The winter of 1963 was one of the coldest on record, living long in the memories of the townsfolk of Reading and the surrounding countryside, so Bygones this week is defrosting the whole frozen story.

At the start of the New Year a huge blizzard dumped snow over Berkshire, disrupting road and rail networks, leading to shortages of food and fuel.

Snow clearing started immediately, with Reading Corporation and county staff working nearly 24 hours a day to spread 7,000 tons of grit and 2,500 tons of salt, in an effort to keep main roads open.

Major suppliers of fresh milk were worried that no bottles were being left on the doorsteps of houses, or, if they are placed there, they immediately got covered in snow.

Local RSPCA inspectors were being kept busy in the freezing conditions, freeing ducks and swans from frozen ponds and lakes.

It was estimated that 800 workers were being laid off in the Reading area during the worst of the winter, mostly comprising staff in the building trade, but many firms were holding on to their labour force, in the hope of a quick thaw.

Many pupils at local schools had an unexpected extension to their Christmas holidays when frozen pipes, toilets and fuel shortages closed them, although many were opening for a reduced period each day.

Reading Athletic Club took four of the first five places at the cross-country team event in Prospect Park, Reading, despite the dreadful conditions, where the course was covered in nine inches of snow.

The River Thames did not freeze over completely in 1963, but large ‘ice floes’ did make navigation of the channel almost impossible around the Reading area.

Many snow ploughs and lorries were employed to clear the roads, but they needed to have easy access to a dumping ground, so a huge area of land near what is now the Rivermead Leisure Centre was used to deposit tons of the white stuff.

The winter of ’63 was known as the ‘Big Freeze’, and the whole of the UK struggled as it started to freeze solid, the upper reaches of the Thames froze and the weather experts even predicted that the Strait of Dover might ice up right across to France.

The weather did not improve in February and a 36-hour blizzard with gale force winds caused heavy drifting across the whole country, with some drifts being measured at 20ft deep.

The thaw set in early in March and temperatures soon soared to a balmy 17 C, with the 6th seeing the first morning of the winter without a frost being recorded.