The Bleak Winter of 1947

75 Years Ago – The Bleak Winter of 1947

The winter of 1947 was one of the severest on record. With the country still recovering from the impact of the Second World War, the UK was struck by one of the worst winters recorded. The cold snap was felt across Europe but the UK suffered the worst, and the country came to a standstill for many days. January started off mild but from 23rd January through to the middle of March, snow fell somewhere in the UK every day for 55 days and temperatures dropped to -21°C in some areas.

Broadway and the surrounding villages did not escape the icy blast of snow, fog, and gales from the east, resulting in freezing temperatures both day and night. The heaviest snow fell in the Cotswolds during the night of 5th February. Snowshill was cut off for a fortnight by deep snow and icy conditions until Broadway baker, Charles Jarrett, assisted by his son Ted, managed to get his van up the hill to deliver bread only to find the following week that the road was again blocked with drifts 4.5m deep. Spring Hill was cut off for much longer, and during the height of the blizzards one postman who became snowbound near the Jockey Stables on the Spring Hill Estate left his van and managed to walk back to Broadway despite the deep snow and freezing temperatures. In Evesham, sections of the River Avon froze to over a depth 4cm for more than a fortnight and a channel had to be cut in the ice to maintain the Hampton Ferry River Service.

Charles Jarrett, Baker, Broadway
Baker, Charles Jarrett with his bag of bread © E. Jarrett

Throughout the long winter there were delays in meat, grocery and coal deliveries and several villagers went without coal for weeks. The weight of snow and ice stretched telephone wires, water pipes froze and roofs and ceilings in many buildings collapsed under the sheer weight of the snow. Across the country, coal stocks at the power stations ran low, and the limited supplies were unable to make it through the blocked roads and railways. The government introduced measures to cut power consumption, including restricting domestic electricity to 19 hours per day and cutting industrial supplies completely. The Gordon Russell factory was forced to close for two weeks in the middle of February following the government’s ban on industrial consumption of electricity.

Towards the end of February the days brightened and spring appeared to be on its way as the sun put in an appearance. The respite, however, was short-lived and within a couple of days the weather turned colder again. Further heavy snowfalls followed and, combined with the high winds from the east, this led to more deep drifts across the area. On 5th March one of the worst blizzards of the 20th century hit the UK and by the following morning, Broadway was completely cut off from the outside world and movement around the village itself was practically impossible. Cars were abandoned, some completely buried, and only the tops of lorries and buses were left showing above the snow. Vehicles abandoned at the top of Fish Hill lay buried for several days. There were deep snowdrifts around Broadway Station, and the Broadway to Evesham Road was blocked by a drift almost 2m deep near the Murcot turn which was not cleared by snowploughs until late the following day.

Schools and businesses closed, bus services throughout the district were suspended and train services disrupted. An ex-US Army vehicle fitted with a snow-plough was used to help clear the High Street and a caterpillar tractor was used to deliver bread, milk and other supplies to stranded villagers. Groups of villagers joined snow-clearing parties in an effort to clear the roads known as Operation Snowdrift. Employees of local builders, Steward & Co., helped clear the road to Snowshill which was again cut off by drifts 3m high, and prisoners of war from the camps at Fladbury, South Littleton and Spring Hill were employed to help villagers across the vale clear the snow. It was estimated that during the week of 8th March, 1,500 tons of snow was cleared from the streets of Evesham.

The following week, the thaw set in accompanied by much rain. The melting snow and rain from the Cotswold hills poured into the streams and rivers. Many burst their banks and flooded nearby areas resulting in some of the worst floods recorded in the UK. The River Avon at Evesham peaked during the night of the 13th March flooding Waterside and Port Street. This was followed by 80mph gale force winds on 16th which brought down a number of trees along the Evesham Road once again blocking the road from Broadway and bringing down the telephone lines. The country as a whole was relieved when spring finally arrived after Easter but the winter had a lasting effect on Britain’s economy. By February 1947 it was already estimated that the year’s industrial output would be down by 10% that year and the effects of the March floods added a further £250–375 million (equivalent to £10–15 billion today) in damage. Fortunately it was 1963 before the village had to cope with such severe winter weather again.

Debbie Williamson
Broadway History Society