Winters past brings back chilling memories

Derek JamesWe've had tempests, tornadoes, hailstones and heatwaves along with floods, freezes and dust-devils - and now we are in the grip of the winter of 2010.Derek James

We've had tempests, tornadoes, hailstones and heatwaves along with floods, freezes and dust-devils - and now we are in the grip of the winter of 2010.

There was a time when almost every winter brought snow and ice but nowadays it is far more of a shock to the system as people have got used to more mild temperatures.

Imagine how our forefathers coped, in the days before central heating and gritters, when the rivers froze solid and Norfolk was regularly cut off from the rest of the country by huge snow drifts.

And there was no working from home and few state handouts. No work. No money. Times were hard.

The worst winters in living memory came in 1947 and 1962/3 when Norfolk and the rest of East Anglia was squeezed in an Arctic bear hug for months.


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The notorious winter of 1947 brought more than two months of fierce blizzards and huge amounts of snow - and it couldn't have come at a worst time.

The country was still on its knees following the Second World War. Norwich had been ripped apart by Luftwaffe bombs. Homes were often unheated and clothes and food could only be bought by coupons.

Life was tough enough - and then winter descended bringing more misery and gloom.

And to make life even worse there were widespread and regular power cuts blacked out the city, towns and villages.

The winter proper arrived towards the end of January when several inches of snow blocked roads and the rivers started to freeze…as it just got colder and colder.

On February 3 a snow storm was blamed for the death of railway signalman Hugh McLeod who went on in a blizzard to clear the snow from points at East Runton and was hit by a train. Visibility was described as nil.

Two days later a woman walking towards Northrepps saw what looked like a bag of coal lying in the snow. It turned out to be the cop of a coal lorry, almost completely buried.

The worst snowstorm came on February 11 when roads and railway lines across Norfolk were completely blocked.

Trains were marooned, towns and collages cut off. A foot of snow fell and there were drifts of 12ft.

To make matters worse thousands of workers at factories across the city and county were sent home due to industrial power cuts.

As the rivers froze boats got stuck. Colliers delivering coal to Norwich Power Station struggled to force a passage though thickening ice.

Remember the war had only recently ended and across Norfolk German PoWs worked alongside our soldiers to clear roads. They were called on to free both fire engines and ambulances trapped in the snow.

On February 23 Mr C H Day, a Lowestoft garage owner, made history by driving his car on Oulton Broad and his son Charles rode a motorcycle towing a sledge, taking locals for a ride.

Winter finally released its hold on Norfolk and Suffolk on March 17 and when the temperatures rose there were terrible floods. More than one thousand men worked to close a breach in the bank of the Little Ouse near Hockwold but more than 40,000 acres of rich agricultural land was flooded and this led to the formation of the Great Ouse Flood Protection scheme.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes as the waters caused more damage than the snow….when the summer finally arrived in 1947 - it was dry and hot and an official draught was declared.


A famous Evening News photograph summed up the coldest winter since 1740 so well - Gerald Bullard, the last of the great Norwich beer barons, enjoying a beer on the middle of the River Wensum.

Frozen rivers, deep snow from Christmas to March, ice floes at sea. This winter Norfolk became the East Pole.

In those days Gerald ran the big Bullards Brewery from the Anchor Brewery - now converted into homes - and the big freeze had turned the river into a skating rink so he nipped out to enjoy a glass of his fine brew. No ice required.

The first outriders of winter had already made their appearance at Sprowston in November when the snow arrived but most people remember it kicking in with on Boxing Day when it started to snow and temperatures fell to 9F (-13C).

And it just kept on snowing. Huge drifts wiped up by gale-force winds brought normal life shuddering to a halt. Roads were blocked not just by snow but also dust.

At Oulton Broad, the ice was thick enough to hold skating championships over a mile-long course.

Public buildings, factories and schools were forced to close as heating systems broke down or froze up and water ran solid.

The severe weather also had a devastating effect on wildlife. Soil froze to a depth of seven inches. The average temperature for this whole winter was 30.5F (-0.5C) and snow lay for more than 60 days.

As February turned into March the snow disappeared and by March 6 the day time temperature at Cromer rose to a balmy 61F (16C)…spring was on its way.

As for 2010…only time will tell how we remember it.

Did You Know?

In Norwich of January 1820 the iron pipes for gas lights on the Market Place started to be laid.

On this day in 1569 the first state lottery was held in England - 40,000 lots at 10 shillings each were available from St Paul's Cathedral.

On this day in 1917 a patriotic appeal was launched for the nation to subscribe to the new War Loan, to finance the staggering cost of the First World War - �5.7m a day.

On this day in 1973 the Open University awarded its first degrees.

On this day in 1989 the second Battle of Naseby was lost when judges refused to halt the MI-AI link across afield where Cromwell was defeated by Royalists in 1645.

For more wintry tales from days gone by read Derek James' pages in today's Norwich Evening News (on sale Monday January 11, 2010).