"THE WINTER OF 46/47" by Martyn Day

“It was pure black frost, night and day constant, and the snow was as high as the hedges. And there was no sky to be seen at all, or no sun.’”
FRANCIE MCFADDEN, 17 years old

The winter of 1946/47 was one of the worst of the 20th century. Between January 23rd and March 16th the country froze to a halt. Farms and villages were cut off by huge snow drifts. The road and rail networks closed cutting off supplies of coal to power stations resulting in nationwide power cuts. Wartime food rationing was still in force with more yet to come….
“Bread Ration May Be Cut. Less Bacon and Home Meat. Beer Supplies to be Halved Immediately”.
DAILY TELEGRAPH Thursday 23rd January 1947

That winter, with the ground frozen, farmers were unable to dig up root crops like potatoes or beets. Humans were going hungry and animals were dying in the fields as temperatures fell. On 29th January 1947, thermometers in London were registering minus 9C. On the 1st March Twickenham reported 20 degrees of frost. And yet apart from the occasional hint that all was not exactly spring-like outside the door local newspapers seemed rather coy about the arctic conditions…
“It was very cold and the bus conductress was trying to restore circulation in her hands. A well dressed woman gave her a muff and told her to wear it in-between punching tickets…”
RICHMOND HERALD February 1st 1947

“Hanging about the streets at night in a snow storm is enough to make any constable suspicious” said magistrate H.J Nias as he charged 3 youths with loitering with intent in Ducks Walk.

“On Sunday evening a cinema-goer at the Plaza was seen nursing a hot water bottle!”
RICHMOND HERALD - February 8th 1947


By early February the power cuts began to bite..
“Twickenham on Thursday had its biggest electricity cut yet from 9.45am until 1.25pm. Heath Road and Cross Deep were without electricity between 4.15pm and 10.00pm. Only candles flickering in windows pierced a black-out as complete as during the war.”

Local newspapers reacted with “cheery advice” -

But by February 8th the editorial tone had darkened…
“One of the biggest local coal merchants reports that no new supplies are coming into their yard.”
“Owing to the fuel shortage Richmond Public Baths have been closed during the past week.”
“In Richmond electricity companies are enforcing complete morning and afternoon cuts.”

“In the present crisis exchange visits with neighbours so that the fire in the home of the visited can be shared with a consequent saving of current and fuel in the home of the visitor. Cheerfulness and friendship can do much to put us all in good humour.”
J.D Craig - Mayor of Twickenham

In mid February, as part of their energy saving drive, the government introduced an order restricting newspapers to wartime formats in size and content. The ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ was philosophical…
“Today we are compulsively restricted to our wartime size. Happily we have always endeavoured to discharge faithfully our duty to the public and we will continue to do in fair weather and foul…..The crisis created by coal shortage and unprecedented wintry conditions does not show perceptible signs of easing up. It is the duty of everyone to give a helping hand.”

Fuel was so short that people were willing to steal it. In one case the defendant, George Barnet, claimed his children were freezing..
“My children were shivering and kept crying. “I’m cold, Daddy,” he pleaded. Another defendant, Alfred Pellatt, said the same. “My baby had no warmth in him, sir.” Both men were discharged with a caution. “There is a great shortage of coal and the temptation is strong - but you must not yield to it” advised the chairman Eric Chappell.

The thaw eventually came in mid March along with heavy rains and winds, resulting in the wettest March in 300 years. The Thames, the Trent, the Lea and countless other rivers burst their banks and there was widespread flooding.
“We could only cope if we had a spare Thames, or two!” said Geoffrey Baker, the Windsor Borough Engineer.

Some were tired of coping. Many thousands left the snow and scrimping behind and for a £10 ticket emigrated to Australia. The economy had also taken a severe bashing. Output was down by 10% and expenditure on repair and compensation was high. We did receive financial aid from America through the Marshall Plan but it would be the final straw that demoted the U.K from superpower to minor nation. Frozen and famished, dismissed and downgraded the rest of us could only sing the big song hit of the season…

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay.
My oh my what a wonderful day.
Plenty of sunshine heading my way,
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay”
Number 8 hit for Johnny Mercer in early 1947