The Sunderland blizzard which was so bad, it brought down chimney stacks

Horses were used to clear the snow in Mowbray Park in 1941.
Horses were used to clear the snow in Mowbray Park in 1941.
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Over the past century, the winter season has usually brought ice, frost, snow, rain and wind to Wearside.

At times, the city has been turned into a winter wonderland.

Enjoying the snow in 1941.

Enjoying the snow in 1941.

But it often brings adversity withproblems to the streets and homes in the area.

Extreme winters have been rare but in the twentieth century three years stand out for the amount of snow, frost, ice and general unpleasantness: 1941, 1947 and 1963.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, reports.

The year 1947 was the worst winter of the century.

The sheer volume of snow brought down thousands of spouts and chimney stacks. The roof of St Nicholas Church collapsed and classrooms at West Southwick School were crushed like a pack of cards.

Philip Curtis

The streets of Sunderland were snow-covered from late January until mid-March with the month of February having the second lowest average daily temperature of the whole century.

For most of that month, Wearsiders had to cope with blizzards.

This, together with fuel rationing, water shortages and electricity cuts led to that month being known in the town as Black February.

The winter of 1941 brought additional problems to the town on top of the heaviest snowfalls.

The city was hit by German bombs.

The February of that year saw one of the heaviest snowfalls to hit Sunderland. It started on Tuesday, February 18, fell continually for three days and when it eventually stopped it lay two feet deep in the town centre and more than four feet deep in the suburbs.

Rail services were badly affected and buses to outlying districts were only able to get through with great difficulty.

Transport had ground to a halt by tea time and thousands of Wearsiders were forced to walk home from work through

knee deep snow and a raging blizzard.

A train taking hundreds of people from Teesside to Newcastle became stranded at Sunderland and passengers were advised to leave the train. There was a rush to obtain hotel accommodation which was soon booked to capacity.

However hundreds had no option other than to seek shelter in fire-watchers’ posts situated in the town centre.

Throughout the Wednesday night the snow continued to fall and by Thursday morning trams and buses were at a standstill.

The few buses which attempted to leave their depots were very quickly stuck in deep snow.

Shops and offices were understaffed as workers could not travel into the town. The position in schools was pretty much the same and most were forced to close for the next few days.

The sheer volume of snow brought down thousands of spouts and chimney stacks. The roof of St Nicholas Church collapsed and classrooms at West Southwick School were crushed like a pack of cards.

Telephone poles and wires were brought down and the army was brought in to repair communications.

Food and fuel became a problem for many Wearsiders and outlying districts including South Hylton were cut off for two days.

Thirteen wagons belonging to Vaux Brewery were stranded in various parts of the town and beer supplies ran short. Local farmers were left with huge amounts of milk with no way of arranging distribution.

Postal deliveries were impossible but the mail from Herrington was brought down to the town by a farmer’s cart pulled by three horses.

Even funerals were affected. Many were hours late arriving at the churches and some drivers had to stop on their way to cemeteries in order to dig a pathway through.

To help clear the town centre, a snowplough drawn by a six-horse team was used and an appeal also went out for people to clear their own streets to assist ARP vehicles to get through.

At the time Wearsiders felt that they had experienced the worst winter of the century …..but little did they know what they would have to face in 1947!

What was the worst winter that you faced?

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk