Dreams of a White Christmas soon turned into a nightmare as the big freeze of half a century ago continued to tighten its grip on Norfolk and Suffolk. Derek James revives some chilly memories.

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The holiday was over. The turkey had been eaten. The tinsel put away. It was time for life to get back to normal again....but the weather wasn’t playing ball.

As 1962 came to an end and 1963 began the temperatures continued to plummet. Roads were blocked, pipes froze. Life become a battle against the elements.

Frozen rivers, ice floes at sea, deep snow drifts. Life for those working on the land and the elderly was getting particularly tough.

Some factories and schools closed. The trains could run because of frozen points. Country communities were cut off.

An army of ploughs across Norfolk and Suffolk were fighting a losing battle to keep roads open.

Roads were blocked not only by snow but also by soil.

Winds of more than 60mph took the snow off exposed fields and were so fierce they also removed the top soil.

At Loddon, the dust clouds were estimated to be 200 feet high and roads were a foot deep in soil and at the height of the gale, visibility at Weybourne was down to a few yards as the air was full of soil and choking dust.

On the coast ships were stuck in the ice floes at sea but there was some light relief.

Skating was the name of the name. Championships were held at Oulton Broad over a mile-long course for the first time since 1954.

The rivers became playgrounds and in Norwich Bullards Brewery boss, Gerald Bullard, took to the Wensum on his skates to sup his pint of Bullards best and be photographed by the EDP.

Later in January the icy winds dropped but the cold intensified. A numbing -19C was recorded at Santon Downham and -15C at Mildenhall.

Water supplies were severed in various places and in Ipswich water was brought in by barge for four days and tankers supplied householders.

Farmers were tearing their hair out. Sugar beet remained in the ground. Pickaxes had to be taken to bales of rock-hard hay. Looking after animals was a real struggle.

With high pressure over Norolk and Suffolk, light winds and clear skies led to freezing fog and when it cleared the landscape looked, and felt, more like Sibera.

January came and went and in February the severe weather continued with frosts every night and the snow showing no signs of melting.

February was much the same with temperatures as low as -15C. Lowestoft endured 74 consecutive nights of frost and fishermen in the town’s trawler fleet had to battle against dangerous ice floes.

At Katwijk, in Holland, the sea was froxen for asd far as the eye could see, and ice skaters were in their element.

Staff at the Cantley beet sugar factory were marooned and survived on a diet of eggs and milk. The factory was closed but they couldn’t get out for a while as the roads were blocked.

Finally nature released its icy grip and as February passed into March temperatures rose and the thaw set in.

By the first week in March Cromer basked in a balmy 16C. Spring was on its way but people never forgot the big freeze of 1962/3.

If you have any memories or photographs of the winter half a century ago we would love to hear from you. Contact derek.james@archant.co.uk or write to Derek at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, or leave a comment below.

5 comments

  • We skated everywhere that winter -Welney, the Middle Level, clay pits near Southery, Tottenhill pit, the river at Outwell ,Whittlesey and any drain we could get at after school- anywhere there was ice-even though the roads were snowy.There were snow fences along the A47 in an attempt to stop the drifting. We went to school pulling the youngest on sledges and the one unfrozen school outside loo was kept open by hot water from a kettle. The snow drifted to the tops of hedges, there were foxes frozen in the drains, swans frozen into the water at Welney and snipe and other birds dropped out of the air with the cold. People opened up old wells to water stock when their mains froze, the windows were frozen on the inside in the morning and there were nights with only candle light. Bus drivers battled to get passengers home safe and delivery men did their best.Amazing winter and we seemed to cope without the hysteria and drama that would accompany such a bad winter nowadays

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    Daisy Roots

    Friday, December 28, 2012

  • If we had that weather now the country would cease to function full stop. Even half an inch of snow causes chaos now.

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    John Filowiat

    Saturday, December 29, 2012

  • I can remember it well as my auntie and her children were with us for xmas,they had to stay the whole week as they lived at Gt Witchingham and couldnt get home as it was impossible to get there.

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    foxey

    Monday, December 31, 2012

  • The winter I will never forget because the double decker school bus started slipping as we went up Thunder Lane to get to the Thorpe Secondary and Grammar schools. Everyone got off and helped push it up the hill. Wouldn't be allowed now of course but then the schools would be closed due to the bad weather I expect.

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    Christopher Neave

    Friday, December 28, 2012

  • I remember it well. I was working at Reads Flour mill and we couldn't get any grain up the river on the coasters and had to unload at Yarmouth and truck it up by road. It was also when the old mill at Horstead burnt down as the firemen couldn't get any water from the river due to the thick ice.

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    John Redfern

    Sunday, December 30, 2012

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