Nostalgia: severe winters in Wray village and beyond

Railway engine, Camp House Farm, Hornby, 1940. An engine from Lancaster eventually arrived to rescue the train once the line had been cleared of snow.
Railway engine, Camp House Farm, Hornby, 1940. An engine from Lancaster eventually arrived to rescue the train once the line had been cleared of snow.

Historian David Kenyon researches the severe winters which hit Wray village and nearby in the 1940s and 50s

The first winter we look at was the winter of 1940.

Road workers clearing the snow near the Cat and Rat railway bridge near Hornby, January 1947.

Road workers clearing the snow near the Cat and Rat railway bridge near Hornby, January 1947.

This was the year after the outbreak of the Second World War.

It’s recorded in Wray village archives that on the night of January 2 1940 the temperature fell to -18 degrees Fahrenheit.

On January 26 two inches of snow fell and on January 27 about eight inches fell.

This drifted so that the roads to Lancaster and Wennington were impassable.

Wennington Road, Wray, February 4 1940. The photograph shows the Ward children who were evacuated from Blackheath to Wray for the duration of the Second World War.

Wennington Road, Wray, February 4 1940. The photograph shows the Ward children who were evacuated from Blackheath to Wray for the duration of the Second World War.

The mail van got through on January 30 by crossing a field near to Camp House Farm, then by the lane back to the road near the railway bridge at Hornby.

It took until February 6 to get through to Wennington.

The LMS railway line through the Lune Valley to Leeds was completely blocked by drifting snow.

A train was stranded near Camp House Farm at Hornby for over a week. Most villages in the Lune Valley were cut off by drifting snow for several days.

Through storm and hill fog, a Dakota of the RAF flies north towards the stricken farms with a cargo of hay.

Through storm and hill fog, a Dakota of the RAF flies north towards the stricken farms with a cargo of hay.

The army was eventually brought in to help clear the roads. Two groups of about 60 soldiers arrived each day on February 3 and February 4.

They came in buses from Lancaster and were tasked with helping the local road men clear the snow.

The next severe winter was 1946-47, a year after the end of the Second World War.

This would be the worst winter in living memory during the 20th century.

Soldiers load the bales of southern hay, food for the starving animals on the hills of the northern farms.

Soldiers load the bales of southern hay, food for the starving animals on the hills of the northern farms.

Farming losses were huge.

Four million sheep and lambs were lost, three million in the hills; 50,000 head of cattle died of hunger, cold or had to be shot.

The story of this disaster starts in the very wet summer of 1946.

The hay crop had been late and of very poor quality.

Farmers were still hay timing as late as November when there came a welcome spell of dry weather.

In 1946 the making of silage by farmers for winter feed had not yet become standard practice.

If silage had been made instead of hay, the farming community would have had a better chance of feeding their livestock through these winter months.

The blizzards begin:

Winter really started in December when a hard frost took hold, later turning to rain.

By the beginning of January the blizzards had started.

They would hold a large part of the country in an icy grip for nearly three months. This was to melt afterwards into the worst floods in living memory.

The country was going through a difficult period at this time.

After the end of the Second World War food was in short supply and still rationed.

There was also a shortage of coal and other fuels.

Deliveries of food to village shops was proving difficult. Many shops had very little food left.

Isolated farms were in an even more desperate situation with nothing much left in the pantry.

Communities cut off:

Many country people and farmers had no news from the outside world.

The batteries in their wireless sets had run out of power long ago.

Most country districts did not have telephones at this time.

If the country dwellers could have accessed a newspaper, they would have read of a growing discontent among the women queuing at the town shops because of the lack of food.

The Royal Air Force became corn merchant and general grocer to many isolated farms and hamlets beyond the read of horse-sledges or men on foot.

Dakotas of the RAF made over 70 flights to drop hay for sheep.

The target area would be marked out on the ground with a black cross.

Soot from the fire or pieces of old black roofing felt were some of the methods used to mark the drop zone.

It was said that when the RAF dropped hay at Mallowdale Farm in Roeburndale, the hay bales landed everywhere but the intended drop zone.

So this method was not always successful.

Snow clearing seemed to go on for weeks.

Most roads and farm lanes were cleared by men using shovels.

Lunesdale Council had two wooden snowploughs fixed to the front of lorries but they struggled with the depth of snow.

Bulldozers were tried with some success.

Aircraft jet engines mounted on the front of ex-army tanks were also used.

Also helping with snow digging were German prisoners of war, who had still not returned home after the war.

By early March many farms had run out of fodder to feed their livestock.

The price of hay had rocketed up and some dealers were asking for as much as £20 a ton.

With a shortage of coal in the country, people were desperate to keep warm by any means possible.

The price of firewood had risen to unheard levels.

Townspeople who were without fuel were paying as much as £5-10s per ton for firewood.

Many woods in the Lune Valley were felled at this time for firewood.

In Wray the Stephenson family were very involved in the wood business.

FUN AND GAMES:

During this disastrous winter it was hard for children from the countryside to get to school as the roads were completely filled with snow.

I remember, as children, we used to walk on the wall tops.

At this time waterproof clothing was not readily available.

Homes were always full of drying garments.

Most people wore clogs in 1946-47, probably not the best footwear for snow, which would stick to the soles, making walking difficult.

But it was not all misery for us children in 1947.

Sliding on the ice was a popular pastime.

From frosts to floods:

Early in March the weather changed with the disaster shifting from the hills to the valleys.

Losses in the floods were not perhaps as great as in the blizzards but the floods were more spectacular.

Towns were flooded as well as farms.

An Italian connection:

My mother-in-law, Pina Moore, was a war bride.

She came from Naples in Italy to Galgate by train in the winter of 1947.

The weather came as a shock to young Pina, who had been used to the 
mild winters of Southern Italy.

And, at 95-years-old, Pina has still not come to terms with the cold, wet climate of North West England.