Above: Looking towards Lapford from Kelland Hill

The winter of 1962-3 was the coldest in Lapford for at least two hundred years and the coldest in every region of England since 1895. In Kent the temperature was so low that the sea froze up to a mile from shore, but it was Devon that suffered the largest snow drifts. Sixty years on, the “Big Freeze” is still remembered for conjuring drama, excitement, fear and a sense of comradery.

Lapford avoided the initial outbreak of snow that had hit most of the country in mid-December. However. on 29 and 30 December a blizzard with gale force easterly winds raged through the South-West. Drifts, 30 feet deep in places, blocked roads and railways. Numerous villages, including Lapford, were cut off. On Dartmoor, military operations were rapidly organised to rescue hundreds of buried animals.

Snow fall continued into the new year and remained on the ground into the Spring.  The heaviest fall in Lapford came on 06 February. The following article from Bovril Review1 gives a sense of the scale to which Lapford was hit, and reports on the extraordinary efforts to keep the village’s creamery operational.

“At 2.30am on 6th February, after finishing his late shift, Richard Rice, the chargehand of the canning department, decided to make the three mile walk to his home. In ordinary circumstances there would have been nothing unusual about this, but 6th February happened to have the heaviest fall of snow during a period when a day without a snowfall would have been an event.

There was little moon that morning and the skies were still heavy with cloud. The road leading from the factory had been kept fairly clear by ploughs but further along, where he had to turn off on to a side road, the drifts became deeper. It was not long before the only way of telling that he was on the right route was by following the tops of the telegraph poles. Soon, these too went out of view and Richard alternated by walking along the tops of the hedgerows and clambering down to follow the tractor trails in the fields below.

Back on to the hedgerows and then confronted by what seemed a hill of drifted snow, he decided to try and climb over the drift; as he reached the top his hands touched something solid. He scraped the snow away and found himself looking through a pane of glass into a small room. Once over the initial surprise he found that he was on top of a farm cottage, the roof of which is normally over fifteen feet above the roadway.

Richard Rice’s story is probably the most unusual during a time when almost everyone in Lapford and the surrounding districts were at odds with the weather. But rather than being unique in itself it epitomised the ceaseless effort made by all to keep products of the factory flowing. Somehow most of the people managed to get to work and keep the factory fully operational.

Perhaps the most difficult task of all was the drivers’. Each morning they would set out from Lapford determined to collect the milk and get it back as near to the scheduled time as possible. Conditions were fantastic and where tractors and snow ploughs had been out during the night trying to clear the side roads, even they found themselves unable to move.

The farmers played their part in the campaign and one farmer virtually turned his house into a trading post. The roads were usable up to his front gate but beyond that they were blocked. Farmers from the surrounding district made their way on foot or by tractor over the fields to his house, where they left their churns of milk and collected the empties along with the post and supplies of food. It was this kind of spirit that made it possible for Lapford to remain operational.

It was nothing unusual for drivers to be returning to the factory hours after their normal time, and it is a well-deserved compliment to their skill to record that there were no serious accidents or damage to the vehicles during the whole time the arctic conditions persisted. A good indication of just how cold it became was that the diesel fuel for the lorries froze. A call to the local fuel supplier solved the problem: petrol was added and this kept it in liquid form. During the entire six weeks milk was arriving at Lapford frozen solid and so added one more operation to an already hard-pressed schedule.

  1. Bovril Review (the company magazine of Bovril Ltd.), Summer 1963 []

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