Thursday, 21 December 2017

When the snow fell on Boxing Day and stayed till March .........

It was one of those throw away comments made at the end of a TV show last night which linked a a trailer for the weather forecast with an earlier piece on the Great Freeze of 1962-63.

Early morning, January 2009
The footage had shown the appalling weather conditions and prompted the question, how did we cope?

The snow had begun falling on Boxing Day which almost qualified it as a White Christmas, stopped I think the following day and then began tumbling out of the sky on December 29th locking us into nearly four months of ice and snow with the thaw only beginning in March.

Now when you are thirteen you take such events in your stride and after snow ball fights became boring there was always the game of pulling a wooden bench up the hill at Pepys Park and then descending down the slope.

Late afternoon, January, 2009
All of which had the added thrill that we might get caught by the park keeper who probably had more sense and was keeping warm in his hut beside a paraffin stove.

Come to think of it I don’t recall ever being challenged by one of the keepers in their brown uniforms as we risked life and limb.

But all of that was in the future, on that day in December I barely gave much of a thought to the snow.

It was late on a Saturday afternoon and already dark which made that swirling storm of snow just that bit more magical.

This I know because I still have the Eagle Annual which I got as a Christmas present and which I was reading in our kitchen as the events unfurled.

Ours was a big kitchen dominated by the stove in the corner which heated the water as well as the room.

I suspect it was almost as old as the house and had no thermostat which meant that when it had been on all day the water got so hot that dad had to draw some off.

The Eagle Annual, 1962-63
That was a regular occurrence but more than that there was that sizzling noise made from the water in the tank which was one of those reassuring sounds that seemed to guarantee all was well in the house.

That sizzling noise vied with the sound of the wireless which dad would listen to and which marked him off from mum who preferred the front room and the television.

So on cold winter’s nights you could slide down the Arctic like hall into the kitchen and be met by a wall of heat and Dad, which is how I remember that day when the snow began to fall.

Now I don’t doubt that in the rural areas things were grim with RAF air drops of supplies, farmers digging out buried sheep and the use of snow ploughs on railway locomotives.

But in south east London, life pretty much got on almost as normal.

Looking out over the Rec, 2009
The morning newspaper was pushed through the door, the milk was on the step and dad went to work and I walked to school.

For both of us there was nothing unusual about walking to work and school and although it was slippy I don’t recall there being much of a problem.

As for the rest of the house outside the kitchen, the front room was another warm haven and the remaining rooms, hall and landing were no colder than any winter.

Me in 1962
Dad prepared the hurricane lamps which he left in the loft to ensure that there was just enough heat to prevent the pipes from freezing, and we all had hot water bottles.

And after the first bout of excitement, the ice and snow became nothing special.

The other great freeze of 1947 was harsher and made worse by the post war shortages and the general weariness brought on by six years of war and a hard first few years of peace.

Location; 1962-63

Pictures; Beech Road in January 2009, the Eagle Annual 1962-63 and me in 1962, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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