Lichfield has definitely seen a considerable amount of snow in the last couple of days, however this is nothing to compare with the Great Snow of 1947!
The winter of 1947 was one of the worst recorded in British history, although 1963 was also a very severe winter. The weather had been mild at the start of January 1947, with temperatures reaching 14 degrees, but from late January until mid-March, easterly winds drove a succession of wintry snowstorms across the UK, resulting in what was believed to have been the snowiest winter since the mid-nineteenth century. Six weeks of snow, which began on January 23, led to thousands of people and small villages being completely cut off by snowdrifts. As the UK was recovering from the effects of the Second World War, armed forces were called upon to clear roads and railways of snowdrifts that were up to seven metres deep in places.
According to the meteorological record, snow fell every day somewhere in the United Kingdom for an extended run of 55 days and, due to the temperature on most days barely getting above freezing, much of the snow settled.
Some of the heaviest, and most severe, snow fell on 4 and 5 March, when heavy snowstorms and gale-force winds reduced the whole of the country to snow-filled chaos. Lichfield was one of thousands of places that were badly affected and the Lichfield Mercury reported the frozen lockdown of the city in their 7 March 1947 edition.
In the early hours of the evening of January 5, it was reported that the only accessible road was the one out to Walsall, with all other routes blocked by snowdrifts and icy roads. The Mercury recorded that:
‘Phenomenal scenes were witnessed in all the streets of the city throughout the night, as nearly three hundred lorries had been brought to a standstill, and after every parking place had been jammed full the remaining vehicles were lined up along the Friary Road, St. John Street, and every convenient by-street. Had the outgoing roads been passable it would have been impossible for some of the drivers to proceed, as their windscreens were covered by an inch of snow. Several of the large lorries contained tons of food which had to be left on the roadside all night, while others were laden with heavy machinery and goods of all descriptions. The influx of stranded lorry drivers and their mates created an unprecedented problem for Supt. G. Hewitt and the members of the local Police Force, but with their usual ingenuity they succeeded in finding requisite accommodation. To enable the unfortunate drivers to obtain refreshment, the Y.M.C.A. and local milk bars remained open all night’
The old Drill Hall on Wade Street accommodated a large number of the lorry drivers for the night, and when all the hotels and boarding-houses had been filled to capacity several of the drivers were given beds for the night at the police station (the ‘old’ police station on Wade Street, adjacent to Wade Street Church), where some had the unusual experience of sleeping in the police cells while NOT being under arrest – and a few lucky stranded car drivers were even given the opportunity to sleep at the home of the Lichfield Superintendant of Police!
The City Surveyor’s Department, under the supervision of the city’s surveyor, Mr Leslie Straw, used snowploughs on all of the main roads throughout the night, and the traffic, including the stranded lorries, was able to move more feely by the morning of January 6. Burntwood, Hammerwich, and parts of Cannock Chase all caught the full blast of the blizzard and many of the smaller villages were completely cut off. Numerous roads were impassable, and the snowdrifts varied from eight to ten feet deep in places.
Today all of the pubs across Lichfield, and the UK, are closed due to Covid-19 but on 6 January 1947 two Lichfield men, who had been delivering food parcels across Lichfield District decided that they wanted a stiff drink after all of their labours over the frozen and snowy roads.
They stopped at the Constitution Inn* on the Stafford Road but when they arrival they discovered that the front door was completely submerged by a snowdrift! Undaunted, and clearly desperate for a thirst-quenching pint, however, they grabbed a couple of shovels and dug their way into to the door, where the landlord opened up and allowed them to have their highly-deserved and well-earned pints!
A further result of the dreadful weather conditions was the cancellation of various functions and meetings arranged in the district. These included the meeting arranged by the local branch of the British Housewives’ League in the Magistrates’ Room (on Wade Street, now apartments above the 55 Bar, opposite the Garrick) on January 6 when the principal speaker was to have been Mrs. S. A. Ward, the prospective Conservative candidate for the division, who was snowed in at home. A public meeting arranged by the Lichfield and District Teachers’ Association to take place in the Guildhall was also cancelled as the speaker for the occasion was unable to make the journey from the south of England. Owing to the blizzard, the meeting arranged by the Lichfield Liberal Association, also in the Magistrates’ Room, was postponed, as only eight people braved the elements and made it to the venue. In the days before the Internet and mobile phones, news of the snowstorm’s progress failed to reach homes in Lichfield as no London or Birmingham daily newspapers reached Lichfield due to the snow-blocked roads and delays on the train lines.
The dreadful winter of 1947 continued right the way through to late March and the Lichfield and District Allotments Society said on 7 March 1947 that they were embarrassed to talk about their upcoming shows in August of that year as all of the allotments were currently still frozen and snow-bound!
We often complain bitterly, sometimes as bitterly as the weather itself, when snow brings traffic to a snail’s pace and we are delayed in getting home by an hour and half but the Arctic conditions of the winter of 1947, and 1963, definitely gave our forebears something to really worry about!
*The Constitution Inn was close to the junction of the Stafford Road, the Rugeley A51 road and the Kings Bromley Road, by the roundabout that is there now, it was demolished in 1956 to allow for the ‘new’ A51 by-pass road.
Keep warm, keep inside, and keep safe…
25 January 2021
The British Newspaper Archive; www.metoffice.co.uk
Photograph courtesy of the St Mary’s Photographic Collection