s raised the wall; level 3 = 1928 flood
and subsequent 1930 Flood Act lifted defences again;
level 4 = interim addition after 1953 flood, while Thames
Barrier was built

Britain over the millennia has been tilting slowly – up in the north and west; down in the south and east – by 20 cm (8inches) per 100 years – caused by post-glacial rebound – who knew?  Well I did .. but hadn’t realised the country was rebounding!!

The Dutch opened their flood barriers (Delta works) in 1986, while the British Thames Barrier was opened in May 1984.

The Dutch barrier

About one third of the Barrier’s closures have been to alleviate fluvial flooding in the city ... where the capacity of watercourses is exceeded as a result of rainfall, or snow and ice melts (as happened in the Thames flood plain in 1963 – the pictures that kept me ‘amused’) ...

The Thames Barrier

·        1.5% of the country is at direct flooding risk from the sea;
·        About 7 % of the country is likely to flood at least once every 100 years from rivers
·        1.7m homes and 130,000 commercial properties are at risk from river or coastal flooding ..
·        Many more properties are at risk from flash floods

A simple diagram showing
how the flood gates work
see Wiki : Thames Barrier

Back to the Thames Barrier – closures ...

Ø In the 1980s – there were 4
Ø In the 1990s – 35
Ø 75 closures in the first decade of the 21st century
Ø 4 at the end of 2012/2013 (there’s been a lot of rain and it was a soggy Christmas!)

Each year the Environment Agency test the barrier ... and in 2012 it was scheduled to coincide with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant ...

... this gave the Agency “a unique opportunity to test its design for a longer period than we would normally be able to”, while the stable tidal conditions that resulted on the Thames in central London really helped all those many vessels taking part ... considering the weather conditions on the day of the Pageant – that was lucky.

Newlyn looking east across to
Penzance Bay

When my mother became manager/cook of a new retirement complex in Penzance there was a small stream that ran along one boundary ... the sea must be about 100 yards away (100m) – there was a very localised deluge ... the tiny bourne rose against the incoming tide – the garden and some of the ground floor flooded.

Then when my mother had bought her hotel in Newlyn, converted it into a care home, and was wanting to expand on the tiny granite ‘level’ rock-face that the hotel/care home was originally built on ...

Nuts come in many sizes - as this one
shows on Sydney Harbour Bridge

... she was able to do it (eventually ... after much determination), but had to shore the rock-face up ... by pinning it with nuts and bolts ... ie so it wouldn’t slip down onto the houses below.

I would have said they were bigger than these used on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (to which we also have a family connection) ... and there must be at least 12 driven into the rocks, to stabilise the cliff, on which Newlyn village and the care home are built.

The fishermen in Newlyn (about one mile west of Penzance) were hugely pleased ... as they had a landmark to hone in on as they returned back to port ... yet the care home blended into the landscape perfectly.  My mother was amazing at what she achieved through her life.

View of 199 steps leading from Whitby town to
St Mary's Church and the Abbey above
However the nuts and bolts remembrance came from the fact that so many cliff-built homes have recently been undermined by the rain, bringing some crashing down onto the houses below ... particularly in areas where the geology is different – sandstone and boulder clay ... both renowned to be unstable.

The one I thought you’d all find interesting is the landslip that recently occurred at Whitby ...

Bram Stoker used the 12th century St Mary’s Church and churchyard, next to the ruins of Whitby Abbey ... as the setting for part of his novel Dracula ... and apparently found the name Dracula at the old public library.

St Mary's Church and graveyard

The heavy rains triggered a landslide of human bones .... the Vancouver Sun article states: 

“The seaside English town that inspired blood-letting exploits of Count Dracula is now dealing with its own ghoulish horror as heavy rains swept away part of an ancient graveyard ...”

So – the classic English word – I thought I’d really covered the English weather ... but I’ve found some other bits and pieces of information and the BBC last night decided to put out 45 minutes of archived footage on the winter of 1963.

Historically for me ... this was interesting ... so I will do yet another winter weather post shortly ... and I promise come the end of the week we’ll sit quietly together celebrating Burns Night with a whisky and some haggis!!

Here are some sites that you, your children or grandchildren might find interesting:

Vancouver Sun article re Dracula ... why I had to find the information I wanted via Vancouver I'll never know ... !

British Geological Survey site - on the Whitby landslide

St Mary's Church - Sacred Destinations website 

Whitby Heritage - via Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre - has some interesting information on landslides in the area going back to the 1700s

British Meteorological Site - Education site ... severe winters

PS ... I should have said it's snowing here - lightly ... but sufficient to layer us with a winter wonderland view ... it's due to move to the north - but this lot has come in from France!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories