1947 – The Worst In Memory

Every time there is a cold spell  people talk about the winters of 1947, 1963, and 1982.
Now  I have lived through all of these winters and I hope many more to come.
Whether it was Snow, Severe frost, or lack of coal that caused the problems.
Here a just a few reminders of how I and other old Wulfrunians experienced those days  when the mercury hit those record lows.

Stuck on Penn Common
Stuck on Penn Common

January 1947 started of fairly mild and wet, but that was soon to change drastically.

February ushered in brisk S.E winds and sub-zero temperatures and the snow began to fall causing drifts to over 12 feet in places and with the continuing falls of snow and the permanent frost Britain was akin to the Antarctic.

The situation  continued for nearly 3 months and it was a terrible time for everyone concerned. With no central heating in those days, a coal  shortage, lay offs from work, and a rail strike thrown in for good measure. there was great difficulty in getting about, but we still managed to get to school, as I remember.

Young carters at the gas works Stafford Road 1947

How many people remember during that  cold winter making that dark and dismal journey along Stafford Road to the gas works to queue for a quarter of coke, when you couldnft get coal, for love nor money.

Forget the Saturday morning Picture shows whilst the electricity is cut off.
This was a scene at the gasworks in February 1947 where great queues of mainly women and children have assembled with every kind of conveyance to carry away coke to keep their homes warm.

I was nine years old then in 1947. Now wether it was the feel of the cold lino on the bedroom floor or the draw plate having to be wrapped in newspaper to warm the bed or perhaps my chapped legs. I just can’t explain the unease the memory of  those times make me feel today.

And you think that was Bad! In January 1963. The sea froze for 1 mile out from shore at Herne Bay, Kent.

Clearing the snow in Dudley Street.
Clearing the snow in Dudley Street.

A very cold easterly set in on 22 December 1962 and we in Wolverhampton  had heavy snow late on 26 December (Boxing Day)

In January 1963 the country started to freeze solid with temperatures as low as 16 degrees C (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in places. and freezing fog was a hazard for most of the country. In January 1963 the sea froze for 1 mile (1.6 km) out from shore at Herne Bay, Kent;  BBC television news expressed a fear that the Strait of Dover would freeze across. The upper reaches of the River Thames also froze over, though it did not freeze in Central London, partly due to the hot effluent from two thermal power stations, Battersea and Bankside.
The removal of the old multi-arched mediaeval London Bridge, which obstructed the river’s free flow, and the river embankments, make the river less likely to freeze in London than in earlier times

By  February 1963  The ice was thick enough in some places that people were skating on it. Icicles hung from many roof gutterings; some of these were as long as a metre (3 feet, 3 inches).

Arkle winner 1964 Gold Cup.
Arkle winner 1964 Gold Cup.

One of the most noticeable consequences of the freezing conditions which hit the UK in the winter of 1962/63 though was the enormous disruption to the national sporting calendar. I was very much involved with Horseracing at the time and the National Hunt season  was badly affected, There was no racing in England between 23 December and 7 March inclusive, although a meeting at Ayr in Scotland went ahead on 5 January.
The thaw set in during early March; and March the sixth was the first morning of the year without any frost anywhere in Britain.
The temperatures soon soared to 17 degrees C (62.6 degrees F) and the remaining snow rapidly disappeared, which to everyones delight saw the 1963 Gold Cup meeting go on at Cheltenham.

And there’s worse to come! In 1981-82 The Mercury was to hit a record low.


1981. The cold snap began during December when the weather men were already reching for their record books. On December 12th Shawbury Met office registered a short lived record of -22.3 Centigrade (-8.6 F) The following day the 13th it struck -25C -13 F

I will never forget Sunday the 13th december 1981 I was licensee at the Dudley Arms Himley at 2 – of clock my heavily pregnant daughter-in-law was rushed into Wordsley Maternity expecting his first child.
At 5. pm my son left the hospital after being told he had a son.

Coming out onto the car-park he found it covered in a blanket of snow it took him half an hour to find his car the snow was that deep.and that evening we didn’t see a soul in the pub and  13 people spent the night on a bus which was stuck on the road from Bridgnorth to Wolverhampton.

Bill Worrall was driving the 890 service through Shipley when it became ploughed into a 4ft snow drift.

Mr Worrall said he only had one passenger on board at the time of the incident but soon found another 11 people decided to board the stranded vehicle after their own vehicles got snowed in. I kept the engine running to keep us warm and we took turns to keep our feet on the accelerator. They spent 19 hours on the bus before the road was cleared by the police next day.

This is the scene in Wolverhampton. on the Monday Morning and that first fall was in evidence right through Christmas.

Taken from the college of Art Building January 1982.
Taken from the college of Art Building January 1982.

As the year 1981 closed It had been the coldest December since 1890, with a combination of cold and snow not exceeded since 1878.

January was to bring no respite. On Friday the 9th The draymen had just left the Dudley Arms when the snow started, it was later said; 15inches of snow fell on the region in 24 hours the heaviest single snowfall in the 20th century and the following day the 10th, a record temperature which has never been broken of -26.1C was recorded at  Harper Adams Agricultural collegefs weather station between stafford and Telford .

The above picture shows   the wintry scene looking down from the College of Art block overlooking the ring-road – Stafford Street Junction, on January 11th 1982.

Which  the Shropshire Star reported was the coldest Shropshire day since records began in 1903, with a maximum daytime temporature of -11.5C (-11F) recorded at Harper Adams. And those are my memories frozen in time.

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  1. nice account bill of cold times.i agree 47 was bad with plenty of snow but as a 10 year old rolling 6ft snow balls on bigwoods field in springfields i thought it was great fun .i went through the whole of 62/63 winter driving my nsu scooter through all the severe weather . coming off was unavoidable as the roads were so icy/snowed up.not nice at the time but the memories make todays winters seem tame in comparison colin.

  2. Well while I wasn’t born on 1947 and wasn’t old enough to remember 1963, Mum often used to recall memories of them whenever we had a cold snap. I do remember the early 1982 winter though. At that time I had not long started my first job and was required to be away on a training course for several weeks in deepest Worcestershire. It was a residential stay during the week, coming home for the weekends. On one particular weekend in February though, the Friday had brought heaps of snow, so much that the only road out of the place was blocked so everyone had to stay. It was a few days before it was cleared, but even so remained extremely cold. Still we were young then and snow was still fun. 🙂


  3. I was six in the ’47 snowfall and on Jan 16th my Grandmother came down from Yorkshire to be with my Mother as she was due give birth to my Sister. The baby arrived on the 17th. That day had seen the shute down of the railways so Nan only just made it.

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