Six of the Worst: Winters in the UK

Otley, February 1947
Ice Skating

The photo of Otley taken in February 1947 (Let It Snow, Yorkshire Evening Post January 2, 2009) asks where it is? It's on the Wharfe just past the bridge at Otley. I was taken there when I was a child by my father. My auntie lived in one of the cottages seen in the picture. 
Gary Wheelhouse, Kentmere Avenue, Seacroft, Leeds, email: ggazw@aol.com
Otley, February 1947 Ice Skating The photo of Otley taken in February 1947 (Let It Snow, Yorkshire Evening Post January 2, 2009) asks where it is? It's on the Wharfe just past the bridge at Otley. I was taken there when I was a child by my father. My auntie lived in one of the cottages seen in the picture. Gary Wheelhouse, Kentmere Avenue, Seacroft, Leeds, email: ggazw@aol.com
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With the first widespread snowfall of the season, Neil Hudson takes a look back at some of the worst winters to affect Yorkshire. If you think it’s cold now, think again...

WINTER OF 1947

IT was a cold spell which lasted 34 days – from late January to mid March – and brought life to a standstill in Yorkshire and across the country. Villages were cut off, roads, railway lines and canals were impassable and hundreds of animals died from starvation. It was said to be the worst winter since 1880-81, when four feet of snow fell across the country from January 18-21. Temperatures in Leeds fell to 11 Fahrenheit (-11 Celsius). Leeds Corporation had 16 snow ploughs out at night and 36 during the day. Holmfirth undertaker T W Birks even constructed a special sleigh for a funeral.

WINTER OF 1969

Snow and ice gripped the nation in the worst winter since 1962-3. In Leeds, the bad weather forced the cancellation of a Leeds United match but that didn’t mean the players got a day off, trainer Les Cocker led the team on a punishing run through the snow. Pictured above: an Austin Mini gets stuck in the snow on Dewsbury Road. Also this month, the Boeing 747 made its maiden voyage. The historic flight took place on February 9. And Leeds United were at the top of Division One after beating Ipswich 2-0 on the ‘frozen wastes’ of Elland Road, led by Billy Bremner.

WINTER OF 1683 & 1940

Leeds, 2nd January 1962.

The scene on the York-Bridlington Road, near the top of Garrowby Hill.

Leeds, 2nd January 1962. The scene on the York-Bridlington Road, near the top of Garrowby Hill.

It has to get pretty cold for the River Thames to freeze over to the point where people can not only walk on it but stage an entire fair. But that’s exactly what happened in the Great Frost of 1683–84, which is still the worst frost recorded in England. The fair included gambling, ice-skating and bear-baiting. The deep freeze also affected the rest of the country, with other lakes and rivers also freezing, including the one in River Ribble, at Walton-le-Dale, pictured here in February 1940. The ground also froze solid, meaning farming was impossible.

WINTER OF 1739

The Little Ice Age, which lasted roughly from 1350 to 1850, has a lot to answer for, not least of which is our present-day perception of what Christmas should look like. Christmas cards and the like were first created in the mid-1800s at a time when white Christmases were pretty much a certainty. The winter of 1739-40 was one of the most severe in British history. Temperatures fell on Christmas Day, 1739, leaving the country in a deep freeze until February 17, dropping to -9C at one point. More recently, scientists put the Little Ice Age down to a lull in sunspot activity.

Winter of 1962-3

1978/9 FROZEN IN TIME
Motorists try to clear a path in York Road Leeds.

1978/9 FROZEN IN TIME Motorists try to clear a path in York Road Leeds.

Britain was in the grip of a bitterly cold winter. It was so cold the Central Electricity Generating Board appealed for all unessential electrical items to be switched off between 8am and 8.30am and 4.45pm and 5.15pm. The appeal came as 8,000 Leeds householders in Leeds were hit by one of the worst winters in living memory. A Generating Board spokesman said: “Although in this bitter winter the load has been abnormally high, the Central Electricity Generating Board has hitherto been able to meet demand. “But... it would help if unessential electrical equipment could be switched off during peak periods.”

WINTER OF 1978

THE famous winter of 1978 was neither as bad as the winter of 1962-3, nor the one of 1947, which was arguably the worst Britain had experienced in the 20th Century.

However, it was still bad enough to freeze ponds, lakes and even canals, not to mention bring chaos to the road network and cut entire villages off from civilisation.

Frozen River Ribble, at Walton-le-Dale in February 1940

Frozen River Ribble, at Walton-le-Dale in February 1940

People were able to walk across the frozen waterways of Leeds, including canals and lakes.

The Leeds-Liverpool Canal froze near Rodley and people were able to skate on Waterloo Lake, Roundhay.

Armley Jail.

Revealed: What inmates at Leeds’s Armley Prison will be tucking into on Christmas Day