WE'VE just experienced the warmest December on record.

The average Central England Temperature was 9.6C, 5C above the 1981-2010 average. This is one of the largest anomalies of monthly temperature ever measured in the UK.

So while the central heating may have had a break and you may have dusted off the summer duvet again, what better time to look back at those days when winter was winter?

The winter of 1962/63 saw a cold spell grip the UK for several months.

This winter was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740.

Dorset experienced one of the worst winters in living memory. The county was covered in a blanket of snow and many rural communities were cut off.

The Echo's sister paper the Bridport News reported drifts of up to 15 ft deep in winter 1963.

Dorchester couple Mr and Mrs Arthur Barber died in a snowdrift in Weymouth and supplies of food were dropped by helicopter.

Milk was rationed in Chideock by the milkman Les Fussell but enterprising farmers clogged Beaminster Square as more than 200 tractors and trailers delivered supplies to the Beaminster Milk Factory – some getting through by bypassing the roads to drive over fields.

Pat Bishop of Brighthay Farm in Chideock said they were forced to store their milk in the bath – the churns being full and no one able to collect it.

Residents had to walk through seven foot drifts to the Beaminster factory to get milk and one eyewitness said, looking down into the valley, people looked like war refugees.

In Lyme a blizzard of snow didn’t stop electrician Stan Williams, who piled his tools on a sledge and walked to his jobs.

And the pupils at Lyme Regis Grammar School helped replenish supplies of fruit and vegetables after the headmaster Major TB Pearn told them to bring their sledges to school.

He joined the boys in a ‘fetch it yourself’ campaign where the boys spent most of their morning hauling five tons of fuel from the railway station to the school and delivering vegetables to the boarding house.

The deputy coroner had to go by sea in a cabin cruiser to Lyme to conduct an inquest. Beaminster’s weather man Albert Dawe, who predicted the big freeze six months earlier, was featured on television.

The road from Bridport to Dorchester was cleared at 20ft an hour by bulldozers and excavators and even flames, although they proved spectacularly ineffective after a crew worked all day and only shifted 35 yards.

Pneumatic drills were used to clear Beaminster Square of ice.

Askers Roadhouse was cut off for two weeks, coal ran short and industries like Duncan

The bill for getting roads passable was estimated to be around £150,000 to clear 1,000 miles of county road using 63 snow ploughs and 161 diggers.

There was heavy criticism of how the crisis was handled and counter allegations that motorists paid no attention to road blocked signs.

A Southern National bus got stranded in Morcombelake and had to be extricated with a snow plough using a milk lorry as an anchor, a operation which took two hours.

Still it wasn’t just ’63 that was a bad year. One report said it was 81 years before that winter of ’63 since the west country had seen such appalling conditions.

The News could prove it too – reporters then had seen a card dated January 1881 with a picture of one Samuel Bishop who lost both his legs and several fingers to frostbite.

After an unsuccessful search for work the shoemaker walked from Bristol to Yeovil where the workhouse refused him shelter as he had no money. Nor would police help him with a ticket home.

He walked on through heavy snow to Misterton where he waited in a shed till morning before going on to Bridport.

By the time he got there his legs and fingers could not be saved and his legs were amputated.

The town rallied round and paid for artificial legs partly by selling the cards for sixpence each with his picture and story.

If anyone has their own snow pictures we are sure readers would love to see them.

* Our thanks to Bridport Museum for their pictures shown here of the big freeze of 1963.


t: 01305 830973

e: joanna.davis


twitter: @DorsetEchoJo