RETRO: White-out halts city

Snow - skating'1962
Snow - skating'1962

IT may be cold, grey and miserable outside but here’s a thought to warm the cockles: it isn’t anywhere near as bad as it was this time 25 years ago.

For in January 1987 Sheffield was struggling through one of the worst winters in its history.

A deep Siberian freeze hit the region which was so cold it would end up claiming eight lives, cause thousands of pounds of damage, keep more than 45 gritters on the roads and see an average of 40 people a day treated at the Northern General Hospital.

As temperatures dropped to -5.4 degrees Celsius – the lowest since 1882 – and 11 inches of snow fell in a single 24-hour period, police took the dramatic precaution of fun warning people to “stay at home”.

Ironically 25 years before that in 1962, January started in similar conditions after heavy snowfall in late December.

And these pictures of both years, taken from The Star archive, show how problematic – but also how fun – the weather was.

“It was a devastating winter,” says archivist Jane Salt. “I remember it because I’d given birth to my daughter Jessica on New Year’s Day and the next week was suppose to be my son Timothy’s first term at school but it was so bad he couldn’t go.”

Indeed, dozens of schools across the city shut their doors as high winds added to the appalling conditions.

“I’m not sure it was the worst winter I’ve ever experienced because there were some pretty awful ones when I was a child,” says Jane, of Crookes. “But I do remember the snow was so deep Timothy couldn’t walk through it. It was awful. You wondered if it would ever stop.”

For those youngsters enjoying sledge rides and snowball fights, they no doubt hoped it wouldn’t.

But tragedy was waiting too – and five days after the first snowfall on January 12, it was revealed eight people across the region had died.

Among them was 87-year-old Gertrude Reddington, of Well Lane, Treeton, who slipped while feeding the birds in her garden, and Rose Gibbons, 76, of Smelter Wood Road, Stradbroke, who burned to death after starting a fire in her home to try and stay warm.

“Even when the thaw came there were problems,” says Jane. “I remember reports of hundreds of pipes bursting all over the city.”

Pipes were bursting too 25 years earlier – 50 years ago this month – when late December snow caused havoc in the first week of January. Schools closed, buses were cancelled and trains delayed just as people were heading back to work after the break.

As for this year, well, it seems the snow will stay away. The Met Office says temperatures will remain above average throughout the month.

A disappointment for some no doubt, and a relief for others.