Snow in June, then a scorching summer for Essex and Suffolk. But who remembers the year?
PUBLISHED: 18:34 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 01:43 25 February 2020
July temperatures beat the 70F average on 26 days, but that super summer has been pushed into the shadows. Why?
A little book called Turned Out Nice Again started it - nature writer Richard Mabey's look at why we're preoccupied with the weather. (It came out in 2013 but I've only just got round to it.) At the end of chapter three he mentions the Cinderella-summer of 1975: as good as 1976 but banished to the scullery of our meteorological memories.
It's true that snow stopped play temporarily at a Colchester cricket match (Essex against Kent on June 2). Four days later, he writes, "one of the great halcyon summers began".
Trouble is, few of us recall it. "The reason we only remember the summer of 1976 is because, in our doleful weather folk-memory, it was accompanied... by a drought," reckons Richard, who used to live in Suffolk.
Was 1975 really that warm and wonderful? I recall standing on the school cricket field one sultry late-spring Wednesday (daydreaming), but nothing else sticks in the mind.
There's a place where I can find out. Our newspaper archive...
Things didn't start promisingly. At the end of June, we find farmer Basil Ambrose hoping for a vintage year. He's growing 10 acres of grapes at Nether Hall, Cavendish, having taken up wine production as a challenge in 1974.
The inconsistent English weather was infuriating. "Picking should have started during late October but what with snow in June I don't expect we will start this year's harvest until November," he said.
Within days, however, the Great Ouse Division of Anglian Water Authority is appealing for us to "go easy" with water, after no appreciable rain for a month.
July: soaring potato prices have nearly doubled the cost of chips at most Colchester fish shops. The late spring held back new potatoes, and the West Country (the main growing area) endured a four-week drought. The price of new potatoes rises to its highest-ever figure, topping £200 a ton.
EADT weatherman Ken Blowers reports that "flaming June" lived up to its reputation across much of Suffolk and Essex: lots of sunshine and little rain (less than an inch in many places). Honington had 275 hours of sunshine - 64 above the June average.
July 7 brings a storm, described by some as the most ferocious in living memory. In Cornwall, it ends one of the longest spells without rain the county has ever endured.
In Suffolk, glorious sunshine greets tennis players at the 79th East of England Championships at Felixstowe, though heavy showers interrupt the second day of play.
July 11 brings a warning from Farm Seeds Ltd that farmers are heading for their worst cereals harvest since 1970. They had a record one in 1974, but seven and a half months of higher-than-average rain followed. This delayed the harvest of some late crops and the drilling of winter cereal.
Comedian Leslie Crowther brings a smile. Starring in the summer show at the Ocean Theatre, Clacton-on-Sea, he pops down to the town's sun-warmed Dolphinarium to meet... well, dolphins - and puts his head in the mouth of one of them to prove their teeth are not as sharp as you might think.
Pictures of a crowded Felixstowe beach and sun-kissed sailing races on the River Deben accompany reports about the hottest day for two years. Clacton reaches 23C and Lowestoft 24C.
By August 4, East Anglia is sweltering during another day of tropical temperatures, with the mercury (did we still use mercury 45 years ago?) hovering just under 90F (about 32C).
Gatwick Airport registers 33.3C - the highest since the airport opened in 1936.
Clacton hoteliers report few vacancies. Consistent dry weather is heightening the risk of fires, but Suffolk Fire Service handles only six calls to grass and heathland blazes that day.
The heat is too much for 32 containers of imported Dutch butter at Cliff Quay, Ipswich. It starts to melt at Geest Shipping Line's depot. A container holds an average of 18 tons.
The butter is packed in dry ice but isn't refrigerated. Extra dry ice does the trick, before the load leaves for London and Lowestoft.
The hottest night ever is recorded in Ipswich - 69F (20.5C). Honington registers a daytime 30.6C.
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In a swirl of 85F heat and dust that stings eyes, the barley harvest begins in Suffolk.
The EADT is rung by people asking if there is a temperature beyond which workers can stand down. Sadly, the Ipswich Factory Inspectorate says not.
There are no more complaints about the heat than in previous years, says a spokesman, though people seem more bothered by ventilation in 1975.
The law simply says there should be effective provision for maintaining a reasonable temperature in workrooms.
The Oulton Broad swingbridge expands in the heat and cannot be fully closed for a while. Honington reports 31C and RAF Marham, near King's Lynn, 90F (more than 32C) - the hottest in the country.
Driest for 20 years
On August 7, 50 firefighters and 200 soldiers tackle a blaze that destroys four square miles of Army ranges at Fingringhoe, Colchester. They are hampered by exploding ammunition. Two firefighters are taken to hospital because of smoke and heat exhaustion.
We learn that in July the temperature exceeded the 70F average on 26 days. At Belstead Hall, outside Ipswich, there were five days of 80F-plus - a figure not reached at all in 1974.
The EADT weather station had its sixth consecutive July with rainfall below average. Measurable rain fell on only eight days at Colchester - the driest July for 20 years.
On the 8th, flames at Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, "spread as fast as a man could run" as they destroy a quarter-mile belt of gorse and trees.
At Colchester, the garrison admits it started the Fingringhoe fire - in order to create a firebreak before USAF personnel from Northamptonshire tried out flammable grenades. The wind turned and the blaze got out of control.
Workers at Refrigeration Appliances in Haverhill are sent home when temperatures top 100F. There is only a skeleton crew there, as the main works are closed for holidays, but the drawing office feels tropical.
Hottest for 28 years
August bank holiday basks in perfect weather and crowds enjoy Eye Show, and carnivals in places such as Lavenham and Newmarket.
Roads to the coast are crowded in the afternoon - though, in some places, traders say business is fairly quiet, with visitors seemingly on an economy drive!
Later in the month farmworkers and firefighters spend six days combating an underground peat fire near Mildenhall. Seventy acres are affected and a man suffers severe burns to an arm.
August proves the hottest and sunniest for 28 years in Suffolk and Essex, says Ken Blowers in his summary. Overall, England has its hottest August for more than 300 years, if we ignore 1947.
Honington's sunshine total was 250 hours, 68 above the average.
In many places, the temperature hit or exceeded 80F on 12 days and 70F on 26 days. Ipswich recorded its highest reading - 90F - on August 8.
Thunderstorms made the rainfall variable, though in many districts rain amounted to only 25% of the norm. Over the whole area, there was measurable rainfall on only seven days.
So, 1975 merits a place in the sunny uplands of our memory-banks. Why hasn't it got it? Because 1976 was more dramatic.
Met Office scientists said rainfall in England and Wales from 1971 to 1975 was the lowest for a five-year spell since the 1850s. Autumn 1975 was fairly dry, and winter was mild - with way too little rain to replenish reservoirs. We didn't get spring rains in 1976, either.
In fact, May, 1975, to August, 1976, was the driest period since records started in 1717. All those dry months, coupled with more summer heat, resulted in the drought of '76 - with its unforgettable images of standpipes, cracked riverbeds and official pleas to ration water by bathing with a friend.
And so glorious 1975 found itself pushed into the shadows.
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