JANUARY 2021 has got off to an icy start across many parts of the UK.

But the snowfall we have seen pales into insignificance besides the notoriously hard winter of 1947. Said to have been the harshest in living memory, it is also viewed by many as being the worst of the 20th century.

Described at the time in The Wharfedale and Airedale Observer as the ‘Great Snow’ the fiercely cold conditions saw the River Wharfe freeze over for seven long weeks. Many rural areas were completely cut off by deep snow for more than a month with drifts of up to15ft.

Recording a week of almost continuous snowfall in early January the Ilkley Gazette described the cuts in electricity and basic services such as public transport that many people were struggling to cope with.

Telephone wires came down under the weight of the downfall - making isolated communities even more cut off and snow ploughs struggled to keep roads open.

Aireborough Historical Society records:”1947 was one of the most severe winters on record, it created much hardship as food was still on ration and there were shortages of fuel in this immediate post WW2 period.”

The winter of 1947 is also outlined in the book ‘Weather or Not’, published in 2003 by weathermen Paul Hudson and Bob Rust.

They describe how communities still recovering from the hardships of long years of conflict found themselves forced back into wartime deprivations. Deliveries of milk and bread were disrupted and the Ilkley Gazette on February 14 reported that consumers were forbidden to use electricity between between 8.30am and 11.30am and 1.30pm and 3.30pm.

Gas pressure was turned down in order to conserve supplies and appeals were made to customers to reduce their consumption.

Blizzards and snowdrifts meant many householders had to dig themselves out of their gardens. And at one stage in Ilkley, 120 men, two snow ploughs and four horse ploughs worked continuously to keep roads clear. In Otley the bill alone for snow clearance was well over £2,000.

Many buildings were affected and the roof of the YMCA building on the Grove in Ilkley collapsed under the weight of the downfall.

Local people became accustomed to skating and walking on the River Wharfe and on Ilkley Tarn, and the Ilkley Gazette compared the frozen scenes to Switzerland.

The big freeze left hundreds of people dead before it finally came to an end in March.

One of these photographs was taken in Ilkley. Most of the others were taken in Guiseley and Yeadon and are from the archives of Aireborough Historical Society.

In one picture, taken in January 1947 a group of schoolgirls are shown larking around in the snow - probably before the worst of the big freeze began, and when the snowy weather was still something to laugh about. The Ilkley picture shows a group of men armed with shovels trudging along The Grove.

Harry Ramsden’s in Guiseley features in four of the pictures - with men shovelling the snow outside the restaurant, and a horse plough at work.The photographs were donated by Harry Ramsden’s daughter Shirley Dillon, who can be seen throwing a snowball at her father. The snowy car park can also be seen in another image.

Yeadon High Street is under snow in one of the pictures. The section of the High Street is viewed from just below the White Swan public house. Another image shows Henshaw Lane.