View over the Thames towards Eton - in 1963 this stretch of water was all just ice

When the Thames last froze over

After the recent spell of cold weather, you might be interested to learn that the Thames has actually frozen over at times. Last time it happened in Windsor was in 1963 and here’s a “report” from someone who remembers it well:

Accepted as being the coldest winter since 1740 and extending into Europe, North America and the Far East, the winter of 1962/63 was notable in this area because the River Thames froze across between Windsor and Eton. This was not completely unusual going back in time, but the second most recent freeze-over recorded between Windsor and Eton was in 1895, and it has not happened again since 1963, so it’s fair to say it was quite a remarkable winter.

December 1962 started with a 7 day period of sub-zero night temperatures, including 3 days where the temperature never rose above 0 degrees. (Ice days). Although snow fell on the 12th, this was followed by relatively mild and stormy weather, until the 22nd when it turned colder again, with snow falling on Boxing Day. Snow then fell for the following 10 consecutive days with blizzards on the 29th and 30th doubling the laying down snow to 21cm (over 8”) with drifts of 75-90cm recorded. By January 1963 the snow cover had reached a depth of 31cm. Although there were several short periods when some thawing took place, the snow would not fully clear until the first week of March.

January saw 12 ice days and February two (maximum temperature below 0) with the lowest  over-night temperature down to down to -12.5° C on the 23 January.  The lowest daytime temperature followed the day after with -5.6° C. Snow fell on 38 days throughout the winter months, however it was also exceptionally sunny with 208 hours – 20% above average.

Another contrast to today, when everything seems to come to a standstill with the slightest snow fall, is the fact that being 14 at the time, I do not remember losing a day’s schooling despite having to travel 3 miles on a bus to school. We had fun in the playground with ice slides and snowball fights. However, when it snowed in December 2022 my godson Terry (11 at the time) told me that if he threw a snowball at his school he would get detention!

The Thames freezing created another playground. By 25th January at the ferry crossing between the Brocas fields on the Eton side and the Windsor promenade, the ice was over 75cm (3”) thick. People walked, skated and cycled on it, despite it being considered unsafe because the underlying water level had dropped. There were water mains bursting and pipes in homes freezing up. The weather also caused food shortages with prices rising considerably and fuel shortages with power cuts,

On 5th March, finally, there was no overnight frost – only the 5th time since December 22nd and the daytime temperature rose to 11° C with locally the last Boxing Day snow clearing. Crocuses were in flower by 13th March but daffodils not until 6th April but then everything seemed to get back to normal.

Peter Eaton, lifelong Eton resident


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