DCSIMG

Remembering the Big Freeze

Ice-bound Portsmouth harbour during the big freeze of 1963

Ice-bound Portsmouth harbour during the big freeze of 1963

 

Fifty years ago on Boxing Day 1962 I was sitting with my parents in the front room of our house along with other siblings when my mother said: ‘Bobby, go and draw the curtains will you?’

I moved to the window and looked out at the bleakness, then turned to my mother and said ‘Yes! It’s starting to snow.’

‘Just pull the curtains and shut it out,’ she said.

Looking out a while later and with the excitement of a 12-year-old, I shouted: ‘It’s really coming down now.’ And down it came... for the next three months.

I had never seen anything like it. Being born in 1950 I had missed the snowstorms of 1947 and in the years between 1950 and 1962 there wasn’t much.

It became known in the press as the Big Freeze and it lasted until March, but many places were still looking at the snow that landed in December in late April.

Most people only had 
a coal fire in the front room and there was very little central heating. There was always ice inside the bedroom windows in the morning.

There were never enough blankets and dad’s greatcoat was thrown over the eiderdown to try and keep warm at night.

The railways still had steam locomotion which no doubt helped, but with the third rail pick-up system in the south, delays were atrocious.

Talking to old railway men, they tell me that the pick-up shoes on the old stock that ran between Portsmouth and London Waterloo had ‘boat shoes’ which were much longer and heavier than the ones on modern trains. They did manage to knock ice off the third rail, but services still suffered severe delays.

Buses that reached the top of Portsdown Hill at the George Inn stayed there as it was far too dangerous for them to descend the A3 into Cosham.

One thing that was different was that the schools didn’t close. Today it seems that even with 
the slightest chill in the 
air schools find an excuse 
to close down for a day or two.

I can’t remember missing one day’s schooling because of the Big Freeze. They built us hard then.

In the following 50 years I cannot remember snow like it except two years ago when we had it 
badly, but not for months on end.

 

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