The blizzard-hit year when Sunderland had no sunlight for 18 days

Mowbray Park pond in February 1947.
Mowbray Park pond in February 1947.
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We’re basking in relatively balmy weather compared to 1947 in Sunderland.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, has in recent weeks focused on some of the worst winters Wearside has seen.

The ship Regfos ashore at Whitburn.

The ship Regfos ashore at Whitburn.

Today, in the third and final part of his spotlight on Sunderland weather, he looks at the year when the city’s council staff wore overcoats - to cope with the weather INSIDE the Town hall.

It all began quietly enough the week before.

After a slight fall, the headlines said “Snow - but it could be worse.”

Soon, it was worse. It was an awful lot worse.

February 26 saw the fiercest blizzard seen for years engulf Sunderland in yet more snowdrifts. It brought all the collieries and local transport to a complete standstill. More snow clearers were employed and became known locally as snow commandos.

Philip Curtis

Sunderland’s problems began on January 24 when the Town Hall ran out of coal to heat the building and the administrative staff had to spend the entire day wearing overcoats.

The serious snow arrived two days later when an inch fell and the temperatures plummeted.

Days later, there was another three inches and many homes were without fuel as the coal shortage grew ever worse.

Electricity cuts began that week and that meant homes were deprived of cooking facilities and hot water.

A snow-covered car in Silksworth.

A snow-covered car in Silksworth.

More snow followed and five inches fell on January 29 and 30.

Overhead tram wires were broken, and trains were delayed. The morning trek over Wearside Bridge looked like a crowd of fans going to a football match on a Saturday.

Local industry was affected as well. Collieries missed their output targets as huge numbers of men were ill with flu.

Laundries were hit. One of them, the Central Laundry, announced that if they were not allowed more coal then it would have to close and more than 20,000 customers would have to do their own washing.

Coal rationing began on February 1 and harassed coal merchants appealed for householders to be patient.

Three days later, conditions were so bad, shipping became paralysed and all roads were snowbound. Overhead telephone wires were torn from their pylons, trains were almost at a complete standstill in the fierce blizzards and shops in the town were usually in darkness through electricity cuts.

There was one positive aspect of it all, though.

The storms were so bad, they were washing up huge amounts of sea coal at Roker. They arrived just before dawn on February 4.

By 10am, the shore was covered with beachcombers collecting coal while the snow lashed down. People were even sledging down the slopes to the beach.

Others were battling their way back up the beach with their sledges laden with sacks of coal. During a time of fuel cuts, the sea coal was a godsend.

Shipyards were badly hit. Half the men in some yards were sent home and many firms registered high levels of sickness.

Even greyhound racing was affected. Only four dogs got out of their traps in some races at one meeting. The rest were stuck inside their traps in the freezing conditions.

Races were declared void and bets returned.

By the next day, snowdrifts were ten feet deep.

Within days, Sunderland broke its record for its longest continuous February frost. The sun had not been seen for 18 consecutive days. And as if to hammer home the point, six inches of snow fell that night.

There seemed to be no end to the bitter weather and on February 26, a fierce blizzard saw every colliery and all local transport to a complete standstill.

It got so bad, the city brought in even more snow clearers and they became known locally as ‘snow commandos’.

During February, an incredible 36 inches of snow fell. An estimated 25,000 tons of snow were cleared from the streets and most of it was dumped into the sea at Hendon and Grangetown.

Once February ended, hopes were raised that the weather would relent. It was a false dawn.

Ships had struggled against the weather and it was no surprise when a collier, the Regfos, ran aground in a snowstorm.

It was not until March 17 that change came.

The Sunderland Echo proclaimed ‘Freeze Up Time Is Over.’

The temperature rose and Sunderland basked in 46 degrees, the highest for 59 days.

The winter of 1947, or Black February as it came to be known, was over but it certainly was not forgotten.