Continuous snowfall almost everywhere, with the South
getting the worst of it. Traffic jams of up to 10 miles long were
reported from many places, mostly in Kent. Some Southern Region trains
cancelled, others delayed. British European Airways had to cancel 37 flights from
London Airport and there were 10in of snow on the runway at Gatwick.
On what was generally described as the coldest night
of the winter, the British Insurance Association estimated that already the
weather had cost more than £5M in claims. Two hundred London buses
were put out of action when their fuel froze. Two more people died
from the cold. The Mancunian Express took nearly ten hours to get from
Euston to Manchester- a journey it generally completes in just over
three and a half hours.
There was more chaos on the railways as diesel fuel,
coal, points and water troughs froze. Passengers travelling in one
train from St.Pancras to Manchester took only ten minutes short of twelve
hours to cover the 189 miles. They were lucky. Many trains didn't run at all.
Fifty families were evacuated from a block of flats in Streatham because
they were too hot; there was a fault in the central-heating system. On
the other side of London bonfires were lit in the streets of Paddington to
prevent water freezing in the stand pipes. Cabinet met to discuss
The railway system was in chaos yesterday after the
intense cold of Wednesday night and yesterday morning. The
mechanism and fuel of diesel stock was frozen, carriages were immovable,
points and water-troughs iced up.
A serious shortage of locomotives and carriages developed at terminal
stations and no overnight trains leaving London last night had sleeping
cars. Many long-distance expresses were cancelled or combined last night and
the pattern is expected to be repeated today. Main line train services
between Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and London have been drastically reduced
until weather conditions improve. Long-distance trains into Birmingham were
up to five or six hours late yesterday and suburban trains delayed by
anything up to thirty minutes. Nearly a hundred extra coal trains will be
brought into action at the weekend in the West Midlands to accelerate coal
On the Southern Region electric supply reductions made nonsense of
timetables. Station staffs worked in candlelight in some areas and at Cannon
Street engineers worked the points by hand after the power had failed.
A week-end thaw coincided with the worst power failure
in the National Grid in 35 years of operation. The East Midlands was
cut off from the North and South and there were widespread power failures.
But the thaw allowed the National Coal Board to get supplies moving again.
After water mains had burst, there was flooding in London (where firemen
dealt with 1473 cases during the weekend), Cambourne and Oxford (where
several hundred books were damaged in the library of Trinity College).
A 45lb lamb was roasted on the Oulton Broad, Norfolk - then it was taken
away in a hurry because the charcoal was melting the ice. In the same
county an amateur forecaster who
had accurately predicted a severe winter last September suddenly decided
that the summer would be "so hot people would be dropping dead from the
The slow thaw continued and a new hazard arose.
Trains were diverted at Caerphilly after 10 tons of ice had dropped from a ventilating shaft; and at
Torpantau, Brecon, where 50 tons overhung a tunnel mouth. Derbyshire
County Council decided to use 400 lb of gelignite to blow up a snow cornice
hanging 200 feet above the Snake pass which had been closed to traffic
between Manchester and Sheffield for 11 days. The British Insurance
Association revised its estimate of winter claims. These, it now
reckoned, would amount to £15M. In Liverpool, it was said that the
cost of snow clearance was by now £95,000 - almost twice as much as in 1947.
The slow thaw ended and there were snow showers in
central and southern England; in West Sussex three inches fell in an hour.
On the eve of another chill Saturday, the number of football matches
cancelled since December 22 approached 400.
Cornwall and Pembroke were cut off by blizzards; 50
people spent the night
in a train on the edge of Dartmoor and 70 lorry drivers took refuge in a
school at Whiddon Down, between Exeter and Okehampton, after being
surrounded by deep drifts. In Wales, Llanelli was isolated. In
Scotland 150 lorry drivers, caught between Lanark and Abington, took to a
public hall for the night; two school buses were stuck in Midlothian, the
rescued by farmers; and passengers in three buses stranded at Drumgoyne were
sheltered at Killearn Hospital. Twelve school-children had to be found
accommodation in Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland, when drifts stopped their bus.
The blizzards continued in the North. A
helicopter rescued passengers from
a train stuck overnight at Barrhill, Ayrshire, and another train was dug out
of a drift at Disley, Cheshire. A third arrived in Stranraer 17 1/2
hours late from London. Nearly 1,000 vehicles were trapped on the
Great North Road near Alnwick, a snowplough got stuck in a drift in Perthshire, and
Edinburgh was cut off. In the West Country a thaw brought danger of
flooding. Devon Water Board ordered a 24-hour watch on all rivers, and
Plymouth the Services planned a flood-relief operation, using helicopters
and amphibious vehicles. In Essex it was feared the seven weeks of
frost had killed between 60 and 70 per cent of the local oyster beds.
Only two roads were open between England and Scotland,
and in Edinburgh the snow was said to be " so thick in places that people
were walking about on the hedges". At Belfast's airport, staff were
marooned for the night and helicopters flew food supplies to isolated villages in County Londonderry.
Devon River Board chief engineer, in a broadcast, said he expected rivers in
the county to burst their banks within 24 hours. Police dynamited ice
on the Exe to prevent flooding and children were evacuated from a school at
Crediton. At East Grinstead, in Sussex, foxes began to hunt in pairs
in the town centre and cat owners were advised to keep their pets indoors.
Another death was reported.
There was a general thaw except in Scotland,
North-east England, and North Devon, where a sudden reversion prevented the
expected flooding of rivers. Five villages in the Border counties were still
cut off and 108 main roads in Britain remained blocked. More
helicopter flights took place in Northern Ireland, where farmers prepared to
slaughter 1,500 pigs because they had run out of feeding stuffs. There
was another death.
The thaw ended and there was more snow across Southern
England, Wales, the Pennines and Northumberland. The G.P.O. announced
that the demand for weather information was three times greater than usual.
In Manchester 28,000 people had dialled ASK in January, compared with 8,300 twelve months
The Air Ministry decided that the cold spell would not
end "for quite a long time to come", while troops with bulldozers struggled
through snow drifts to relieve five farms in West Carmarthanshire. The
Scottish Football League Management Committee, anxious that 1963 should
remain a unique experience, proposed that in future the close season should
extend from December 7 until the first Saturday in March.
The Meteorological Office prophesised that
temperatures would shortly rise in all parts of Britain, and Devon's
flood-emergency plan was again brought out of the cold. In the
North-west stocks of house coal were "almost exhausted".
Devon got its floods at last and so did other parts of
the West Country. There was 4ft. of water on the Crediton-Okehampton road,
3ft. between Exeter and Bridgewater, and the same depth on roads between
Taunton, Langport and Wantage. The Army sent in eight D.U.K.W.s to
Taunton where cars were stranded in the flood water. On the Scottish
Border, however, snow conditions were "fearful,", according to the R.A.C.,
workers at Fylingdales were again marooned, there was more snow in
Derbyshire, and a full blizzard in Hampshire.
Once again, the thaw cut out, which at least relieved
the threat of disastrous flooding in the West Country, though hundreds of
acres in North Dorset and east Somerset were by now under water. There
was more snow from Kent to Scotland. Roads were again blocked across
the Pennines, over Shap, and in Mid-Wales, North Yorkshire, and Scotland.
Conditions were the worst of the winter between Perth and Inverness, where
vehicles were buried beneath 15ft. drifts. Water rationing began in
Aberystwyth, an emergency it shared with Carmarthen. For the first
time since 1947 the Derbyshire Moorland Grazing Committee started an
emergency feeding programme for 3,000 starving sheep on the fells.
In the South and West hopes rose on a day of brilliant
sunshine and all main roads were open across Dartmoor for the first time
since Christmas. Things, in fact, looked like getting back to normal
everywhere except on the Border and in South and East England where many
roads were still blocked. After a snowplough had given up trying to get
across Stainmore, an A.A. patrolman leaned on his shovel and struck the roof
of a car buried beneath his feet.
More than half the football League games were played
and for the first time since December 28, the pools functioned without the
hypothetical results of the experts. It was sunny throughout the
country and only in the South-east were temperatures as low as 1deg. C.
In this area there was more snow in the early morning. It was to be
the last of the official winter period.
After three days, disastrous heath fires on the Isle
of Skye were brought under control. In the north of the Island they
had swept across a seven-mile front; in the south thirty square miles of
grazing land were burned and many sheep on them. They had been caused
by two things: Skye's lowest February rainfall for thirty years and frost
which had shrivelled the grass.
Troops relieved a farm on Dartmoor which had been cut
off by 20ft snow
drifts for 66 days. With only fourteen Football League Matches
postponed, soccer had its best day for eleven weeks. There was still
no football at Halifax, but the local club opened its ground as a public ice
rink and hundreds skated on it.
This was the first night free of frost anywhere in
Great Britain since December 22. On March 6 London had its warmest
(16deg. C) day since October 25, and temperatures rose sharply throughout
the country. This, together with heavy rain, caused flooding on roads
in Southern Scotland and the North of England. In Kendal, which had
its first rain for 74 days, The River Kent was transformed from an almost
dry bed into a 10ft.-deep torrent within 24 hours. And at Shrewsbury
the Severn rose more than 5ft. between midnight
and breakfast time. The winter was over.
Blizzards swept across Devon and Cornwall, fog covered much of the Midlands
and the North. The lowest temperature was -9deg. C. in parts of Suffolk and
Yorkshire. Twenty-six of the Football League games due to be played the
next day were postponed.
At least five people died in snowstorms over southern
England, two of them from suffocation after spending the night in a car
under a drift. More than 200 roads were blocked and it is estimated
that 95,000 miles of roads were snowbound. Things were worst in the West
Country, where drifts were up to 15ft. deep. Only the Tamar bridge linked
Devon with Cornwall. Helicopters were called to assist people trapped
in North Devon. In Kent it took one man 90 minutes to drive 440 yards.
The Meteorological Office reported signs of a thaw.
Five more deaths occurred, and in Devon conditions
were already comparable to those of 1947. Two thousand ponies had been
buried under drifts in Dartmoor for three days and an unknown number of sheep
were in similar plight. In the north there was a gale which brought
down a 200ft. chimney in Rochdale. Men at 26 power stations decided to
ban overtime and work to rule which meant, according to their spokesman, Mr
Charles Doyle that "roughly one-third of the electricity supply industry"
was affected. The Meteorological Office reported that seven towns had
beaten the December sunshine record of 100.1 hours, which had existed since
1917. At the same time, it decided that there wasn't, after all,
going to be a thaw.
Continuing blizzards over the South of England were described as the worst
for 82 years. (on January 18, 1881, according to legend, there was a 15ft.
snow drift in Oxford Circus). Dozens of villages were cut off and
helicopters were used to drop fodder and other supplies to isolated
communities in the West. One flight was made with milk and food for a
children's nursery in Dorset. More than 500 lorries from all parts of
the country were queuing for rock salt at a mine in Cheshire. The
National Dairy Council suggested that so many empty milk bottles had been
lost in the snow that there might not be enough full ones to go round.
It was snowing hard in nine counties south of the Kent-Somerset line and an
Automobile Association spokesman reckoned that "the only thing travelling up
the M1 is snow". Four more deaths were attributable to the weather.
Men at another eleven power stations joined the work-to-rule movement.
Vegetable prices began to rise rapidly.
A slight thaw came to parts of Europe, excluding
Britain, where the blizzard spread northwards. A Royal Automobile Club
official, not to be outdone by the fluency of the A.A. said that "the Peak
District looks like
the Alps" and Pennine villages became isolated. In Somerset the
railway line between Minehead and Taunton was blocked by a train stuck in a
snowdrift, another train in the area was abandoned by its crew, who took
refuge in a farmhouse, and rail conditions in the West were so bad that
priority was given to trains carrying food, coal, oil and petrol.
Fifty B.E.A. flights were cancelled at London Airport, Gatwick was closed
and London dairies began drawing on emergency stocks. It was reported
20,000 driving tests had been cancelled during the week. The unions
recommended an official work-to-rule in all power stations.
The thaw reached parts of the Midlands, the South and
West, but it was too late to save most of the next day's sports
fixtures. All but five of the 32 F.A. Cup third round ties were
postponed - a record - and for the second successive week the football pools
were cancelled. The Ministry of Agriculture advised farmers to shoot
house sparrows on sight now that they were in their hundreds seeking food in
Dynamite was used after an avalanche had blocked the
railway line from Edinburgh to Carlisle near Galashiels and 1,300 sheep,
ponies, and bullocks were dug out of drifts on Dartmoor. A lifeboat
from a coaster which had been missing since December 28 on a voyage from
Swansea to Rouen was found near Land's End.
At Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, the temperature fell
to -22deg.C. It was noticed that sheep were being eaten alive by foxes
on Dartmoor and it was feared that hungry ponies might attack people
carrying food in the New Forest. At Billesdon, in Leicestershire,
dustbins began to freeze on to the fingers of the dustmen.
The rearranged F.A. Cup Ties were again postponed; 145
out of 211 Cup and League fixtures had suffered this fate in 19 days.
It was decided to move the final England Rugby Union trial from Twickenham
to Torquay, where things might be balmier. In Scotland aircraft
dropped 96 bales of hay to animals near Hawick.
Shop stewards representing the London power stations
met on a day of reduced voltage throughout the country and voted for " a
more rigid application" of the work-to-rule. Candles were ready on the table
during the meeting lest the worst should befall. Football pools were
again cancelled. Bristol harbour froze, and so did Britain's second
fastest flowing river - the Arun, in Sussex.
The Central Electricity Generating Board asked
housewives to postpone the morning's washing - or, at least, the ironing
until later in the week. Thousands of homes in the London area were without
electricity, among them Mr Charles Doyle's. The Southern Region of
British Railways announced there would be a 50 per cent reduction of heating
on its electric trains. Two more people died as a result of the
Three people were gassed after the frost had burst
mains and 20 others were taken to hospital. Workmen at three London
power stations suspended their work-to-rule campaign, but much of the city
was still blacked out and the Ministry of Works stopped the fountains in
Trafalgar Square. Over 5000 children were sent home in Portsmouth,
where twenty schools were closed because of frozen lavatories.
Seagulls were frozen into the water in Poole Harbour.
Eight more people were gassed as a result of burst
mains, five of them in one family in Salford.
A compromise was reached in the dispute over wages
which led to the work-to-rule in power stations. For the twenty-fifth
consecutive day the temperature in London was below -4deg.C., the only
comparable spells there being runs of 24 days in 1890 and 1895.
Blizzards swept over the Yorkshire Moors and 100 vehicles were abandoned on
the road between Whitby and Pickering. The A39 at Porlock Hill in
Devon was blocked for the twenty-first day in succession.
In spite of the pay settlement the work to rule
continued unofficially in some power stations. This together with a
record demand for power in the area, caused yet another blackout in
South-east England. At the laying of a foundation stone in Nottingham
a brazier had to be lit to stop the concrete from freezing.
Blizzards virtually cut Scotland off from
England and more than 200 vehicles were abandoned on Stainmore in
Westmorland. Locomotives in the Western Region began to freeze up
while they were running. In Gloucestershire a woman was found frozen
to death outside her cottage. But the chilliest news of the day was of
the death of Mr. Gaitskell.
After a week of blizzards in most parts of Britain
conditions were worse
than ever. In only six of the 86 counties (excepting Northern Ireland)
were roads free from blocks and stranded vehicles. Helicopters
evacuated 300 workmen from the Fylingdales early-warning station. Two
climbers were killed by an avalanche in the Chew Valley, near Oldham, a
walker died some miles away near Ramsbottom, and a man was found dead in a
stranded car near Blackburn. Ice floes in the Bristol Channel stopped
the Beachley Ferry. Two coachloads of people stuck all night in a snowdrift
were rescued in Derbyshire, and trains were trapped in drifts in
Hertfordshire, Lancashire and Cheshire. Forty lorry drivers spent
their third night in hotels or cafes between Bowes (Yorkshire) and Brough
(Westmorland), and 23 men were saved from a Lebanese vessel which went
aground at South Shields. London Airport was closed and the Pools
Promoters Association, after another blank
Saturday, decided that more drastic measures were required. From now
on, even if more than 30 football matches were postponed, the weekly gamble
would be possible. A panel of experts would produce a hypothetical
result for the unplayed games.
For the first time since 1947 large patches of ice
were seen drifting in the Mersey off Liverpool and pack ice was also
reported from the Solent, the Humber, and from East Anglia. At
Eastbourne the sea froze 100 feet offshore along a two-mile stretch of the
coast. Gas supplies were cut off from industry in South Wales after
the Wales Gas Board had reported an unprecedented demand. Seven more
deaths were attributed to the weather.
Snow fell throughout the country and roads were "exceptionally dangerous" everywhere except in Devon and Cornwall. Nineteen of the 46 Football
League games were postponed and three others abandoned; The Rugby League programme
was wiped out; only three major Rugby Union Matches were played; all racing
was cancelled. In the North-west candles were lit after widespread
power failures. But Bournemouth was the coldest in the country with -8deg.
The sea froze for only the second time in 25 years.
The winter of 1963 was the
coldest of the twentieth century, in the UK, and the coldest since 1740.
The second coldest was 1947, when more snow fell, but average
temperatures were not as low. Click on the dates to see weather
reports for that day (taken from the
Manchester Guardian booklet
The Long Winter 1962-3).
For a text-only version of this page, go here.