Daily Archives: February 16th, 2012

THE BIG FREEZE OF 1963 (Autobiography 7)

The Coldest Winter in England for over 200 Years

It was a very severe winter that seemed to go on for ever. I was in my last term in the Junior School at Gresham’s, having my fourteenth birthday that February. (I should have made the transition two terms earlier, but the imminent openimg of Tallis meant the Senior School was full to bursting point.) One of the memorable things about my boarding house Crossways was the complete absence of central heating. When our housemaster ‘Dow’ retired at the end of the summer term everything changed, and radiators appeared in Crossways. Kenwyn (the other house) was almost brand new and had underfloor heating, but for us in Crossways we had nothing downstairs in the way of warmth, except for a open fire in the Quiet Room and the hot water boiler in the Boiler Room.  Upstairs was even worse. During those frozen weeks of the Lent term 1963 we had tall electric heaters in the dormitories it is true, but although a friendly red light in the base gave the impression of warmth, the heat they gave out was minimal.

With the hockey pitches all frozen games were off, but runs were certainly on. A favourite cross country was the ‘Three Bridges’. The first of the bridges was where the road crossed the railway on the way to Cromer. This bridge is now demolished, but it used to be where the entrance to the North Norfolk Railway’s Holt station now stands. In 1963 the bridge was still used by railway trains from Melton Constable. The second bridge was the next bridge on the line to Sheringham. What the third bridge was nobody knew.

On the route of the run there was a pond which we used for skating. One problem with skating was the fact that very few people possessed skates, but the Chaplain did. This was ‘Dubby’ (the Revd D. C. Argyle) who I remember gliding elegantly round the pond on real skates; the rest of us just slid about on our shoes. For sledging we were rather better equipped, and if we lacked one of these they could even be made at the ‘Scruff Shacks’ (the handicraft workshops). The place for tobogganing was the Spout Hills in Holt on the road to Letheringset. The best descent (long and steep) was naturally called the Cresta Run. For all these snowy activities we wore woollen gloves which rapidly became soaking wet, leaving our fingers red and frozen.


Another activity during these snowy weeks was the building of an igloo. I am sorry to say we never got as far as a roof. Snow ball fights seemed more entertaining to most boys than the architectural niceties involved in spanning a void. I wish we had tried, though. All through January and February and into March the cold weather continued without a thaw. A consequence of the deep snow and windy weather was drifting snow. Records of temperature have been kept since the Inter Regnum, and only the winter of 1683-4 has been significantly colder.