'Witch's brew' of snow and ice was agony for millions
It's been a trifle chilly of late, with extra blankets and even hot water bottles being bought out of storage to combat the freezing nights. But it could be worse – in the winter of 1963, some of the lowest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls for 150 years were recorded.
Not since 1740, said the pundits, had there been a colder winter, there being no let-up in the 'Big Freeze' until March 6.
In Scotland, temperatures plunged to and incredible minus 22C.
Here, in the South, cars were driven on the River Thames and elsewhere canals froze over to a depth of a foot or so – quite safe to skate upon, in fact.
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In January, Bristol's floating harbour (city docks) froze hard and a grain barge berthed in the Bathurst Basin had to be rescued from ice six inches thick.
The decline in temperatures had, in fact, started the previous year, one of the coldest on record.
The last two months of the year had seen early snow in Gloucestershire – surely a harbinger of things to come.
The freezing weather actually set in on Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day 1962 a veritable blizzard arrived.
By midnight, four to six inches of snow lay on the ground and by new year the West Country had become – for children and tobogganists anyway – a winter wonderland.
But with more snow and cold forecast, one headline at the year's end read "Misery Monday". And so it proved.
With half of the region's rail services cancelled, two trains were almost completely buried by snowdrifts near Yate.
The villages of Dundry, Priddy on the Mendips and Hawkesbury Upton in the Cotswolds were soon made impassable by high drifts.
The A46 between Stroud and Bath was closed and at Ston Easton, high on the Mendips, a coach party was stuck in the snow for 24 hours.
On many minor roads, the snow levels were up to the hedge tops and in other places there were 20ft snowdrifts.
December to February saw 37 falls of snow, which lay thickly on the ground for 51 days out of 90.
At night, temperatures in the West fell as low as minus 13C, with many sheep and other livestock slowly perishing as farmers were unable to reach them.
One of the worst affected areas was Dartmoor, where many farming communities were cut off for weeks.
One farm, cut off by 20ft-high snowdrifts, was finally relieved by the Army after 66 days.
An AA spokesman described the conditions as "a witch's brew of hard-packed, frozen snow, ice patches and fog".
A snow plough sent to clear the Cheddar Valley railway line got stuck in a 15ft snowdrift.
In other areas, railway workers burned all-night fires next to their engines to try to stop them icing up.
Troops were eventually brought in to help get the trains moving.
In Chipping Sodbury, where the railway tunnel had to be closed, snow lingered on for 14 weeks.
As on the Continent, cars, buses and lorries clanked around in snow chains. Truck drivers built fires beneath their fuel tanks – as they do to-day in Alaska and Canada – to liquify the diesel oil.
As the freezing weather continued – and the snow continued to pile up – so more and more buses, cars and lorries were abandoned.
Stranded cars quickly attracted an army of helpers, but flights out of Lulsgate (Bristol Airport) remained cancelled for weeks on end.
Construction work on the Severn Bridge, as on many other building projects, also came to a standstill, with many people being put out of work.
And with 18-inch-thick ice floes on the river, the Aust ferry managers suspended operations for seven days.
In Bristol, 1,100 men were given the job of clearing the roads, an operation that cost £4,000 per day. The slush was loaded on to 170 lorries and then dumped into the River Avon along Coronation Road.
Stockpiles of salt used to treat the roads were soon exhausted, with many people putting out cold ashes from their coal fires onto the pavements to stop people slipping.
Vegetables, such as potatoes, remained frozen hard in the ground, leading to rationing.
As the freezing weather prevailed, emergency supplies of coal – still used to heat the majority of homes in those days – were brought in by train.
By late January, gas was being rationed and those who relied on electric fires began to worry, with good reason, about the expense. Due to the record demand for electricity there were frequent power cuts, a situation not helped by an unresolved pay dispute among power workers.
Paraffin stoves were useful in the bathroom, where they helped thaw out frozen pipes. But more than 2,000 burst water mains and 5,000 burst pipes piled on the hardship.
On top of this, guttering and iron drainpipes on hundreds of homes proved unable to cope with the extra weight and came crashing down.
Snow blown in under roof tiles piled up in lofts, causing abject misery when it melted.
The ideal dress for the cold weather, said the Medical Research Council, was a "string vest underneath loose-knit woollens and waterproof and insulated outer garments, such as an anorak.
Women were advised to wear trousers over pyjama bottoms, tucked into socks.
Despite all the good advice 50 people lost their lives in one tragic way or another.
As you can imagine, the winter of 1963 saw a massive disruption of sporting events, with frozen pitches leading to the cancellation of more than 1,000 matches. There was no horse racing until March, with 94 races having to be cancelled.
Come February, a thaw set in and conditions slowly improved. On many days, however, the temperature did not rise much above freezing and at night plunged far below zero.
The ice was so thick on my local canal we could skate along, pulling scores of kids behind us on sledges.
When spring eventually arrived, people could only look back and pray that they would never see the like again in their lifetimes.
But older folk were already saying that it was nothing like the savage winter of 1947. In their turn the weathermen were saying that we had to look back to the winters of 1740 and 1795 for worthy comparisons.
The winter of 1963 was, in fact, the third coldest since records began.