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Who Recalls The Ice Age of 1962-63?

Published on: 21 Jan, 2013
Updated on: 21 Jan, 2013

by David Rose

Anyone who has memories of the winter of 1962-63 will know that what we have experienced over the past few days has simply been a light dusting of snow and a bit of a chill, compared to what it was like in Guildford exactly 50 years ago.

Guildford High Street late 1962 or early 63, before the Christmas decorations had been taken down!

Guildford High Street late 1962 or early 63, before the Christmas decorations had been taken down!

The winter of 19562-63 has been featured in the book Guildford Remember When, co-written by myself and Bernard Parke, and published by Breedon Books in 2007. Here’s what we wrote under the heading of the Sixties Ice Age in the chapter called Hitting the Headlines:

‘A week of crazy mixed-up weather creates a dizzy dilemma’ ran the headline on the front of the Guildford & Godalming Times on Saturday, 5 January, 1963.

The effects of the heavy snow that had fallen on the UK was certainly being felt in Guildford. The newspaper report began: ‘In yesterday’s bright sunshine Guildford wore the air of a Swiss holiday resort. It was the climax of a week of crazy weather – snow, thaw, frost, thaw, slush, rain, snow, thaw, fog through which Guildfordians sloshed and slithered. It was a week of digging-out, worrying about milk, bread and coal deliveries… and of the irrepressible good humour of the great British public when in trouble.’

Global warming and its effects were unheard of during the harsh winter of late 1962 and 1963. It was like a mini ice age!
Christmas Day saw the normal indifferent winter weather, but on Boxing Day night it started to snow. There was some disappointment that this was too late for a white Christmas, but by New Year’s Eve many roads were closed due to snow drifts, and the emergency services, under- strength for the festive season, were struggling to rescue people who were stranded.

The snow continued to fall over the following weeks, then the big freeze set in which lasted until the middle of March.
That first issue of the Guildford & Godalming Times for 1963 also reported that milkmen were having a particularly hard time making their rounds. One from Mead’s dairy in Shalford started his round at 5am in the morning and didn’t get back until 8.30pm. He then had to make his way back to his home in Cline Road, Guildford.

The big freeze on the River Wey near the Jolly Farmer pub and boathouse.

The big freeze on the River Wey near the Jolly Farmer pub and boathouse.

The following week’s newspaper reported the story of an Aldershot & District double-decker bus travelling from Farnham to Guildford that skidded off the road near Normandy. Four of the 40 passengers were slightly injured and were taken to the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Farnham Road.

Workers in the building trade were particularly hard hit. By the middle of January, the Guildford Labour Exchange said that up to 200 workers had been stood off. A spokesperson said that if the cold weather continued that figure would rise substantially.

An unofficial go-slow by workers at Guildford power station meant that lower incoming voltage resulted in homes and businesses suffering dimmer lights, electric fires with less heat and in some cases bad television pictures.

A bride was left with no choice but to cancel her wedding reception for a second time because of the bad weather. Winifred Brown had trudged through deep snow to marry Captain Stanley Brown at Guildford Register Office. However, guests, including their best man and bridesmaids, failed to make it. She told the Guildford & Godalming Times: ‘We decided to have the reception on Sunday, but again it was impossible because of the weather. At least my husband will not go short of food. We have a giant turkey, pounds of ham, scores of sausages and lots of cakes.’

At weekends people flocked to Shalford Park to skate on the ice on the flooded meadows. The borough charged six pence a time and the attendant, Philip Dance, said that more than 1,000 people had been there on each of the first two Sundays in January.

Although there was much sympathy for milkmen, postmen, newspaper boys, and so on, few would have given a thought to the difficulty grave diggers were having. The sexton at St Mary’s Church in Worplesdon, Cliff Heather, was having to pick axe his way through five inches of frozen soil before he could begin to dig properly. He told Les Bromley of the Guildford & Godalming Times that he had struggled to dig six graves since Christmas. The pile of soil from each hole then froze solid and could not be replaced after the burials.

More blizzards struck in the first week of February, closing the Guildford to Leatherhead road between Merrow and West Horsley, for two days.

At one point during this cold winter, the gritting of roads was stopped so as to save reserves for further fresh snowfalls. Breeze, a mixture of ash and sand, was sometimes used.

Skating (and cycling) on the frozen River Wey during the winter of 1962-63.

Skating (and cycling) on the frozen River Wey during the winter of 1962-63.

The frozen ice and snow at the sides of the roads took on a grimy look, until refreshed by further heavy snow falls. Pathways and pavements became narrow, so travelling on foot was sometimes as difficult as driving vehicles
Snow falling on stocks of coal that had frozen hard, meant that it was difficult for coal merchants to dig it out. The Surrey Advertiser received many letters from disgruntled readers who had run out of coal. The local coal merchants responded with tales of machinery in the yard frozen up as well as axles of railway coal trucks freezing.

The chairman of the Guildford and District Coal Merchants’ Association, Mr R. H. Franks, said that quantities of inferior coals such as Yorkshire Small Nuts and Industrial Singles could be available at one shilling a ton.

Radiators of buses and lorries split as diesel oil froze. Few vehicles used anti-freeze, so radiators had to be drained each night. Failure to cover the radiator grills during the day could cause the pipework to freeze, even when the vehicle was in motion. The water would not circulate properly and would therefore start to boil. Motorists had to wait at the side of the road for the boiling water to melt the ice at the bottom of the radiator before topping-up the system.

In the home everyone was cold. Extra blankets were piled on to beds with little relief from the sub-zero temperatures.
Few people had central heating, and the lagging of pipes, water tanks and lofts was not common either. For those who had these luxuries, it was something of a status symbol to see snow melting on your roof while other householders not so well off had to endure snow-covered roofs for weeks.

Credit was given to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service who, despite the weather, did not lose a single day in their meals-on-wheels service. They issued between 60 and 70 meals, three days a week, as well as running a mobile library. Livestock suffered and so did wildlife. Foxes were seen foraging for food in built-up parts of the borough. Some foxes, it was reported, were forced to hunt like a pack of wolves.

On Saturday, 23 March, 1963, the Guildford & Godalming Times reported that ‘the iron grip of winter has given way at last to the velvet touch of spring’.

It also reported that a team of three shire horses had been tackling spring harrowing at Secretts farm in Milford, and that daily life for people in and around Guildford had finally got back to normal.

What are your memories of that cold winter 50 years ago?  Do please add a reply in the box below. 
David Rose is always on the look out for images to add to his archive of vintage pictures of Guildford and district. Any you may have dating back to the winter of 1962-63 would be appreciated. Email him at, or call on 01483 838960.

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Responses to Who Recalls The Ice Age of 1962-63?

  1. Roger Marjoribanks Reply

    January 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    That was certainly bad enough; Sue, then my fiance, had to walk back from the pub on Boxing Night in four inches of snow and to work the next morning with a foot of the stuff over her wellies.

    But do you remember 1947? Three months freeze, no coal thanks to Manny Shinwell and still shivering from the after-effects of the war? A miserable time for a skinny little 13-year-old and even worse for the ponies my mother kept!

  2. Ray Springer Reply

    January 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Yes I remember well that winter. On Boxing Day we visited some relations who lived in the centre of town with our two young boys. It began to snow that afternoon and it became obvious we wouldn’t get home as buses had stopped running that being our only form of transport.

    We stayed the night but got back home the following morning.

    I was working in London at that time, and unbelievably managed to get to work every day throughout the period of snow and ice which was there until March. Sometimes the journey took half a day to get there though.

    Our milk was delivered to the end of the road and we all had to go and help ourselves and it all worked very honestly – a credit to all the neighbours and of course the Lyposs & Smees milkman.

    We all survived that winter with no central heating of course and from what I can remember, enjoyed the adventure aspect to the situation.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    January 22, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Rationing in 1947 was far more severe than during the war years.

    The only fuel was coal, or coke from the the local gas works. Not only was coal rationed but the frost was so severe that it froze hard in the bunkers and could not be dug out by the coal merchants.

    There was a poor quality coal extract called “nutty slack” which was actually off ration.

    Much spare time was spent by families on Sundays felling local trees for the home fires. This chore had to be done on Sundays as most people worked to a strict six day week.

  4. Debbie Jones Reply

    January 25, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    I remember that winter so well.

    I was five years old and it was the start of my love of all things snow!

    I lived in St. Leonards on Sea near Hastings.

    I can remember monster icicles that nearly touched the ground, ice ferns on the inside of windows – playing outside and coming in when your hands and feet started to thaw – it hurt like hell! and the snow kept falling.

    I can still remember going to school though – not like today when schools are closed at the drop of a hat!

    I recall milk bottles looking very strange on the doorstep where the cream had expanded and frozen and risen up out of the bottle! and the snow kept falling.

    The passage seemed like the Arctic and you would run from room to room to get in front of a fire or an airing cupboard or something warm – and heavy bedclothes and the smell of rubber hot water bottles! and the snow fell still.

  5. Roger Newby Reply

    August 31, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Hi. I remember skating on the flooded Shalford Park. Really great fun. I now live in South Africa so not much chance of ourside ice skating

  6. Eileen Trenchard Reply

    March 1, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    My mother worked at the AA offices in Guildford at the time of the snow, and was living at Fairlands some three miles or so from the town centre. She tells me that she was four months pregnant when she and two colleagues, Coral and Elsie, used to walk from Fairlands to the AA roundabout when the buses were not running due to snow.

    They all looked upon it as a bit of an adventure, striding through the deep snow!

    Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was making a daily cycle trip through the snow from Chessington to Kingston hospital to visit her new baby who was hospitalised for a month with pneumonia. Neither of them will ever forget that winter.

  7. Evelyn Brown Reply

    March 1, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    In the winter of 1946-47, I was at senior school. I travelled by bus but often it could only slide to nearly stop on the A3 in Tolworth. Of course, the bus was overcrowded. Little heating at home and not much at school. No one thought of closing schools.

    1962-63 was difficult too. I was pregnant but carried on at home. Things like defrosting the toilet pipe to the high up cistern with a lighted candle. Again very little heating and the midwife always came with frozen hands!

  8. Sandra Plumpton Reply

    March 2, 2018 at 7:19 am

    The big thing for me aged six was they we could wear trousers to school as it was so cold! Ludlow Road school kept open through all the months of snow!😀

  9. Helen Hudgell Reply

    March 2, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Yes, I remember the excitement that I and my young cousins felt on boxing night as we left my grandparents’ house after a Christmas party and saw the first snow of the winter. I also remember the disappointment that I felt in early March when the snow was still around and spoilt my birthday party.

    You can definitely have too much of a good thing!

  10. Valerie Thompson Reply

    March 2, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    In 1947 I was three. My father cleared a path from the front door to the gate and the snow was higher than I was.

    1962/3 I was at Homerton, Cambridge. The A11 had was partly cleared with banks about 8 foot high beside the road.

    The Cam froze and people skated on it. My fiance was at Trinity where all the loos froze.

    I had a Honda 50, but couldn’t afford proper M/C gear, so I wore a jumble-sale sheepskin waistcoat and a duffle coat over it. Coming inside after trips into town, I was so cold the pain made me cry when I thawed out.

  11. David Roberts Reply

    March 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    I was seven years old in 1962-3.

    We had no central heating – just two open fireplaces in which to burn the famous nutty slack.

    The supply to the cold water tank froze and I remember my father opening the stopcock in the street and tossing in oily, burning rags to try to thaw it. This worked!

    There were frost ferns on the inside of my bedroom window and my eiderdown was stiff with frost in the morning.

    School remained open.

    We wore non-insulated wellies with woollen socks that always got wet.

    At school, our socks were hung on the radiators to dry, making the classroom reek of lanoline and steaming up the windows which ran with damp.

    I hated my bulky pullies and thick, wet, woolly gloves and rejoice in modern thermal fabrics.

    The snow was fun for a day or two, but misery as it turned to weeks of grey slush.

  12. George Trask Reply

    March 4, 2018 at 10:54 am

    I remember it well. At that time I was working as a driver’s mate for Perrins Woodflakes at West Horsley.

    My driver was Gordon Roke who had learn his skills in the army. Every Monday we would head for Cardiff. As usual at 8am we were on our way- and don’t forget there was no motorway!

    We manage to get to Newbury by about 12 o’clock but I was spending more time out of the cab than I was in it!

    But Gordon wouldn’t give up. It seemed that every road we tried was blocked by drifts. We made it to Swindon by 4 o’clock and by now the drifts were up to 9ft high.

    It took us another two hours to get to Cricklade, which was only about 10 miles from Swindon.

    The traffic was piled up there and the wind was gusting making the drifts bigger.

    When we got moving we found that the long straight road to Birdlip was completely closed, so Gordon took another route and we made it to Gloucester where there was not some much snow.

    Gordon was completely shattered, so we pulled up in a car park and got some sleep – it was now 2 o’clock in the morning.

    We got back on the road at 4am and made Cardiff by 8am. We quickly loaded and headed home but the snow had moved west and when we go to Lydney the police ordered us off the road so we were stuck in a transport café.

    On the Thursday some lorry drivers decided to pull out at midnight so we followed them. The journey home was even worse. At one point we had to join a convey following a snow plough.

    We eventually got back to Guildford just about midnight – an experience that I will never forget.

    Oh and Gordon picked me up next morning at 7.30am and we were back working.

    So now when people go on about the snowing conditions I tell my story. I could also go on about 1947 and how as kids we went to Merrow Downs with our sledges.

    The prisoners of war still in the camp there had built large sledges that you could get six people on and were giving everyone rides. Those were the days.

  13. John Perkins Reply

    March 4, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Everyone hated those awful woolly vests that itched so terribly. Mine was made worse by having my chest rubbed with Vicks.

    But there was too much fun to be had with snowmen, snowballs, sledges and diving head first into snow drifts to worry about the bad side; that was for adults.

    Up north it seemed to go on forever.

  14. Pauline Warner Reply

    January 4, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    My husband is the ‘boy’ on the bike on the river and he can remember that picture being taken.

    That day he rode up the river on his bike to St Catherine’s, across the river into Shalford Meadow.

    He was riding around on the ice rink which was Shalford meadow, which was deliberately flooded every year.

    They used to charge the skaters 6d per person to skate on the meadow.

  15. Victor Spink Reply

    August 8, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    I took an evening 716 Green Line coach from West Croydon to East Grinstead during one of those blizzards in 1963.

    The snow was coming horizontal past the passenger windows and the conductor (remember them?) leaned out to see the kerb and guide the driver. When the RF [single decker] bus stopped he would wipe the snow off the headlights and fog lamp. That driver was going to get home to East Grinstead come what may, passing abandoned cars as he did so.

    it was the ride of a lifetime!

  16. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 8, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    It was my second term at Cambridge. My father drove me on roads where the snow was much higher than the car. In Cambridge all the loos in Trinity College froze, so did the Cam, where people skated.

  17. John Lomas Reply

    August 8, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    The winter of my 21st birthday in February.

    I didn’t have any appreciable problems getting from Ash Green to work at Drummonds, but at the end of February, I went up to Stockwell and bought a motorbike, an Ariel Leader, from Pride & Clarke and decided that the best way to get some experience was to ride down to Bristol, to visit relatives, the next weekend.

    I had to stop and go into cafes to warm up in Basingstoke, Newbury, Marlborough and Chippenham.

    The road surface was relatively clear by then but going down Tog Hill from the A46 towards Bristol remains of the snowdrifts and ploughed snow were still well above head height.

    At Drummonds, a work colleague had gone to Cornwall for Christmas and it was well into January before he got back, Cornwall wasn’t so bad, but Devon was closed so there was no way through.

    We joked with him that he might have got a ferry from Plymouth to France driven up to the channel ports and then got back to Guildford sooner.

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