The winter of 1962-63 had
started unremarkably enough, with a dusting of snow on 20th November
followed by milder weather at the end of the month. The first
days of December saw temperatures below freezing all day, despite
the sunshine, followed by thick, often freezing, fog from the
3rd - 6th. The effect on the trees was to cover them all with
'a wonderful frosting'.
At New Year there was between
6" and 12" of snow lying and temperatures were regularly
below freezing during the day. Stocks of solid fuel in people's
homes were beginning to run low, with long delivery times. In
a normal winter, deliveries could be expected within a day or
Picture taken on the promenade adjacent to the café.
In Romney Lock Cut, downstream of the town, ice had already formed from bank to bank. The water flow here was much slower - almost stationary - and so ice formed more readily than in the faster moving weir stream.
[Editor's note: This B/W picture is taken from a colour slide (!)
but it was such a grey day, there was no colour!]
On the 14th
January a slight thaw was noted, together with many burst pipes,
including heating problems once again at the Grammar School and
another day off for the boys!
The view upstream from the landing stage at Clewer. This view would now be dominated by the Elizabeth Bridge.
A short way downstream by the former ISC boathouse
From Baths Isle upstream towards the GWR railway bridge
The view across the river to the Brocas
Ice under Windsor Bridge before the tarpaulin was erected
East along Romney Walk and the Lock Cut
The road was tinted brown from the brown rock salt.
Snow removed from the roadsides and
piled up at Barry Avenue by the railway arches
Of the 2000
gullies (drains) in Windsor there was concern that only 15 could
be found under piled up snow and this would mean that localised
flooding would result in the event of a quick thaw, or heavy
rain. Efforts were made therefore to find the gullies and ensure
that they were kept clear.
where the ducks and swans gathered.
The river was now
frozen for much of its length at Windsor, with pools of clear
water where the ducks and swans gathered. Locals remarked that
the ducks were keeping the water clear, but it is also possible
that fractionally warmer water from the bottom was rising to
the surface and keeping some areas clear.
Note the frost in the trees as freezing fog returned to add to the problems.
This photo dated 24th January 1963
It was reported that some
200,000 gallons of water a day were pouring to waste in the Windsor
area as a result of leaks and broken mains. The town's daily
demand was in the region of 1,700,000 gallons a day and was supplied
by the Water Works at Tangier Island. Heaters loaned from Heathrow
Airport had already been installed to keep the turbines running
as outdoor night-time temperatures were often recorded as low
as 5° Fahrenheit - 36° of frost.
Small areas of clear water were populated by ducks and swans.
(Closeup from the above picture)
A view towards Windsor Bridge photographed on 24 January 1963.
On 24th January
"Continuing very cold, some thaw in extreme west and Scotland.
High pressure slipping to S. Stand pipes in use, Birds noisy
at lunch time - weather change??"
26th January 1963 at Old Windsor
The end of January saw
the return of the cold weather after a brief respite. By
Friday 1st February the ominous comment in Gordon's diary had
indicated that the really cold weather was returning. Gordon
also mentions that frozen water supply pipes were a problem.
"7 Hanley Close site... very badly frozen from main."
Apparently attempts were being made to thaw pipes by passing
low voltage current through them, but not with total success.
The weather map for 5th
February 1963 showed a deep depression to the south west of the
UK.The Air Ministry forecast for much of England, Wales and southern
Scotland was for cloud with moderate to heavy falls of snow at
times, Rain was only forecast for the West Country, with some
sunshine, the rest of the country was in the grip of a cold air
flow from Europe. In London the minimum temperature in the previous
24 hours was -3°C with a maximum of 1°C. As this was
in the centre of London, temperatures would not have risen above
freezing out of town.
February 8th - Vansittart Road Recreation Ground
The whole of the
following week, from Monday 11th February through to Friday 15th,
a very slow thaw alternated with night frosts such that by the
end of the week there was still snow lying. There was more light
snow on 20th February in the morning and again the next morning
but nothing substantial, and Gordon's garden was by now almost
clear of snow near the house, apart from a pile created when
an attempt was made to clear the garden paths six weeks earlier
on 5th January!
March 1963 - it is all over!
By the 1st March the diary entry read 'warmest day since 21st November' yet there was still a frost by night. Gordon drove to Oxford on 2nd March and took two colour photographs, one of which is reproduced below. He reports that snow drifts remained on the Berkshire Downs, some 5'-6' high, with snow and ice still lying on side roads. Also, the road surface showed signs of damage both by diggers clearing snow, and by frost 'heave'.
The signs were that the coldest winter
for perhaps a century was now coming to a close. By 5th March
Gordon records that there was 'NO FROST' in the morning and that
the last remnants of Boxing Day snow had melted in the garden
and that there was 'no ice'. The temperature during the day now
reached 52°F (11°C) but the grass was brown from being
covered in snow and ice for so long. Signs of Spring were becoming
more and more apparent. The crocuses were through, though not
yet in bloom and the birds were singing. Around this time, although
a precise date cannot be determined, the Thames Conservancy apparently
deliberately lowered the height of the river to break up the
ice that remained and which was a genuine danger to anyone who
ventured onto it, especially children.
Postscript: It is now close to fifty years since 'The Big Freeze'
and although there has been some snowy, cold winters, in particular
1980-81, none have lasted as long as 1962-63.
WARNING: During the 'Freeze of 1963' a number of people, especially children, were drowned when they fell through thin ice and were swept beneath thicker ice, through which they could not escape. They soon died in the freezing waters, weighed down by thick winter clothes. Sometimes they were chasing their dogs who had run off.
If you have any photographs of The Great Freeze of 1963 in the Windsor area, or any other years, including this century, we would appreciate an opportunity to include them on The Royal Windsor Website. To contact us, please email Thamesweb.