Retro: Looking back on the coldest winter in three centuries

The big freeze of 1947 - snow at Edale
The big freeze of 1947 - snow at Edale
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It was one of the most brutal and harshest winters in living memory – and this week in Retro we’re looking back 70 years to the infamous winter of 1947.

The coldest winter in three centuries brought the country to a standstill for months as Britain shivered in an icy grip that hadn’t been matched since.

Snow ploughs waiting at Buxton in the winter of 1947

Snow ploughs waiting at Buxton in the winter of 1947

Snow and ice blanketed swathes of the country for more than two months and record falls were reported up and down the country.

The big freeze caused severe hardships in terms of the economy and living conditions and also gave the Conservative Party leverage to attack the Labour Party in power.

There were massive disruptions of the energy supply for homes, offices and factories.

Animal herds froze or starved to death.

Pic brought in by Eric Hartshorne, Lodge Drive, Belper .
Italian prisoners of war clearing snowdrift at Stand Lane, Crich, 1947.
There would still be snow there at Whitsun.

Pic brought in by Eric Hartshorne, Lodge Drive, Belper . Italian prisoners of war clearing snowdrift at Stand Lane, Crich, 1947. There would still be snow there at Whitsun.

No one could keep warm, and many businesses shut down temporarily.

And then when warm weather returned, the ice thawed and flooding was severe in most low-lying areas.

Beginning on January 21, 1947, the UK experienced several cold spells that brought large drifts of snow to the country, blocking roads and railways.

It was harder and harder to bring coal to power stations and many had to shut down, forcing severe restrictions to power consumption, including restricting domestic electricity to 19 hours per day and cutting industrial supplies completely.

This three wheeler james van,was stuck in snow in the village of Storrs nr Dungworth for three days in the winter of 1947, preventing the Hague family from delivering milk into sheffield.

This three wheeler james van,was stuck in snow in the village of Storrs nr Dungworth for three days in the winter of 1947, preventing the Hague family from delivering milk into sheffield.

In addition, radio broadcasts were limited, television services were suspended, some magazines were ordered to stop being published and newspapers were cut in size.

These measures badly affected public morale and turned the Minister of Fuel and Power, Manny Shinwell, into a scapegoat; he received death threats and had to be placed under police guard.

Towards the end of February there were also fears of a food shortage as supplies were cut off and vegetables were frozen into the ground.

Mid-March brought warmer air to the country which thawed the snow lying on the ground.

Barnby Dun snow in 1947.

Barnby Dun snow in 1947.

This snowmelt ran off the frozen ground straight into rivers and caused widespread flooding.

More than 100,000 properties were affected and the British Army and foreign aid agencies were forced to provide humanitarian aid.

With the cold weather over and the ground thawing there were no further weather problems.

The winter had severe effects on British industries, causing the loss of around 10 per cent of the year’s industrial production, 10 to 20 per cent of cereal and potato crops and a quarter of sheep stocks.

The ruling Labour Party began to lose popularity, which led to their losing many seats to the Conservative Party in the 1950 election.

That winter is also cited as a factor in the devaluation of the pound from $4.03 to $2.80, Britain’s decline from superpower status and the introduction of the Marshall Plan to aid war-torn Europe.

George Harris submitted this picture of the snow which fell at Farley Hill in Matlock in February 1947.

George Harris submitted this picture of the snow which fell at Farley Hill in Matlock in February 1947.

The effects on the rest of Europe were also severe, with 150 deaths from cold and famine in Berlin, civil disorder in the Netherlands and business closures in the Republic of Ireland.

The main cause of the cold weather was an anti-cyclone which sat over Scandinavia from January 20. This high-pressure area blocked the progression of depressions across the Atlantic Ocean and forced them to the south of the UK, resulting in strong easterly winds which brought snow to southern England before progressing across the entire country. Throughout January the highest recorded temperature in England and Wales was 14 °C (57 °F) and the minimum was -21 °C (-6 °F).

During this very Wintery December, taken in 1947, I think it was taken by my Father, Mr Tony Palmer who was 19 or 20 when this was taken, he now lives in Calver  
David A. Palmer

During this very Wintery December, taken in 1947, I think it was taken by my Father, Mr Tony Palmer who was 19 or 20 when this was taken, he now lives in Calver David A. Palmer