It's hot in Lancashire but it's not quite the Summer of '76... yet

Nurses holding a charity car wash in Lancashire in the summer of 1976
Nurses holding a charity car wash in Lancashire in the summer of 1976

The heatwave of 1976 was one of longest and hottest summers of the 20th century.

During a spell stretching from June to August the jet stream was further north than usual leading to high pressure covering the British Isles.

Five days in the UK saw temperatures exceeding 35 degrees that summer with the hottest day falling on July 3 which saw temperatures rise to 35.9 degrees.

The hot dry weather dramatically affected water supplies leading to rationing across the country.

Some 750,000 homes around the country relied on communal standpipes for their supply with people queuing in the street for water in the hardest hit areas.

Lancashire weather historian Muriel Lord recalls: “I remember being on the train travelling up towards Carlisle and looking out the window to see unusually brown, parched fields.”

In the fight to save water, a hosepipe ban was introduced alongside a list of other restrictions. The North West Water Authority was forced to prohibit the watering of private gardens and washing cars.

Although one homeowner in Deepdale caused a fuss when he filled his outdoor garden swimming pool with thousands of gallons of water. Apparently the ban didn’t extend to swimming pools. People were advised to take baths only if completely necessary, and if need be, to use a maximum of five inches of water. In extreme cases, people were even advised to take baths with a friend!

Following the longest period without rain for 80 years, it was feared some reservoirs - already depleted by the previous year’s dry weather - would be only 15 per cent full by the beginning of winter.

The lost village of Mardale appeared from the depths of Haweswater reservoir for the first time since it was flooded in 1940 and became quite a tourist attraction bringing in large numbers of visitors eager to see the remains . Despite the struggles, the people of Lancashire made the most of the hot weather by soaking up the sun in bikinis - which observers noted were becoming a lot smaller and a lot more revealing.

An article from the Lancashire Evening Post in 1976, reported: “In brief, it apparently doesn’t need all that much courage to wiggle down the beach in a bottomless swimsuit - the only worry some girls have is that their behinds aren’t neat enough for such exposure.”

The sunshine also brought the fashion for so called backyard barbecues’ on to the culinary scene and people with venturing outside to enjoy the thrills of cooking in the open air, in the garden, on a balcony, or even in the garage with the door left wide open.

It was not only bikinis and backyard barbecues which were taking Lancashire by surprise, the odd sunshine streaker’ was reported to police when things got a little too hot to handle.

The pay off for the continental sun that had housewives cooking in their bikinis was higher food prices in the shops in winter.

The total rainfall in 1976 was 1,161.6 mm (45.7 ins approx), making it the third driest of the last 47 years but the summer months contributed only 131.9 mm of that figure with August recording a record of just 14.3 mm. Consequently, farmers were struggling to keep crops with the effects of the scorching weather.

The browning grass meant that livestock had to be fed with newly cut hay - which should have been stored for winter feeding. Insects were flourishing in the high temperatures and farmers were finding it difficult to get hold of insecticides to deal with the problem. While allotment keepers were kept on guard’ to thwart raiders, as amateur growers were arriving at their allotments to find vegetables ripped out of the ground. For Lancashire and many places in the UK, it was a case of enjoy the sun now and pay later.

It was not just food costs that soared. Thousands of Lancashire drinkers were forced to pay an extra penny for their cooling pints in the midst of the drought.

Whitbreads, Blackburn Brewery and Greenall Whitley of Warrington put up their prices to keep pace with rising costs.

As temperatures nudged 90 Lancashire breweries were rushing extra supplies of ale to pubs in peril of being drained by gasping drinkers. While Lancashire tipplers quenched the big thirst, breweries reported they were working flat out to meet demand.

A spokesman from Whitbread’s brewery at Samlesbury told the Evening Post: “The sun is our best ally.”

It wasn’t just people who were parched, the heat brought swarms of seven-spotted ladybirds, thirsty for re-hydrating sweat and sugary ice creams consumed by thousands in attempt to keep cool. Infesting towns and cities across the UK, The British Entomological and Natural History Society estimated that 23.65bn ladybirds were swarming the southern and eastern coasts by July.

The explosion in the number of ladybirds was due to the rise in the population of aphids, which were thriving off the warm weather. But the high temperatures meant plants grew quicker and dried earlier, leaving the aphids without food.

The mass population of aphids died down between June and July, leaving billions of hungry ladybirds on the search for food.

Along with great tans, the high temperatures brought sunstroke, heart attacks and a higher incidence of asthma. The 76 heatwave caused significantly more hospital emergency admissions and is understood to be the cause of 20 per cent increase in deaths from June 24 and to July 8.

By August, the drought was beginning to take its toll with the fire crews of Lancashire fighting to control blazes on the tinder dry moors and forests. To the delight of many, a spectacular thunderstorm at the end of August brought the sweltering conditions to a welcome end.

The exceptional heatwave was followed by an exceptionally wet autumn where many parts of the UK recorded more than 200 per cent of their normal rainfall.

Heavy storms and torrential rain continued into the winter months, ending one of the worst droughts in recorded history.

This time 40 years ago Britain was sweltering in the hottest recorded summer in living memory - with Lancashire experiencing temperatures as hot as Majorca, the Canary Isles and the South of France. Jade Taylorson turns the clock back to the scorching summer of 1976.