The Harsh Winter of 1962-63 in Rochdale

Although December opened to relatively mild temperatures, early snow had already fallen by mid-November of 1962 with commentators suggesting that it was cold even for that time of year. By December 8th the Manchester Meteorological Office was reporting that the ‘cold spell seems to be growing’ and coupled with fog every day the freezing conditions were causing havoc with bus and train services cancelled, the Motoring correspondent of the Rochdale Observer responding with an article on car heaters ! Notwithstanding the cold weather, on the 12th December rugby and football matches were still taking place but the following week saw near hurricane conditions across the town with chimneys toppling, windows being blown through and advertising hoardings collapsing. A kitchen in Wardle had a gable-end reduced to rubble with damages of £400 ! But football matches still kicked off, Rochdale beating Mansfield Town by three goals to one even while, across the town, accidents were mounting with a bus skidding into a wall on Cutgate, cars out of control in Norden and along Queensway, four crashes recorded in Littleborough and on Drake Street a car reported to have skidded into bollards.

Over the Christmas period, sporting fixtures in the town were a white-out, Rochdale’s first team having to train at Lea Hall, and it was the coldest Christmas Day on record with temperatures of 19 degrees at night and freezing all day. Bus services were stopped over Christmas and 200 Rochdale homes experienced burst water pipes. Foxes benefited though, as the Boxing Day Pennine Hunt on Blackstone Edge was weather-affected, the only blood spilled being when a member of the hunt slipped and broke an ankle !

The New Year saw no respite to townsfolk as further extremes of weather with gale force winds destroyed walls and gable ends. The 200 foot chimney of a Firgrove mill came down, slates were sent flying and a roof fell in on a house on Heights Lane. Snow drifts of 3-4 feet became commonplace over packed ice on the roads and pavements although at Spotland the match between the Dale and Crewe went ahead on what the Observer referred to as ‘a skating rink.’ No-one knew that their fixtures would be discontinued until March of 1963 as icy conditions set in nationwide. Similarly, Hornets’ Athletics Ground was ‘frozen solid’ and there was talk of it being necessary to extend the football and rugby league seasons.

Weeks went by and the weather grew worse. Power lines were ripped down, gas leaks were reported extensively, water pipes ruptured and the town’s roads became impassable due to blizzard conditions with Councils starting to field public complaints that ice was not being removed from pavements. Snow drifts of 6 feet in Milnrow and up to 10 feet on the roads into Yorkshire were recorded and traffic, if it was moving at all, was subject to collisions all over the borough. Snow ploughs became stuck in drifts on Broad Lane and dozens of trucks were abandoned on Blackstone Edge where villages and farms became isolated, sheep coming down from the moorlands onto streets in search of grazing. More domestic fears took hold with coal supplies cut and food shortages raising the cost of household items although on the bright side children took advantage of the weather with some school closures meaning sledging and playing time in the snow, the Observer printing a photograph of a 4 foot high igloo built by children at Meanwood Junior School.

Gradually, a ‘blitz spirit’ arose in the town amid the freezing temperatures, with people conserving water by restricting clothes-washing under the suggestion of the Central Electricity Generating Board or braving dark evenings with candles on Turf Hall or at Balderstone because of electricity cuts. Neighbours were helping each other in trying to clear snow, salt – 930 tons of it – having been used on the roads, exhausting council stocks. Free coal and smokeless fuel was offered to pensioners and a Rochdale Observer Fuel Fund was set up. However, the drifting continued into late January with snow 12 feet deep over Calderbrook. A woman going into labour at a farm on Whittaker Moor had to be dug out and taken to hospital and in some areas postmen were unable to find post boxes hidden deep beneath the snow-line.

There were, however, moments of humour. A sign ‘ROAD BLOCKED’ placed on the Ripponden Road was wilfully ignored by some motorists who followed the snow plough through but then had to turn round, only to see – chalked on the back of the sign – ‘WELCOME BACK STUPID !’

The end of January saw the weather starting to ease, though a thaw brought further gas leaks and burst water pipes. Then throughout February snow and ice built up again and it wasn’t until March 5th that there was the first frost-free night anywhere in Great Britain. The winter was over at last.

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