I've got a diary that my mum (Doreen Buckle) wrote in the first half of 1947 in which she makes it clear how awful the weather was that year.
On 26th January she recorded that the weather was, "very bad". There was, "More snow" on January 27th and it was, "Still very cold, snowing too" the day after. On 29th January it was, "very cold still snow on the ground" and on February 1st it, "Snowed all day. Went to Chapel at night, snow fairly thick".
February was to be the coldest month on record since 1881. The exceptional, persistent cold and continuous frost and snow was accompanied by frequent high winds. This resulted in the snow drifting causing traffic chaos with roads blocked and public transport cancelled. On February 2nd Doreen recorded that she, "Went to work. Snow deep. Bus a bit late" and the next day: "Snow very thick, bus late."
The bus was late again that night when she was coming home from work and to make matters worse the boiler had burst: "We are living in room as boiler is burst."
Doreen's family had two downstairs rooms with coal fires (no central heating for working people in those days) and the fireplace in the back room had a boiler behind it for domestic hot water. It was this that had burst and so the room was unusable. The "room" was the front room which had the better furniture, was used less frequently (usually only when visitors came), and was not normally for everyday living. I can imagine that Doreen's very house-proud mother would have been having a fit.
Domestic heating depended heavily on coal.
The British coal mining industry had been nationalised on January 1st 1947. Coal miners and their families had gathered at pit heads in their thousands to celebrate “Vesting Day” which was expected to give the miners a five day week, decent wages, social welfare for the families and public ownership of a major national resource.
The struggles between the miners and the pit owners are legendary and had gone on for decades most famously in the 1926 strike. "Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day" had led to an unprecedented General Strike of miners, dockers, railway and transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers. However the General Strike failed to resolve the situation and the miners continued on strike for several more months before drifting back to work for longer hours and less money.
During WWII coal mining was a reserved occupation and miners were prevented from joining the armed services. In addition around 80,000 young men were conscripted to work in the coal mines as "Bevan Boys." Such was the dependence on coal in all aspects of industrial and domestic life.
It had been an election pledge of the Labour Party before the 1945 election to nationalise the railway, coal, iron and steel industries along with the emerging communications industry and the Bank of England. The people had voted overwhelmingly for these changes giving the Labour Party its landslide majority in the House of Commons in 1945.
The Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946 created the National Coal Board which was intended to manage the coal industry on behalf of the people. Signs were erected at all the pits announcing that "This collliery is now managed by the National Coal Board on behalf of the people".
The miners expected to see modernisation at the existing pits and the creation of new ones; they wanted proper training for new recruits and safety laws; they anticipated fair compensation for accident and industrial disease, pensions, sick pay and the construction of good quality housing in mining areas.
Although the five day week and some of their other expectations were achieved, increasing wages were slow to materialise. It soon became apparent that the management had changed little and some of the private owners remained in charge of the pits despite being well recompensed for their losses. Hundreds of mines had been included in the nationalisation programme and the compensation bill was over ten billion pounds at today's values.
The government had instructed the NCB to provide subsidised coal for industry which made the coal industry look as though it was unprofitable. In addition the ancillary services for distribution; the manufacture of equipment and machinery; and its supply remained in private hands with no limit on charges whatsoever.
Meanwhile domestic coal continued to increase in price leading the public to feel that nationalisation was a detrimental thing. It wasn't long before the miners were back on strike finding one set of unsympathetic bosses replaced by another.
By the 16th February the back-boiler in Doreen's family home had been fixed but the dreadful weather continued. Coal supplies were extremely low and the snow-blocked roads stopped deliveries to the power stations. What few stockpiles of coal there were became frozen solid and couldn’t be moved anyway. Power stations were forced to close and, to add further to the misery, the government introduced rationing of electricity. (To be continued….)