1947 - Now That Was The Year For Snow (23 February 1973)
It is hazardous to write about the weather nine days before the expected time of publication. Nevertheless, I am tempted to waive a lifetime’s rule by the fact that for almost the first time this winter I woke this Valentine’s Day to find a covering of snow on the ground. Not that I am going to do any forecasting. It simply reminded me that the heaviest snowfall I have experienced in these parts happened three weeks later than February 14 – in fact, on March 5, 1947.
I came here from Yorkshire, where heavy snowfalls occur more frequently. Yet even there a good fall was always a news story and I have vivid memories of those times. I have known the roofs of mills to collapse under the weight of snow. I have interviewed vicars who have been caught by the snow on their parish rounds and have been unable to get back to their vicarages for a week and so on.
The snow also blew into one’s private life. I was once best man at a wedding where the taxi driver, the bridegroom and I had to park our fancy gloves and get busy with shovels, old coal bags and the contents of ashbins to get to the church – and to the anxious bride. The bridegroom is now in Australia, where his school-boy grandchildren lament the fact that they have never seen snow in their lives.
Yet it is a fact that only in Bletchley have I seen an ordinary fixed Fahrenheit thermometer in working order registering nothing at all. And I have seen that twice – once in 1947 and again in 1963.
I have sometimes heard it argued about which was worst, the cold spell of 1947 or that of 1963. As some sort of guide I do have some temperature figures. They were recorded in their respective years by the Bucks Water Board at Battlesden, which I would think is near enough to Milton Keynes to serve our purpose.
These show that it all depends what you mean by “worst” even in the matter of temperature, let alone in assessing such factors as snowfall, wind-force and the like. It seems to me that either of those years could claim that dubious honour, according to how it affected yourself. Personally, I would award it to 1947.
The 1963 spell was longer – at least 64 days – and the average daytime temperatures were colder. On 50 of those days the temperature did not rise about freezing point. On two days the maximum temperature was only 20 degrees F and on six other days only 24F.
The 1947 spell (although it was preceded by other wintry days) lasted only 50 days and only twice was the maximum daytime temperature down to 24F. Once it got as high as 41F.
But oh those 1947 nights! One night the temperature dived to minus 6 degrees F. On two other occasions it was at zero F. This was the 1963 lowest and happened only once. And on four other nights it was down to 6F (only twice in 1963).
The mixture of arctic night and comparatively mild days created havoc in 1947, but the blizzard that raged all day on March 5 capped it all. After it you could not have skated on the canal because snow lay on the ice as high as the inner arches of the bridges.
For two-and-a-half miles along the Watling Street the snow lay 5½ feet deep. Elsewhere there were drifts up to 14 feet. A newspaper train from Euston arrived in Bletchley five hours late and no trains could get further north than Long Buckby until a 5ft drift 100 yards long had been cleared. There were people who set off from Northampton on Wednesday and did not arrive in Bletchley until Thursday because the train had to turn back before it reached Blisworth.
This snow was followed by 5ft floods at places like Shenley Brook End and then came a ferocious gale that ripped roofs off houses.
But there used to be a saying in the north – and perhaps here too – that “It’s time it snowed to bring the cold down.” That certainly happened in 1947, for the summer that followed was glorious.