The ‘Big Freeze’ of 62/ 63

Exactly 60 years ago through from December 1962, into January, February and early March 1963 Britain was in the grip of a record-breaking winter now known as The Big Freeze. It had started in the middle of December and by the end of December was firmly established.

On 29 and 30 December 1962 a blizzard swept across South West England and Wales. Snow drifted to more than 20 feet (6.1 m) deep in places, driven by gale force easterly winds, blocking roads and railways. The snow stranded villagers and brought down power lines. The near-freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for more than two months in some areas. By the end of the month, there were snow drifts 8 feet (2.4 m) deep in Kent and 15 feet (4.6 m) deep in the west.

The village we lived in is tiny, remote and the roads are single track with high banks and hedges on either side. Whereas the snow ploughs could do some clearing on main roads between small town and villages in the area, nothing could get up the little roads in the villages themselves.

I recently found and old diary of mine from 1963. I’ve always loved writing so the new diary I had been bought for Christmas was used to record the details of my day to day life. Most of it is pretty boring stuff, especially the descriptions of what I had eaten. However, the first six weeks are fascinating as it’s a first hand account of life through the Big Freeze. I remember it really well but what I hadn’t realised until finding the diary was that I didn’t do a full week at school for six weeks! At times, when there had been no new snowfalls, the roads were clear and we could get about again. Then it would snow again.

I was twelve years old and had started in the ‘big school’ the previous September. My new school was five miles from our village and a local coach company used to bus the country kids into the town. What with snowdrifts blocking roads overnight and frozen and burst pipes in school, I was at home more than I was in school until the middle of February. On days when I couldn’t get to my school I had to go back to my old village school with my brother and sister. I wasn’t happy about that!

For nearly three months daily temperatures were around five degrees lower than the seasonal average. Pipes froze. Even the coal in the ground froze. And that meant heating homes became almost impossible. It was the middle of March before the snow on the ground eventually thawed, even though life had been more or less back to normal for a few weeks.

Thousands of animals perished in the cold temperatures Credit: ITV News Wales

A motorist negotiates a tricky icy bend on the road between Denbigh and Pentrefoelas, North Wales. Credit: North Wales Live.

As we know, all children love snow. They also enjoy the unexpected day off school. But by the end of January I was writing in my diary ‘I hope we don’t get any more snow, I’m sick of it.’

A diary entry which made me smile was the one where I wrote that my dad had made us snow shoes out of wire netting! That was typical of my dad. If something was needed he would have a go at making it. Our sledge was made by him and it was beautiful. He loved working with wood and took a pride in a good finish. We three children made really good use of the sledge during the Big Freeze!

The sledge was the same design as this one and my dad attached thin metal to the bottom of the runners for protection and speed.

Credit to Google, Google Images and Wikipedia.

As always I make every effort not to infringe copyright. However, if anyone objects to my use of any imafe, please contact me and it will be removed.

18 thoughts on “The ‘Big Freeze’ of 62/ 63

  1. It’s odd, and perhaps my memory is faulty, but I do not recall missing a single day of school during that winter and I had to walk almost a mile to the bus-stop and then it was 10 miles on the bus, from Billingham to Hartlepool. We were often late, though, and often cold all day, with damp feet. For the first time the girls (at Henry Smith School) were allowed to wear black tights rather than short white or knee-length grey or fawn socks. Unfortunately girls rarely wore trousers in those days and certainly not for school,
    Being born in January 1947 I don’t remember that winter, but I do recall being snowed in twice in 1978/9, for a week each time, when living near the coast of NE Norfolk, the first starting on New Year’s Eve and the second in February. As all farming in the area was arable there were hardly any hedges or fences, just low grassy banks separating the fields, so the snow blew off the fields into the lanes, making it impossible to walk or drive along them. One farmer drove his tractor over the almost snowless fields to our village with milk and bread. Since then I’ve always kept a good supply of non-perishable food in. Luckily there were no power cuts because there was no gas.
    By January 1985 I was teaching in Coventry, where there was snow and ice on the ground for 6 weeks because it didn’t warm up enough during the day to melt. The school was in a very deprived area and I have never forgotten one little boy who had a long walk to school, had no socks and only a thin jacket and wore plimsolls (what I’d call sand shoes) with holes in. I still regret not having tried to help him by offering him a pair of socks or a thick jacket, saying I’d bought them for myself but they were too small.
    A few years later, by then working in Hessle, just west of Hull, I was puzzled why a class of 11/12-year-olds were staring out of the window at the snow falling despite my (obviously!) fascinating teaching style until a colleague pointed out that they were too young to remember the last time it’d snowed there.
    I lived 9 miles away, in a village on the lower slopes of the Wolds, and twice couldn’t get to Hessle. The first time I totally forgot that teachers who couldn’t get to their usual school because of the weather were contractually obliged to go to any school they could get to but the second time it happened I went to the village school to offer my services. One little boy asked me, “Are you a real teacher, Miss?” “Of course I am, ” I replied, “why do you ask?” “Because you haven’t got grey hair.”

    Liked by 4 people

  2. How people survived without heat, power or adequate food and for such a prolonged period, is difficult to imagine. And when the animals in the fields start dying, the situation is dire. I wonder how many people died from the Big Freeze.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s an interesting question, I’ll have to look up the casualty statistics. I watched a documentary last night about the Big Fog of ‘52 which descended on London for four days and killed an estimated 4,000 people.


    • It’s the fault of the farmers who don’t make adequate provision for livestock, made worse by the fact that these days lambs are born in the winter rather than the spring, resulting in one in five of them dying from cold and/or malnutrition every year, not just when the winter is particularly snowy.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Most people would have had coal fires, many had paraffin lamps and as power cuts weren’t unknown at any time of year everyone had a supply of candles. I still have plenty of candles, and a camping stove!
      I recall boiling the kettle on the coal fire during a power cut in the summer of 1961. The tea tasted smoky!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A fascinating account of a winter I think I remember well but then I come across a comment or recollection that reminds me of something I’d forgotten. We are of a similar age and I, too, kept a diary (albeit with extremely brief entries) from January to mid-July. Conditions were bad in the Midlands as well. The cold weather began on 27th December with the temperature falling to a record low. Only three of us turned up for the arranged football practice. My friend arrived in just his football kit. His legs were blue and he was shivering so violently he could speak only in short gasps. The river running through the town centre froze over. And then came the snow. The ploughs pushed great cliffs of the stuff to the sides of the road, adding to that already drifted against walls and fences. But living in a town, rather than the countryside, we were disappointed that our school remained open throughout the long winter save for a few hours on January 22nd when the boiler broke down. The weather did provide for some amusement, such as the time a large slab of frozen snow became dislodged from a roof (with a little help from a few pupils) and made its planned direct hit onto the bald head of the Chemistry teacher standing at the edge of the playground below. That was on January 8th. Two days later “…during the dinner hour JT fell in river”. What it doesn’t say, but what I remember quite clearly, is that he’d been testing the thickness of the ice by stamping on it repeatedly before suddenly appearing a few feet shorter. He’d not chosen the best of places either: his plunge into the icy waters was close to a raw sewage outlet. His trendy suede shoes and white mac did not look or smell too good as he stood, forlorn and trembling, on the river bank. Four months later and memories of the extreme cold fading, it’s a warm, sunny day and we’re walking through a steep cutting on the disused railway line. The north-facing side has patches of grimy white on the mossy sandstone. It’s snow.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s