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Think we have had snow! You should have seen it in '63

By Stroud Life  |  Posted: January 23, 2013

  • Ian Thomas' late uncle Brian Kelsey stands next to a snowdrift in Old London Road, Wotton-under-Edge, in January 1963.

  • The frozen River Severn in Arlingham 50 years ago.

Comments (9)

APART from a couple of cold winters in recent years, most have been mild and wet rather than cold and snowy. Rainfall has made the news rather than snowfall.

The recent cold spell is timid when one looks back 50 years to an Arctic winter which gripped Britain for 11 weeks.

Yes, 1962-63 – the third coldest winter since records began in 1659 – is well remembered by those of us who are 60 or over.

As years go, 1962 was a chilly one and the first taste of what was to come arrived in the shape of 2in to 4in of snow and frosts in mid-November.

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Freezing fog blanketed Gloucestershire in early December with temperatures down to -7C (19F). It turned wet and stormy mid-month before the freezing air returned on the 22nd. Severe frost with lows of -8C on Christmas Day 1962 and then the fun started on Boxing Day.

A cold front parked up and delivered 3in to 6in of snow by midnight and then a full blizzard on the 29th/30th saw a further 4in to 6in which, driven by a strong easterly wind, formed drifts 10ft deep.

As 1963 dawned another 4in to 6in of snow fell on January 3.

By now, 12in to 18in lay and drifts were piling up 15ft deep or more. Villages on the Cotswolds were cut off, Bagpath, Hawkesbury Upton and Leighterton to name a few.

Temperatures plummeted following the snow and lakes, rivers and canals froze. Ice was reported to be 12in thick everywhere and freezing fog brought a further hazard.

Rime frost deposits were 1in thick on trees and power lines and motoring was a nightmare.

The A46 between Nailsworth and Stroud was almost impassable for three weeks and 400 sheep were buried in drifts in Coombe near Wotton-under-Edge.

The Severn iced over on the tidal section and three men walked across from Newnham to Arlingham and back with ice blocks 3ft high on the shoreline.

The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal froze over and, because it was a working canal, three steam tugs were brought out of retirement – the Iris, Primrose and Mayflower.

They acted as pilot tugs to keep traffic moving with ice shields fitted to them. Even with assistance the vessels often got stuck in the ice.

Temperatures under clear skies dropped to -15C (5F) and failed to get above freezing point by day between January 17 and 25.

The maximum on the 23rd was -7C (19F) at Stroud.

Football was abandoned all over the country with 420 league matches postponed.

February saw slightly better conditions with daytime temperatures climbing a few degrees above freezing but severe frosts were still evident at night. Another blizzard on the 5th brought 3in to 4in of fresh snow and, by now, five million cubic yards of snow had been removed from Gloucestershire's roads.

Rail transport was totally dislocated with steam locos replacing frozen diesels with limited services from Cheltenham and Bristol to London.

So intense was the cold that the overnight Newcastle to Bristol mail and passenger train was pulled up at Coaley Junction station because the water pipe from the tender to the engine was frozen. A fire was lit underneath the pipes and hot rags wrapped around them until they had thawed sufficiently to allow the train to continue its journey on to Temple Meads.

Finally, the thaw arrived on March 5 with the first frost-free night since December 21. The average temperature for 1962-63 panned out at -0.5C (31F). Only 1683 and 1740 were colder and, generally, it was the worst winter since 1947 but with less snow, though only just.

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  • cheltenham20  |  January 24 2013, 5:01PM

    January 7h 1963 was the day i died, i was skating on Pittvile lake when the ice gave way, i went underwater an was instantly frozen to death. When they pulled me out they decided to put me into an icebox and keep me for a time in the future when they may find a way of unfreezing me and bringing back life to my tiny frozen body, and thats exactly what they did in 1990, so what happened while i was away.. I m still coming round and every time i try to remember events before my demise, my brain freeze's....can anyone help...

    Rate   -5
  • TimMessanger  |  January 24 2013, 1:42PM

    dontyaknow - they have alien space ships stored at area 51. Obviously you don't have a single ounce of knowledge with regards to the global weather systems and the effects that global warming are having, but you know better than all the scientists as you are in denial like a child when told that father christmas is a lie "No it can't be true I don't believe you, your a lier". Isn't it time you wake up to the real world and the visible effects this is happening on the planet.

    Rate   -5
  • dontyaknow  |  January 23 2013, 7:15PM

    You do realise that Global Warming was only invented so that governments could impose 'Green' taxes on us? I imagined most people had sussed this out as it has been very quiet on the Global Warming front for the past couple of years. These sorts of 'Big Freezes' happen from time to time. We'll have another one. Be it next month, next year or next decade, it will happen.

    Rate   3
  • Walker100  |  January 23 2013, 1:49PM

    Ah yes, that famous winter of 1963 caused by global warming, CFCs in fridges, all the central heating and so many cars on the road. Not as bad as the Winters where the Thames froze over of course, caused by the global warming created by all the cars and central heating back in the 1800s. And of course it was the Air Conditioning being used in the Americas that caused the last ice age in Britain......Need I go on?

    Rate   6
  • Misfit901  |  January 23 2013, 1:25PM

    In the 1963 winter I was at school travelling on the bus to Beards lane. The old - mainly unheated - bus usually failed to get a grip on the slope in Ebley just after the alley to victory Park so we all got off and walked the rest of the way. Even one lad from Frampton on Severn made it almost every day, the only real concession was the gym master dropped cross-country and rugby from the timetable. There were coke braziers in the outside toilet blocks to stop the pipes freezing relying on the clerestory widows to avoid the fumes killing the pupils! Despite the weather the staff all arrived and the cleaners kept the polished hall floor immaculately shiny. We were allowed to saty inside during breaks and lunchtime, although some (fool)hardy types ventured onto the quad. Nobody thought it was unusual to be expected to attend, only those living in the very worst affected lanes were excused but walking up to 3 miles was expected - none of us complained. Going home on the bus could be an adventure - at least one ended up in the Townsend shop window in Ebley after sliding on the bend while trying to get enough speed for the slope up to the Coach and Horses and Cordwells Garage peak.

    Rate   17
  • valhalla2010  |  January 23 2013, 1:08PM

    Could you imagine if three men tried to walk across the frozed River Severn these days? Newspapers would 'slam' them, various agencies would critisize them and they would probably be arrested on some trumped- up charge. Seriously. Back then it was just something daring that 3 blokes did. Had they gone through the ice and died they only had themselves to blame.

    Rate   14
  • Douglasknows  |  January 23 2013, 12:34PM

    1963 was the coldest and longest winter but 1978 was the deepest.

    Rate   3
  • zinboya  |  January 23 2013, 11:50AM

    I was born in the stonehouse area in 1944, i remember the snow in 1963, of coarse there was none of these so called climate change huggers about in those days, could see the headlines in all the newspapers- screaming out -ICE AGE IS COMING, and people being told turn up your heating, put more cloths on.

    Rate   5
  • Matt1006  |  January 23 2013, 10:39AM

    Not old enough to remember 1963, but have heard plenty about it, particularly in the last week or so. Difference in 1963 was that sensationalist journalism hadn't been invented, neither had the internet / social media. And journalists were trained and qualified. And I'll bet there were nowhere near as many school closures, mainly because the nanny state didn't exist then, either. Perhaps TiG could investigate how many teachers and school children came a cropper trying to get to open schools.

    Rate   12