A memory written down in 2013, but of a winter time fifty years earlier.

In 1963 my birthday fell on a Sunday, just like this year. Sunday 20th January.

And this year it has snowed too. But not like that year. As the Liverpool Echo recalls:

“Many think back to January 1963, said to have been the coldest month of the 20th century. The temperature fell below freezing on December 22, 1962 and, incredibly, hardly got past zero until early March 1963. That winter, mini icebergs appeared in the Mersey and it was safe to skate on park lakes. In the more rural areas of Merseyside and West Lancashire, snowploughs had to be used, as snow was higher than hedgerows with drifts still visible in the April.”

The lanes we walked along to school looked like this.
The lanes we walked along to school looked like this.

For these months most football matches were either called off. Or played in conditions that wouldn’t even be considered today.

Ian St John of Liverpool emerges from the snow between two Nottingham Forest players.
Ian St John of Liverpool emerges from the snow between two Nottingham Forest players.

image-10-for-archive-pictures-of-anfield-football-ground-home-of-liverpool-fc-gallery-348563027Getting the ground ready was severely hard manual labour. But as you can see here, done with no more equipment than Sarah has on her allotment.

Clearing snow off the pitch at Anfield, January 1979.

And for reasons I no longer recall, 1963 was the year my parents suggested I invite my friends to a birthday party at the house.

Now birthday parties then weren’t the big production numbers I understand they are these days. With competition between friends for who can come up with the most original and flashy venues, and limousines to get everyone there. (I even heard a horror story recently of a mum MC-ing her daughter’s sixth birthday with a full PA and lighting rig.)

No, then it was more about sandwiches, cakes and jellies. With games like Blind Man’s BuffPass the Parcel and Musical Chairs afterwards.

So anyway, I invite half a dozen mates from school. Moan about my younger brother’s best mate Billy being invited too. And wait for the big day to arrive.

And when it arrives, even by the standards of that appalling winter, it’s bad. New snowdrifts are piled upon snowdrifts that haven’t melted since the end of December. And even getting to the front gate requires a spade and an hour’s hard labour. Even so, our mother is out in the kitchen all afternoon getting the food ready for a party of a dozen people, all in.

At the appointed hour I’m watching the gap in the snow by the gate to see the arrivals. Who don’t arrive. Billy from the same street arrives of course. But he doesn’t count. He’s not my mate after all.

The Beatles weren't there either. But they'd have been very welcome.
The Beatles weren’t there either. But they’d have been very welcome.

So, disconsolately, we start. Family of five: Mum, Dad, eldest (me), plus younger brother and sister. And Billy, uncomfortable about being glared at by me.

Then, after several minutes of uneasy silence and forced jollity, a knocking on the front door, which our Mum goes to answer. ‘Hello Mrs Hughes, is the party still on? I had a bit of a job getting here, sorry I’m late!’

Miracle of miracles. It’s Barry Ward. Liked by everyone and the guaranteed life and soul of any party he’s ever been to. To get here Barry’s had to battle through a mile of snowdrifts, cross the swing-bridge over the canal, negotiate two major roads and cross the hilly disused farm behind the library that will soon become a shopping centre. On his own. In the snow. Five days after his own ninth birthday. Kids were plucky then. Barry anyway.

There weren't this many there. But it will have looked much like this, a childrens party in the 1960s.
There weren’t this many there. But it will have looked much like this, a childrens party in the 1960s.

And he won our mother’s heart that night. Always one to judge people’s characters by how much they ate, that night Barry ate for England. Making up for everyone who didn’t turn up, keeping us all entertained, and even making Billy feel welcome. Before wrapping himself up, and cheerily disappearing into the snowy night.

So well done Barry. And I hope 15th January 2013 was a warmer day for you than its equivalent 50 years ago. Happy Birthday to us.

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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  1. Happy birthday, Ronnie! I remember that winter, too,and being ill and off school for what might have been a week, looking out of my bedroom window at the street below. The snow plough had been through, and there were great iceberg-like blocks of snow piled up along the roadside. Funny thing is, apart from that I can’t remember the school closing or not being able to get to school (I lived in Poynton and had to get the train into Macclesfield to get to the local grammar).

    1. Thank you Gerry!

      I don’t remember missing any school either. Our junior school was a mile away and most of my memories of that winter are of walking there through snowdrifts and everyone’s coats steaming on the classroom radiators to dry once we got there. And then the school milk having icicles in it.

  2. I take it your birthday is tomorrow Ronnie. So please accept my good wishes for many more to come and may they all be as interesting as their forebears have been.

    I have just watched Winter watch on BBC2 (Saturday19th) and it was all about the 1963 winter. I was in Cable and Wireless in Castle Street in those days, and I remember walking to work because of the ice etc… Before that I spent just over three years in the RAF, mainly in North Yorks. And I can never recall the trains being stopped or even late due to inclement weather conditions. We did some things better then!

  3. Hi Ronnie
    You and Gerry are a real inspiration to me with your excellent blogs.
    1962 -3 was my first year at Southampton Uni and I remember trudging in to lectures. Coming from the Midlands I was used to snow so wasnt a big deal. However I have no memories of any problems with transport getting there and back by train. I do have a memory of snow of 47 when I was 5 years old with snow towering above my head in tunnel like paths and sledging in local park.

    1. Thanks for commenting, lovely to know I’m going around being inspirational like Gerry.

      And yes, the collective memory does seem to be that in those still post war years we were much better at not letting bit of snow get on top of us and cause instant chaos!

  4. Hi Ronnie. This post really stirred up some memories of that time, my birth year being the same as yours! Happy, belated milestone birthday, BTW. I remember cycling about 5 miles down to school on a little, old, one geared bike in that bitter weather, across the east coast, Norfolk countryside with the cutting, freezing winds blowing in from the Russian Steppes. It wouldn’t be allowed today but back then, it was the only way to get about. Barring very serious illness, we were shoved out to school by our parents. 6 foot snowdrifts or no 6 foot snowdrifts. I too had a cardigan, that mother had knitted, just like those worn by the kids in the party photo. Everyone served jelly & blancmange at parties, I remember, as a treat. Not for me! I must be the only person I know, even now, who cannot stand jelly & blancmange. Makes me heave! Many a difficult moment trying to force the wobbly pink stuff down my throat just to please the birthday child’s mother! (Other children’s mothers were very fierce in those days, I seem to remember). I could go on. Lovely post. X

    1. Thank you Lindsay. I think all of the birthdays are milestones now. Though this wasn’t the milestone you suspect. I’ve still got one more year of being fifty-something!

      I join you though in always having loathed blancmange. And I do remember everyone else’s mothers being free to boss all children around, in a way you just don’t see now. Was there a greater collective responsibility then? Or maybe a more obedient society, where there was a right way and a wrong way and that was that? The latter I suspect.

      1. Sorry Ronnie, to have aged you prematurely! Enjoy your year, and every year! As you say, each year a milestone with much to achieve in between! It’s what keeps us young!X

  5. I have a very far off memory of lots of snow in rural Cornwall, it must have been that winter of 1947. And in those far off days children were expected to be hardy and uncomplaining about small things like the weather. I too hated blancmange, but we had to endure it for pudding sometimes at boarding school. But the photographs of that 1963 winter are amazing, the snow drifts are incredible. How cold it must have been without central heating and how often there must have been ice on the inside of windows.

    1. Doesn’t look like we’re finding anyone who actually liked blancmange!

      It was cold. Particularly so in the north Liverpool suburb where I lived then, where we got sea winds blowing across the flat Lancashire plain. Noticeably colder up there than in the soft south of Liverpool now, sheltered and up river. I particularly remember suffering from ‘Chilblains‘. A condition that sounds quite serious on Wikipedia now, but was of course brushed off at the time!

      1. So if not many kids of that era were keen on jelly and blancmange, where did the idea that all kids would love it as party food come from? Perhaps a ‘Potted history of the origins of jelly & blancmange’ post, Ronnie?

      2. Good idea Lindsay. I suspect the upper classes had something to do with it.

        In fact they did! This from Wikipedia “The “whitedish” (from the original Old French term blanc mangier) was an upper-class dish common to most of Europe during the Middle Ages.”

  6. Hello Ronnie, and your readers. I am Barry Ward and I claim my fiver ! This post brought back loads of memories of that winter of 1962/63. I suspect I may have walked across the canal to get to yours rather than use the swing bridge, as the canal was frozen solid for many weeks, and it would have been more daring to do so. And where were Messrs DuNoyer, Temple, Smith, Coulton, Wilson, Moran etc. on that day ? Wimps.

    I remember you being at my birthday party the following year (your mum must have started a trend) and my mum being astonished as to how much food a bunch of 10 year olds could get through. You will perhaps recall the notorious birthday party around the same time at Michael Atherton’s house (he lived next door to Gerry Byrne) which degenerated into a blancmange-throwing competition. Can’t remember who initiated it, although it was probably Tony Temple, but I don’t remember being invited to too many birthday parties after that !

    Happy days, and a belated Happy 59th to you. And no, I don’t like blancmange either.

    1. Hi Barry, lovely to hear from you. And glad to hear you didn’t like blancmange either. As other contributors to today’s comments are from as far away as France and Western Australia, I think we can now confidently state that no one, anywhere on earth likes, or ever did like blancmange. After all, small boys have been throwing it at each other ever since the 1960s as you’ve recalled!

      Congratulations on starting the blancmange fight at Michael Atherton’s by the way. And none of this ‘Tony Temple started it’ nonsense. I remember the egging each other on way you two used to operate!

  7. One further comment on all this ‘blancmange’ stuff. Liking it or not has become such a topic over on Twitter that even the electronic pop group Blancmange have joined in the discussion. Confirming that they too, didn’t like the stuff.

    @_blancmange_ “@asenseofplace1 @CIHPresident no we didn’t, but the alternative names were “a pint of curry” or ” the bleak industrial cooling towers”.

  8. What a wonderful post, Ronnie. I remember some incredible winters from that same time around here. Perhaps it was the coldest winter all over the planet that year. In fact, I think 1963 just might be the year we had tremendous snowfalls too. I was recently looking at old slides of me standing on top of huge snowbanks from perhaps that very year. Such memories…Thanks for sharing the “snow memory” and the birthday one as well. And happy birthday! Just a bit late.

  9. Ronnie. I enjoyed your post. I am a friend of Barry Ward today. I can tell you, he can still eat for England. We bought him a special extending fork with a telescopic handle to use at our favourite chinese restaurant as it avoids us spending the entire meal passing him dishes.

  10. Teresa Donaghy, aged 13 years in 1963, wish to see information about a pantomine in Liverpool Empire, January 1963. Madan Vera was the dance teacher, we children danced along side professional ballerinas.

      1. In Birmingham also great snows 1963, similar birthday parties. I remember ‘Paul Waring’ who broke the fence with the neighbour’s. Charming curly red-haired fellow, too! Delighted you were reunited with your classmate! Good work. Martin (now Georgia, Caucasus)

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