The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

THE first real snow of winter descended last week and just look at the chaos it caused – schools closed, roads impassable, people not getting to work, and there was even talk of gas supplies running out.

Compare this state of things to when we were children and had to trudge to school through snow sometimes knee deep.

Winter scenes captured: Crows Nest Park covered in snow during January 1940. Many photographers took advantage of the picturesque landscapes.

Winter scenes captured: Crows Nest Park covered in snow during January 1940. Many photographers took advantage of the picturesque landscapes.

We woke to find icicles on the inside of windows as well as outside, and, if we wanted to see outside we’d breathe on them in order to melt the ice.

One row of houses in Earlsheaton had icicles reaching from the spouts to the ground for the whole length of the block.

It gave a curtain-like effect to the dwellings, but it meant householders had to break them to get in and out of their homes.

There was no central heating in those days, nor double glazing or electric blankets, just a blazing coal fire in the kitchen which had to heat the entire house.

Children often thought it warmer outside than inside because at least outside we could run around to keep warm and go sledging.

The winter I remember as the worst was 1947 because it snowed for weeks and weeks without abating and icy winds really did blow.

Chilblains and chapped legs were an accepted part of life but we never let the harsh weather keep us indoors.

We didn’t have a sledge but went down the steep snowy hills on dad’s shovel.

We always arrived home wet through to the skin but there were no hot baths or showers awaiting us.

Mother made our beds a bit warmer by placing the coal oven’s hot-plate beneath the sheets, or sometimes a couple of hot bricks.

The winter of 1947 remains in my memory as the worst of all, but there was also the big freeze of 1963, which many will also remember, but by then our homes were better heated and there was also running hot water.

My older siblings always said the winter of 1940 was the worst and according to old newspaper reports at that time I think they were right.

This particular winter was made worse by dense fog, something we don’t have to cope with these days thanks to smokeless fuel.

People managed to get to work, even though those living in outlying areas like Whitley and Briestfield, had to get up before dawn to make sure they got to work on time.

Sometimes buses couldn’t get through until lunchtime, and when dense fog descended in the afternoon, many services had to be called in, leaving workers to make their own way home on foot. People helped some buses get through by throwing sand and ashes on the icy roads, and often bus drivers and conductors borrowed dustbins from neighbouring houses to throw even more ashes down.

Some days it was deemed too dangerous for vehicles of any kind to descend hills in the district, with the result that long lines of traffic were stranded.

One day there were as many as 40 vehicles spread out in all directions between Temple Road and Scout Hill, but these were all straightened out within two hours.

There was no criticism of corporation workers or bus services, and according to one Reporter article, everybody seemed to accept the situation in a happy spirit.

Life went on as normal, and people refused to let the snow keep them from their everyday life, including the Ravensthorpe Ladies Guild which still went ahead with its annual tea party.

But the snow came down more heavily than expected and they had to resort to cutting a 15-yard strip of felt so they could wind strips of it round their feet before attempting the journey home.

None of the schools were closed. In fact schools weren’t mentioned at all in any of the newspaper reports.

The snow in 1940 started in January and continued into February with some areas suffering snowdrifts 10ft high.

It was so bitterly cold the snow froze solid and stayed on the ground for days with workmen having to use picks to make any impression on the hard set snow.

One farmer, who was determined to make his regular milk deliveries, resorted to taking it round on a home made horse-drawn sledge.

A local postman found it easier to make his deliveries by walking along the top of garden walls to avoid three-foot-high snow drifts on pavements.

The real heroes of the day, however, were the family doctors who made their rounds on foot, and also the tradesmen who struggled to open their shops and businesses.

All this was happening during the war when there were severe shortages anyway, so it wasn’t surprising that the huge demand for coal meant it had to be rationed.

One week it was so bad Corporation employees worked 18 hours a day for three days running, and at one period there were 150 men engaged in snow clearing alone, working round the clock. It was reported that a Corporation official said they would have employed thousand if they’d been available.

Whitley and Briestfield presented the greatest problems, and at one stage they had as many as 70 workmen employed in cutting through the snow from Thornhill to Whitley.

The snow scenes in some areas looked quite picturesque and amateur photographers were quick to take advantage of them.

Hundreds of photographs were taken of Crow Nest Park and sold as postcards, and the one shown above was one of many taken. When this picture was taken it had been so bitterly cold that the snow had frozen solid and stayed on the ground for days.

Do you have memories of this area? Email with your story.