Perhaps the peakland’s worst winter of all time was that which swept in on violent blizzards in the early February of 1947. Beneath a blotted landscape telephone lines soon lay severed, railway trains lay buried and engines derailed, and hundreds of vehicles abandoned. Ten-foot snowdrifts were a familiar sight, bringing road and rail transport to a virtual standstill.
Time after time, days of snow clearance work was reversed by fresh and heavy falls; during one single Friday night and the efforts of the five previous days were undone. Stocks of fuel became desperately low everywhere, fresh deliveries prevented by the ever-worsening weather. Bereft of newspapers, mail and wireless – exhausted batteries could not be rechardged, isolated settlements had no communication with the outside world. Milk froze in the churns, and collections from only about thirty instead of the usual one thousand farms was reaching the Chatsworth and Express Dairy Companies. Milk and potatoes were soon the only food in many marooned villages. Food supplies becam critically low in the Hope Valley and Edale; their plight was eased a little when a bread shop opened up in the waiting room of Edale railway station, to which people from all over the valley came down with their sledges.
Elsewhere, though, bread deliveries were out of the question. Earl Sterndale was just one village whose residents shared one another’s food. The men of Flash and Quarnford fought through 15ft. snowdrifts to fetch bread from Buxton. Ironically, even the Ministry of Food depot at Riber Castle in Matlock was inaccessible.
The weather worsened yet further. In the course of conserving electricity, scheduled power cuts forced the closure of factories – putting hundreds on the employment register, and schools, shops and banks worked by the light of a single lamp or candle, though candles were soon yet another unobtainable commodity.
She made it to the church
Regular church services were suspended and many weddings postponed, although one determined Sparrowpit bride trudged two miles through the snow to meet her wedding taxi which had got as far as Barmoor Clough. She then made it to the church at Chapel en le Frith. Burials had to be delayed too; a Foolow funeral party was preceed by a snowplought but the hearse had to be abandoned in a snowdrift on the return journey. At other funerals the coffin had to be carried or, as at Longnor, borne to the church on a sledge.
Prisoners of war
Longnor’s isolation was at one stage relieved when a RAF plane braved appalling conditions to drop a dozen containers of food by parachute. The pilot was guided by a bonfire and a large black cross of soot marked out in the snow. A few miles away 54 German prisoners of war from the camp at Biggin were put to snow clearance duties, sharing in the villagers’ dwindling food supplies when the camp’s reserve rations were used up, and voluntarily building sledges to collect bread which had somehow reached Middleton Hall. When Biggin ran out of fuel, the church’s reserve stock was shared out and each household given half a bag of coke. Two hundred homes at Youlgreave and Middleton, however, were completely without fuel.
Winster made national news in the middle of February when, it was reported, Manchester CID officers ‘dashed through’ waist high snowdrifts to arrest a juvenile charged with murdering a child in Manchester the previous month. Blizzards held up a Winster funeral for almost a week in March. The new month brought no respite, with yet more snow, followed inevitably by floods and landslides. As the drifts melted down, farmers and shepherds faced harrowing work for they had been unable to reach their flocks – one Ashford farmer had set off for the moors on horseback but the horse itself had to be dug out after getting buried in a drift. In a ditch above Derwent, dead sheep were now found piled four high. German prisoners of war were again hard at work, this time helping to bury thousands of dead sheep. One farmer alone lost 700 sheep, another lost 500 and twice as many lambs.
The human toll exacted by the winter was measured less in loss of life than in discomfort and suffering. In one bizarre accident an engine driver had his elbow broken in two places by a huge icicle suspended in the Dove Holes tunnel, and two elderly ladies of Bradwell were victims of a spate of hit-and-run toboggan accidents.