After the previous two posts on harsh winters on the Broads over the years, I thought that I had better round things off with a mention of the winter of 1947, although I have yet to find a photograph of Broadland which shows the heavy snowfall from that year. Whilst not as cold as the winter of 1963, there was certainly a lot more snow, and the East of England was particularly hard hit as the nation remained frozen for seven weeks. The first part of January had been fairly mild, but towards the end of the month the snow showers began, continuing throughout February and into early March. Parts of North Norfolk became cut off from the outside world as both major, and minor roads were completely blocked by the heavy snowfall – the RAF were called in to drop food supplies to stranded villagers and their animals.
As blizzards raged all over the UK, the main routes between the north and south of England were cut off, power stations began to run out of fuel supplies as the coal lorries and trains struggled to try and get through. The nation was still in recovery after the end of WW2, and rationing of food and fuel was still in force, a situation which worsened during the bad weather as fishing fleets found themselves unable to leave harbour, root crops were frozen in the ground and trains, along with road transport, ground to a halt. The population, who were already fed up with certain foodstuffs still being rationed, now had to face further rationing on items such potatoes as the farm workers were unable to work in the fields. The lack of fuel supplies reached crisis level and the government brought in nationwide measures to reduce consumption with enforced power cuts of five hours every day, along with the rationing of coal supplies to heat people’s houses. One abiding comment which seems to be common throughout the country, was that the rationing and shortages faced during this winter were far more severe than anything the population had endured throughout the war. Another common memory I have heard from those who remember the winter of 1947 is that, all around them, the birds were just dropping from the trees in the freezing conditions.
Millions of workers found themselves temporarily unemployed as the powercuts forced businesses and industry to scale down, and further power saving measures were brought in which included suspending the television service, reducing radio broadcasts and the downsizing of newspapers. Throughout the country streetlights, and even traffic lights, were tuned off and gas pressure was reduced to as little as 25% of it’s normal pressure in some towns and cities. Many of those who found themselves out of work were drafted in to help with the mammoth task of trying to clear the roads, along with German Prisoners of War who were still being held in the UK.
And then finally, around the middle of March, the thaw began, but with it came widespread flooding as the large volume of snow which had fallen began to melt. I have some incredible cine footage which was taken by my grandfather during that winter, of people skating on a frozen lake, and the flooding which occurred in the Waveney Valley once the thaw came. This flooding was made worse as heavy rainfall, accompanied by severe gales, swept across Britain. East Anglia, and especially Fenland, experienced some of the worse flooding in the UK and the army were called in to assist as vast swathes of the countryside lay under water.
The following reports were from the Beccles and Bungay Times of 1947, and illustrate just how severe the weather was during that winter. These excerpts are from some of the many wonderful transcripts of old Beccles newspapers, collected by David Lindley and Janelle Penney, which can be found in full on the Foxearth and District Local History Society website.
1st February: Heavy snowfall. 14 cars stranded on the Beccles to Norwich road. They were dug out assisted by an AA man.
8th February: Snow. It costs £200 a day to clear the snow in East Suffolk. By Monday they had 300 Prisoners of War at work, 250 from the Ministry of Transport, 20 from contractors, 10 from Catchment Board, 70 boys from Shotley Naval School and 530 County Council men.
15th February: Heavy snow continues. Electricity ordered to be cut – a certain amount of minimum lighting was allowed in some of the shops. In the Post Offices candles were in use. Demand for oil in stoves and paraffin, but at the all-electric Pre-Fabs it was a case of cooking inbetween times. Elliot and Garrood were working as usual, they have their own powerhouse. Beccles is almost completely darkened by general street light restriction. Only one light remains in Exchange Square, except for the red lamp on the Quay. The Parish Church is not alight and the telephone kiosks are dark.
22nd February: Weather – Most of the Waveney frozen. Hoped to skate from Beccles to Oulton Broad for the first time since 1894/95. At the cut in Beccles the ice is 12 inches thick. Mr H. Gilding of Rookwood, London Road is a prominent local skater, he said an attempt would be made on Friday – because Clowes is closed for the weekend due to the fuel shortage.
22nd February: Electricity shortage. The streets are blackened out. There are only three lights in Beccles one in Exchange Square, one at the Churchyard steps in Puddingmoor, and a red light at the Quay.
15th March: Thaw at last, which caused widespread flooding. The Beccles Norwich road and the Beccles Bungay road were impassable. The marshes were flooded and rail traffic on the Waveney Valley line could only get as far as Harleston.
22nd March: Flooding worse. Between 30 and 40 houses in Fen Lane, Bridge Street and Puddingmoor were flooded. The main damage was to floor coverings, wallpaper and furniture.
Once again, if you have any memories or photographs of Broadland during the winter of 1947 then I would love to hear from you.