Battling through the great snowfall of 1947

Villagers help clear a path through the deep snow to the Joiner's Arms in Bloxham. Photo courtesy of Betty Walton.
Villagers help clear a path through the deep snow to the Joiner's Arms in Bloxham. Photo courtesy of Betty Walton.

The year 2018 will be remembered for an emotive term quoted by weather forecasters, ‘The Beast from the East’.

Banbury and district were snowbound in March just as it had been in that same month of 1947. It was then the Banbury Guardian captioned a column with ‘The worst blizzard for 66 years’.

Staff at the newspaper used the resources of its archive in order to reveal that in the winter of 1880-1881, 59 days of continuous frost ended with a blizzard comparable to March 1947.

Drifts of ten feet or more were reported. Road transport coming into and leaving the town was at a standstill and many country lanes were impassable.

It was difficult to get food supplies to isolated villages. Where it was achieved the effort needed and communal spirit displayed reminded people of responses in cities in the Second World War.

Like this year in parts of the north, one of the first services to suffer disruption was milk supply as increasingly wholesalers were unable to collect from farms. Likewise town baked bread could not reach some villages.

The clearing of roads owed much to squads of Prisoners of War who worked hard and long to open one lane of the Oxford Road. Eventually their efforts were matched by steady rain, the first in the area for 51 days.

Rail travellers endured difficulties every much as serious as road traffic. The Woodford Halse branch line was well used by young passengers. On a Wednesday at the height of the worst period of snowfall a train left Banbury at 6.20 pm but did not reach Woodford until 2am the following morning. Needless to say there were many anxious parents.

Private haulage and public transport were both badly affected. Apart from the obvious impact of drifting snow some commercial vehicles were seen to bear information that seemed inappropriate given the circumstances. A removal van was spotted with the slogan ‘our business is Moving’.

It was bleak week for buses most of which were operated by Midland Red. Village services varied from day to day and even town routes could not be covered reliably.

Amongst the heroes of that winter were two men from Kineton who worked in Banbury for the Northern Aluminium Company. At the end of their shift they got a lift to Bourton but then trudged the remaining eight miles in blizzard conditions.

In general village people were cut off and used the time to set up snow clearance groups that tackled some of the worst areas. Betty Walton in The Heart of Bloxham has a charming anecdote of how a Miss Liddington went to the Joiner’s Arms in Bloxham every Saturday for a treat. During the bad weather Maurice or Barbara Welch, landlord and landlady, would take her glass of Guinness and two cream crackers to her house.

The snowfall was also an occasion for ingenious solutions to problems concerning access to key items of food. At Warmington PC Swanson and a Mr William Sharman together with George Crocker harnessed two horses to a sleigh which had last been used in 1916. After three hours they made it to Shotteswell where supplies of bread were available.

Mr R Jelfs was in the news at Horley because he hitched a farm trailer to his tractor and brought 30 village people to Banbury for necessary shopping.

Many stories concerned livestock problems. The paper reckoned many lambs were lost in the snow. At Gaginwell near Enstone there were 170 starving pigs on the farm of Mr A W Edwards. An RSPCA inspector heard of their plight and contacted RAF Abingdon. The response took the form of a Dakota aircraft which dropped 20 bags of grain in an area identified by a smoke fire.

When the thaw came it heralded floods as for instance on the Daventry Road. However those who thought the snowy weather was over were in for a disappointment. On the day the paper for March 13, 1947 went to press, the white stuff was evident again.