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‘I remember my dad digging twenty sheep out of a huge snowdrift’: Readers recall their coldest winter

The Big Freeze: Winter '63
'Our windows were covered with beautiful ice patterns on the inside,' writes a Telegraph reader - Channel 5

With Allison Pearson writing about cautions over freezing temperatures last week, this week we have been alerted to new weather warnings as Storm Isha and Storm Jocelyn wreck havoc around the UK.

Judith Woods argues that the Met Office’s scaremongering is bizarre, “exposing the inexorable growth of the nanny state”.

Meanwhile, Allison Pearson affirms that “today’s puffer-jacketed snowflakes don’t realise how lucky they are”, the weather today is nowhere near as gruelling as it used to be.

Telegraph readers agreed, and took to the comments to share their chilliest memories.

‘I first learnt to ice skate in a grass quad turned ice rink’

Reader David Waddleton remembers building a “toboggan at school” in 1963.

“Me and my mates went out every afternoon to the golf course where there was a steep hill to use, which quickly became icy with use. If one didn’t dig one’s toes into the snowy ground on the flat, there was a risk of swooping over the main road in front of vehicles driving on the salted roads.”

David also recalled how the seniors at school “converted the grass quad into an ice rink, where I first learnt to skate, which became a life-long hobby. I travelled to the Netherlands at holiday time, to be with my aunt, she and my uncle took me to the seaside and we walked out with hundreds of others onto the thick ice, the frozen North Sea.”

Ice-skaters on the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Jan 28, 1963
Ice-skaters on the River Avon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Jan 28, 1963 - Mirrorpix

Telegraph reader Arthur Bentley also remembered being at school during this time, and argued that “the worst thing about cold winters in the 60s was being forced to drink the small bottle of milk that was given to every primary school child back then.

He detailed: “It was delivered early in the morning and left outside so that by the time we were told to drink it, a layer of ice had formed at the top. It was absolutely disgusting! But overall, a great time to be young!”

A number of readers were struck by the sheer quantity of snow and how long it lasted, sharing similar vivid memories to Allison’s.

Reader Liz Pilkington was eight years old in 1963 and remembered being snowed in for two months on her farm.

She recalled: “My dad dug us out through six foot snowdrifts with a shovel, until he reached the next farm. We walked a mile to school every day. There were some days when school was not possible for us because the school dinner bus couldn’t get through. Anyone who did make it to school was given tinned sardines and bread for lunch.

“I also remember my dad digging twenty sheep out of a huge snowdrift. They had been there so long that they were eating each other’s wool.

“Our windows were covered with beautiful ice patterns on the inside. We had no central heating and the fire in the living room was our main source of heat. My mum lit the fire before we got home so we always had a roaring fire to come home to.”

Keeper Harry Stevens carries fodder for some of the sheep and cattle during blizzard conditions at one of the enclosures at Whipsnade Zoo.
A zoo keeper carries fodder for some of the sheep and cattle at Whipsnade Zoo - William Vanderson/HULTON ARCHIVE

‘My dad took us swimming in the cold waters, right by half submerged cars’

Similarly, reader Brian French noted how “the snow arrived on Boxing Day here in the North East and was still on the ground when my wife and I got married on March 30. I remember the poor bridesmaids shivering at the church door when the photographs were taken.

“I also remember putting foam draft excluders around the door and window frames in an attempt to keep warm. The only heat was from the living room fireplace, and of course this created a draft as it sucked in air to keep burning. We bought a paraffin heater which added a bit of warmth but filled the room with fumes.”

A photograph of 11-year-carrying provisions through an opening cut in several feet of snow in Dartmoor
A photograph of 11-year-carrying provisions through an opening cut in several feet of snow in Dartmoor - Daily Herald Archive/SSPL

Telegraph reader Joseph Wyse, however, remembered “the great thaw and flooding that followed”.

“I was 10 years old and we had just moved down from Manchester to the leafy suburb of Hendon on the outskirts of London. My dad (much against the protests of mum) took me and my younger brother swimming along the Watford Way, right by half submerged cars, in the cold and filthy waters.

“Afterwards, my mother was furious as she hosed us down, but my dear father said that when they are long gone, no matter what else he can give us, we will always remember the day that we swam through the streets of London.

“He was not wrong, and 60 years on, I recall it as one of the happiest days and fondest memories of my life!”

‘The only snow plough in the county was dispatched to dig us out’

Other readers shared memories of additional famously cold winters. Reader Patricia Yates argues that the winter of 1947 tops the winter of 1963.

She described how, “there was no central heating then. We lived in a condemned house as we were bombed out in 1944 and this was the only accommodation available. Six small rooms, four related families, no inside water or toilet, gas light, a big shortage of coal because of strikes.

“I was 11, my sister was nine, and we used to take the coal sack and queue up at a coal depot hopefully to get some coal and then drag the bag home. No warm clothes, clothing coupons saw to that.

“I get so annoyed with people who moan if we get a few inches of snow and so hibernate in their centrally heated houses and cars to go shopping. This has made me at 89 able to cope with the hardness of life being a widowed pensioner.”

Kid sledding on an upside down table
Kid sledding on an upside down table - Television Stills

Telegraph reader Jillian Crosthwaite-Eyre asserts that although not the coldest one, her “most memorable winter was in 1978”.

“There was a sudden snow storm on the night of Feb 18, and strong winds blew the snow into the lanes and roads in and around Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.

“The next morning there was an eight foot high wall of snow blocking the only route from our house to the main road. I was nine months pregnant and scheduled for a cesarean section so there was a degree of concern about this.

“The only (allegedly) snow plough in the county was dispatched to dig us out, and twenty four hours later we made it into hospital in the nick of time. The ‘snow baby’ will be 46 on Feb 22!”

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