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The Coldest Day of the Year?

January regularly produces frost, ice and snow and is the chilliest month of the year in Britain.

image: snow

St Hilary's feast day on 13th January has gained the reputation of being the coldest day of the year due to past cold events starting on or around this date.

One of the most severe winters in history began around 13 January in 1205, when the Thames in London froze over and ale and wine turned to solid ice and were sold by weight.

"So began a frost which continued till the two and twentieth day of March, so that the ground could not be tilled; whereof it came to pass that, in summer following a quarter of wheat was sold for a mark of silver in many places of England, which for the more part in the days of King Henry the Second was sold for twelve pence; a quarter of beans or peas for half a mark; a quarter of oats for thirty pence, that were wont to be sold for fourpence. Also the money was so sore clipped that there was no remedy but to have it renewed."
—Stowe's Chronicle

In 1086, a great frost also started spreading over the country on St Hilary's Day.

image: ice on car
Frost (ice) on cars is common in December and January

Coldest Winters in Britain

Six of the coldest winters in British recorded history (since 1684) were in the last 16 years of the 17th century

1684

The River Thames froze for more than two months.

1739-40 (from December 1739)

Temperatures dropped to -9C

1881

Mid January: Great blizzard raged across the whole of the south laying down more than 2ft (60cm) of level snow in places.

18 January: York's maximum temperature was -7.8C, and,

25 January: a minimum of -21.7C was recorded at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

1927-28

One of the heaviest snowfalls of the 20th century.

Kent: 2ft of level snow

Drifts of 20ft were measured in the Chilterns.

Surrey: food parcels were dropped by aircraft to marooned villagers.

1933

February: In parts of the north, Wales and the Midlands, there were 48 hours of continuous snowfall. Huddersfield had over 2ft of lying snow, drifts of 14ft were measured on Yorkshire's moors and dales, and villages were cut off from the Midlands to the Scottish borders.

1940

January: Very cold, only 1963's was worse. Mid-month, the Thames froze for the first time since 1880. There were heavy snows (4ft in Sheffield).

1947

23 January: Th start of one of the greatest periods of lying snows in British history.

March: Scottish borders had drifts of 24ft

29 March: A temperature of -21C was recorded in Essex

1952

5 - 9 December: Worst smogs ever to envelope London. In some places visibility was less than 10 yards. Such was the amount of coal smoke pouring into a natural fog that a black, oily deposit was left on surfaces. The result was, officially, 4,000 extra deaths, although some claim 12,000 died; and, more happily, the campaign that led to the 1956 Clean Air Act, restricting coal fires.

1962-63

January 1963: Coldest since 1814, with -16C recorded at Gatwick on the 13th, -20.6C in Hertfordshire

Drifts of up to 15ft. Snow laid for 67 consecutive days over much of Britain until early March.

Sea frozen off the south coast.

Thames at Shepperton - ice so thick that two grown men could sit mid-stream on chairs.

Tredegar in Wales, a severe early February snowstorm caused record urban drifts of over 5ft.

1978-79

January's temperature averaged -0.4C, with continuous frosts and snowfalls.

 

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