I was asked the other day when waffling on about my new book (Ghost of a Lie, out in hardback now) to relate an interesting fact. So here goes:
The winter of 1947 was extraordinary, not just because of the unusal snowfall and the sustained sub-zero temperatures, but because the six weeks of hardship had a more definable impact on British industry than the whole of the war years put together.
From 21 January 1947 to 16th March, the winter left roads and railways repeatedly enclosed within towering drifts of snow several metres high. This was dangerous and a great inconvenience, and it also meant that the supply of coal to power stations was severely disrupted. There were doubtless an infinite number of other factors at play but in short rolling power-cuts were inevitable and throughout February electricity would be reserved for domestic and office use. Factories and workshops were shut down for the duration, many never to reopen.
As an interesting aside, there might still have been enough power had the urban population as a whole not lately developed a deep and abiding love for the electric bar heater. This power-hungry source of instant heat meant that many people had failed to spend the summer collecting and storing their ration of coal and now, without electricty, not only would they be cold but they would also lack the traditional fireside hotplate on which to cook.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of its needs however, the decision to sacrifice industry for the sake of the nation’s public was inarguable. Unemployment shot up and many stalwarts of British manufacturing irretrievably lost contracts to their better placed American counterparts. War and its accompanying hardships had set the precident but having survived years of German bombardment, it was the weather that would at last make British industry fall silent.