​The Winter of 1947

13 February 2017


Listening to the radio the other day, I heard one of the weather forecasters say that it was seventy years since we had had the worst winter since the 19th century, when for 55 consecutive days it snowed somewhere in the United Kingdom – and my mind flashed back to my last Easter Term at Stowe.  I had been looking forward to this – to being Head of Walpole, finally trying to seal a place in the 1st XI hockey and avenging my defeat by inches in the Open 100 yards the previous year.

Term dates were much later in those days and we would have returned to school on about the 18th of January.  The first day of term was the only day free of snow until the middle of March and the cold was even more remarkable than the snow. The temperature was below freezing for most of February, only once rising to the 4°C which is the average for the month and on one night 15 degrees of frost was recorded (-15°C).  Hockey was played on two afternoons, one of which was hampered by the concealment of the ball in the first fall of snow.  There was no inter-house cross-country, although one school match took place on thick ice (Stowe beat Uppingham).  The running track on the South Front was cleared of snow, with high walls of snow on either side, but further falls soon filled this in.   Ice hockey on the Eleven-Acre became the main sport of the term and Walpole won the house matches, largely because of one boy from Canada who had a proper ice hockey stick (but I don’t think he was allowed to use it in the house matches).

One day in early March, not only was Stowe cut off from Buckingham but Buckingham itself was isolated and an Army lorry had to bring supper.  For over a week we were allowed an extra half-hour in bed and had two lessons in the afternoon instead of 5.15 – 6.45 in the evening, and there was no evening chapel.  More snow eventually put a stop to skating, Corps took place in the classrooms and greatcoats were appreciated not only on corps days.
After many false starts the long-expected thaw set in on March 15th. The following day a gale and a deluge of rain hastened the departure of ice and snow, but the state of the grounds meant that for the remaining two weeks of term any sport other than limited cross-country running remained impossible.  Probably only one winter since then, 1963, has approached the severity of that winter of 1947. I don’t know what it was like at Stowe in 1963, but in Kent the sea was frozen well beyond the end of the 1150-yard long pier at Herne Bay.

Jock Asbury-Bailey (Walpole 47)

Photo caption: Richard Sparrow (?), Derek Irlam, James Rigg (?), Chris Hilton, Eric Bruell, Keith Binns, Jock A-B, Blair Paterson(?), Richard Sparrow (?)