Wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket and turn up the heat this winter as we take a quick look at some of London's coldest winters ever recorded in history.
Table Of Contents
The Winter Of 1565 (Cold Temperatures)
The winter of 1564-65 was unusual as it started in September and lasted until March! September saw shallow temperatures that stayed consistently low throughout October. November saw a bit of an improvement, but then things went back downhill again, with December's temperatures returning to the sub-zero status.
The Thames froze entirely in January and February, but people still enjoyed themselves despite the long, cold winter of 1565, which stretched until March; the temperature was well below freezing. While there is no documentation of temperatures during this time, it's reasonable to assume that it would be freezing if the Thames froze over for
more than two weeks.
In January of 1565, it snowed every day. In addition to the daily snowfall, during this period, at least three pretty big storms happened. For five days in a row from Jan. 4-8th, between two and three feet fell on the already blanketed city, which was a fairly typical amount for a winter storm in England.
Additionally, during the winter months, our Monarch Queen Elizabeth allegedly went on the ice every day. She was seen skating on the frozen Thames River at Greenwich Palace, enjoying 'hobby horses' and skittles on the ice."
The Winter Of 1683 (Heavy Snowfall Fell)
While we may want to blame the whiteout on the Thames and rail transport, which both took a beating during this time, there is another reason: it was freezing. And that's putting it mildly, the winter of '83 had the lowest average temperatures for December-March with daytime highs remaining below freezing, and nighttime lows were averaging between -5°C to -10°C below zero.
This climate resulted in significant snowfall throughout London and its surrounding areas, which forced many businesses and homes to shut down until late February. Like some other winters on this list, this winter saw the Thames stay frozen for an incredibly long time, with frost fairs held during December and January.
It also saw the Thames freeze over, which meant that they could set up fairs on it so people could carry on with their usual business despite the harshness of the weather; the ice even got thick enough to hold a market on, sadly 20 people died whilst trying to cross it!
This particular winter instilled fear among people throughout England and probably why the winter inspired England's national anthem too 'God save our gracious queen. This winter has been recorded as one of the coldest in history, with very harsh frosty conditions.
The Winter Of 1740 (The Great Winter)
Another cold winter as the Thames froze over from 5th December to 15th February. The coldest month was January, as temperatures averaged -1° C. In January, a lot of snow fell, and there were continuous frosty days, so much so that the ground remained frozen right up until early March.
January was especially harsh as it averaged at -9° Celsius, which is chilly by anyone's standards! People travelled on foot from Lambeth to Waterloo Bridge and up the river as far as Chelsea, which is an impressive 5km! The winter was a long one with a particularly rough start, continuing a few weeks into February.
February wasn't much better either, although it did get slightly warmer during the second week before dropping again. The Thames didn't manage to stay unfrozen for more than three weeks at a time!
The Winter Of 1795 (The Little Ice Age)
During the significant freeze of January 1795, the lowest temperature ever recorded in London was -3.1°C. The winter was so cold that it lasted for months, and the subsequent years' extremely chilly temperatures have been dubbed "The Little Ice Age." The winter of 1794/5 was at least as cold as the infamous winter of 1962-3.
The temperature had dropped on 10th December and had not risen above freezing until 19th January. It got down to -10°C on Christmas Day, reaching a maximum of just 1°C on 22nd February. The Thames froze over for two months. Over 200 people died in London during the little ice age freeze, which is thought to have been exacerbated by an influenza epidemic that spread through England.
Of course, this was before public health efforts like street cleaning and maybe underreported due to lack of records or proper diagnosis. Because the River Thames was frozen for two solid months, crowds would amuse themselves by walking, skating, sledging and sliding from one side to the other.
The ice was three feet thick in places and allowed heavy carts to cross from morning until night. Some people even drove their carriages across town onto the hard surface of the river itself. It's a matter of historical record that a bitter cold year in London also meant a busy year at Smithfield Market importing cattle from as far away as Norfolk
and Suffolk, often on the same ice over which people were merrily driving their carriages! The River Thames would not freeze solid in London again until 1813.
The Winter Of 1813 (River Thames Freezes)
It was another cold one with temperatures averaging -3° Celsius throughout December and January. February was slightly better, but March got worse again when the temperature dropped to -6° Celsius one day! The Thames didn't even manage to stay unfrozen for more than four days at a time which is pretty shocking compared with how long most of these winters went on.
During this year, it also experienced a lot of snow, which meant that, as well as the Thames freezing over, roads and paths were covered in the white stuff, making it tough to travel around London. The frost fairs were pretty popular, though, and they even used barges under the ice as shops or restaurants! It's incredible how anyone managed to get anywhere when you think about all that waist-deep snow everywhere.
The Winter Of 1817 (The Snow Storm)
This winter was one of those where everything just seemed to go wrong. It was awful for transportation because snow often covered roads and paths in up to four feet of thick snow, and there wasn't much anyone could do about it due to all the vast snowstorms we had throughout January and February.
One particular storm lasted almost a whole week, and by the time it stopped, it covered everything in at least two feet of snow. So much for Spring! The Thames also froze over so thickly that people could walk to the opposite side of the river without taking a boat.
I know this sounds like something you would only see in fairy tales, but it's true. There are many video recordings from back then showing people walking across the frozen river, skating on it or even driving their carriages on top of it. However, when thawed, gas from horse manure seeped into cracks in the ice and caused a few explosions!
The Winter Of 1879-81 (Total Coldness)
The winter of 1879 was a freezing winter with temperatures averaging -5° Celsius in January and February. March wasn't so bad, but the Thames still managed to stay frozen for seven weeks during January and February! The winter of 1880 was another cold one as temperatures dropped to -18° C in January 1880.
The Thames froze over entirely for two weeks at the start of February, with people even holding ice skating tournaments on it! The winter of 1881-82 was one of the longest cold winters experienced in London. It lasted from mid-November 1881 to early March 1882, which is pretty much an entire season!
Snow fell on 20 occasions during this winter; that's nearly every other day! There were only three days when temperatures rose above 10° C in December, January, and February.
The Winter Of 1946 (A Very Cold Winter)
Fuel shortages, business closures, and power outages occurred as a result of the extreme circumstances. There were worries that a food shortage was on the way, and they blamed the government's feet. During the war, temperatures dropped to -1.9°C, delaying restoring London after being extensively damaged.
Another harsh winter weather arrived in January of 1947, which was much worse than anything previously occurring in the United Kingdom, and served only to aggravate an already tumultuous period. The great thaw arrived in March 1947, bringing with it a dramatic rise in river levels. The melting snow and ice caused widespread flooding as a result.
The Winter Of 1962 (The Big Freeze)
During the winter of 1962/63, when temperatures dropped to -2.1°C, the swinging sixties became the shivering sixties. The extreme conditions were attributed to an anticyclone over Scandinavia and Iceland, producing bitterly cold winds from Russia. The big plunge occurred on Boxing Day, and for several weeks afterwards, the area was subjected to harsh blizzards.
In January, they even said that the sea had frozen for a mile off the coast of Kent. On 22nd January, the River Thames in London was quite chilly, and it has been reported that on this date, someone drove their car onto the frozen river; however, doing this is not recommended.
The Winter Of 2009 (A Chilly Winter)
This one will most likely come to mind. The average temperature in the United Kingdom dropped to 1.51°C in 2009/10, compared to the usual average of 3.7°C. The UK issued several severe weather warnings and severely disrupted travel. The bad weather brought the UK to a halt due to the shutdown of airports, roads, and railways.
The media's severe weather circumstances, dubbed The Big Freeze, significantly impacted most of the United Kingdom and much of Europe.On 8th January, in the Scottish Highlands' Altnaharra, the lowest temperature recorded that year was a teeth-shattering -22.3°C.
The FA Cup was postponed due to the record-breaking snowfall in January. The rescue of stranded travellers at London Victoria Station by the steam engine "Tornado" was perhaps the most touching tale from that harsh, chilly winter.
Some councils got backlash for not gritting the road sufficiently; this winter prompted The Met Office to install specialised equipment for measuring extreme weather conditions, which would remain buried up to four feet deep in the ground.
The following year (2010) ended with a total cost of £1 billion worth of damage due to severe weather conditions, which left thousands stranded across Britain. The media became obsessed with the cold blast and devoted copious newspaper space to it. For many people, The Big Freeze will be their first thought when considering UK cold winters historically.
They will also turn back time and think about how different things were before they had central heating or other modern, crucial amenities during harsh weather conditions like this. The British public will never forget the winter of 2009-2010.
The Winter Of 2021+ (Coldest Winter Still?)
With the way the weather is rapidly changing worldwide due to climate change and pollution of all types increasing throughout the world, there is a slight chance of London being hit by another cold winter as all the previous ones have occurred.
Current projections and research by the Met Office indicate a strong chance of London experiencing temperatures as low as -7°C during this next coming winter. This comes as all the glaciers worldwide continue to melt at an alarming rate due to global warming effects, further injuring global weather and ecological systems.
But this is just a forecast at this point, but it seems like we are heading towards another cold winter, so you better take the initiative and prepare essential supplies. Looking back at all the previous cold winters makes you appreciate the luxuries we have in the 21st century with the advent of heating in general, central heating systems, combination boilers, and other modern heating amenities.
No one ever wants to experience a repeat of London's coldest winter on record ever again, but if we do, we have other content to help you avoid any of these issues. Why not read our recent post, which shows you the 14 Ways To Keep Your Home Warm During Winter (Save Money!)
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