Winter weather earlier this century was not only more severe than the worst of our winters now, but its impact on everyday life and work was far more serious and disrupting than ever the odd icy patch is today.
Snow ploughing, as the elderly remembered last week, consisted of human muscle power,one or two horses and a small wooden plough which was liable to turn over at the slightest drift:
"Snow ploughing was done by horses then and I can remember when it was that bad it was piled up that far they hardly could pull it through, the snow plough wouldn't go through the snow, they used to tip up all ways, there was that much snow."
Gangs of men could take a week or more just clearing a track up the Langdale Valley, and it was very important to know a little weather lore and be able to predict the arrival of heavy snow, so that supplies of food could be got in.
A hard winter could bring widespread lay-offs and unemployment throughout the area. Frozen rivers brought bobbin mills to a stand still; quarries were silent and snow-bound, building work stopped and farmers faced ruin without subsidies when sheep perished under deep snow. Trying to locate a flock under the snow was a matter of urgency:
"We used to go round the walls, and you couldn't find the walls until you prodded with your stick and we used to prod down like that. And we had a dog each, and an old dog called Ben, he used to follow, he'd go anywhere with me, he was an old dog and I used to take him - there were two or three dogs, and I used to dig with this old dog,he'd go with me, and that old dog, it could smell where there were sheep at, he'd soon start scratching, I'll tell you, and you prodded and you could feel the sheep on the stick end when you prodded down, and you dug them out, you had a spade with you."
The winter of 1940 brought snow so deep that one Langdale family couldn't even reach their cattle in the barn across the yard:
"Mother always got up first, and she ran to the door, and there was only a little hole, snow was piled up and hanging over and everywhere. She came running up the stairs, 'I can't get out', she said. And we couldn't get to the cattle without we had to dig trenches to get to the shippon, there was nowhere to put it. We lost a lot of sheep, it was a big disaster."
As long as sheep have enough air to prevent suffocation,survival in a drift is possible, but less likely in an open field, or away from a wall. One year at Eskdale the snow was the height of the tree tops and houses:
"The drifts were right up to the height of the house. They said at Bootle there were so many sheep buried under the snow and they'd gone with the dogs and with all the barking and the shouting, they must have all listened together and all these sheep were saved, yet in the field they were quite covered over. Its wonderful how they can survive under snow."
Even now, just a slight fall of snow can bring chaos at Bannerigg on the Windermere to Kendal Road, and also make the hill by the station impassable, especially for buses. But in 1940, it was essential to keep the single decker buses running, because they brought staff to the Sunderland Flying Boat factory at White Cross Bay. There was, after all, a war on,so when the service bus got stuck on the slopes,without another word the boys and men would get off the bus, leaving the female majority to get in place over the wheels:
"Bannerigg and Station Hill used to be the problems and they used to leave all the girls on the bus, and they'd never argue, wouldn't the men, they'd just get out and literally man-handle these buses, leaving the women inside to put the weight over the wheels and the men would rapidly push. You'd push them home, never mind pushing them to work! We were all fit, you got ten or twelve or fourteen boys and men piled out of a bus and pushing one of these things up, because there was a bigger ratio of women to men."
Postmen had a notoriously hard time in bad weather because they had to abandon their bikes and travel on foot,climbing many a steep mile with sometimes no more than a postcard or newspaper for an outlying farm. One postman went missing in the snow of 1940 and his story made the national press:
"I was doing the Kirkstone round and I had to go up there one day when it was snowing. Going to the top of Kirkstone is three miles and I couldn't get through, I was walking on top of the walls. And eventually I got through and I got back again and I told them it was impossible and the Home Guard came out looking for me thinking I had been taken prisoner or the Germans had landed! Eventually I came back, they got me back safely. This was 1940, and the next day a lot of the snow had gone, and I went up, gets through and lands at the top of Kirkstone. Everything was alright. It was in the daily paper, the postman got through after two days trying to get to Kirkstone Top with the mail! I had to walk up there every day even if it was only a newspaper, you'd about seven hours on your run."