Sheffield snow: Looking back at winter 1947 - the coldest in three centuries

The winter of 1947 was one of the most brutal and harshest in living memory and saw snow and ice blanket swathes of the country for more than two months.

Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 1:16 pm

Seventy-five years on, we take a look at how the coldest winter in three centuries brought the country to a standstill as Britain shivered in an icy grip that hadn’t been matched since.

Beginning on January 21, 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.

It looks like some kind of scene from a war movie, but this is the Sheffield Canal in 1947 when the city was hit by one of the worst winters on record.

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

Animal herds froze or starved to death.

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.

George Harris submitted this picture of the incredible volume of snow which fell in the Derbyshire Dales in February 1947

In January 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

David Palmer sent in this picture taken by his father Tony Palmer who was 19 or 20 when it was taken in 1947

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.

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).

Snow at Barnby Dun near Doncaster in 1947
E R Morten submitted this picture of snow ploughs waiting at Buxton in the winter of 1947
Italian prisoners of war clearing snowdrifts at Stand Lane in Crich, Derbyshire during the winter of 1947. Eric Hartshorne, who submitted this picture, says the snow stayed until Whitsuntide
Snow at Edale during the big freeze of 1947. This picture was sent in by Frank Sirett