Weather in the archives

Snow and Frost

The variety of archive sources available in the collections held by the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service show that snowfalls were regular, prolonged and substantial in the past, up to about the mid 20th century. January, February and December were the commonest months for snow but there are plenty of examples of heavy snowfalls in the month of March in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries.   The year 1850, for example, saw very late snow in March which raised concerns for the possible impact on agricultural yields later in the year. What we might now consider to be ‘freak’ snowfalls in the months of April or May were not uncommon. Certainly in the Staffordshire Moorlands there are examples of quite severe weather, including snow, into the month of May.
1940, 1947 and 1963 were particularly bad years for snow and frost in Staffordshire, with the snow of 1940, the first year of the Second World War described as being the worst within living memory. With this experience in mind, in 1942 Biddulph Urban District Council began early preparations for the coming winter by purchasing a new snow plough in August. In the bad winter of 1947, February appears to have been the colder month, with more snow falling then than in January and with constant east winds. The thaw did not set in until mid-March.
Colder winter temperatures brought prolonged frosts which meant that the snow stayed on the ground for longer. For example in December 1846, morning temperatures recorded at Trentham showed 20 days at or below freezing and afternoon temperatures for 17 days at or below freezing. In 1955 frost was registered at Weston–under-Lizard for 34 consecutive nights from 10 February until 15 March. In  January 1963 the lowest temperatures were recorded at Weston since February 1947.
Snow was disruptive to daily life. In an age without motorised transport, children, who had to walk from outlying areas, simply could not get to school. Those who succeeded ended up with footwear and clothing so wet that they had to be sent home again because they had no other shoes or clothing to change into. Teachers, concerned about the regular visits of the school attendance officers to check the school registers, often did not mark them on snow or other bad weather days.
School routines were upset in different ways. In the middle of the county at Huntington, near Cannock, a weekly gardening class did not take place on 7 March 1904 because of snow.
For farmers and the agents and labourers working for the big estates, however, the daily round of work continued despite the weather. Even a snowfall of between eight and ten inches did not deter a Longnor farmer from attending Leek Market in 1909.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries local councils issued strictures to local residents about the clearing of snow and ice from the pavements outside their houses and published notices of fines to be levied for skating and sliding in the streets. And gardeners and nurserymen of the past recorded their vexation when frost hit their prize plants.