Long hot summer of 1976
Forget flooding, torrential rain and weather warnings, it’s 40 years since the warmest summer in 250 years.
The legendary long hot summer of 1976 saw an unprecedented drought and heatwave engulf the British Isles.
Water supplies were short, reservoirs dried up, parks were parched, families were encouraged to share a bath and emergency measures were drafted by the government of the day.
With only a handful of places experiencing more than half their average summer rainfall, the Labour administration even considered shipping in water supplies from Norway.
In Kent, the River Medway reached a record low but it was not quite as bad as the rivers Don, Sheaf, Shire Brook and Meers Brook (all in Sheffield) which ran completely dry.
As did the city’s Frecheville Pond and Carterhall Pond, with the latter permanently dry until 2007 when floods hit.
At points temperatures exceeded 35°C, with 32.2°C recorded somewhere in the country for 15 consecutive days from June 23 to July 7.
Kent managed to avoid much of the emergency measures introduced in other parts of the country due to an unusually large number of underground reservoirs.
Those measures, passed in Jim Callaghan’s Drought Act, could have seen rationing and industry restrictions introduced.
Instead emergency standpipes were brought in, hosepipes were banned and all pumping from the river was stopped.
Parched fields and an ever-present risk of grass fires told only part of a horror story for the county’s farmers, who experienced the worst conditions since the early 1920s with many suffering devastating financial losses.
George Dowse, divisional agriculture officer for Kent at the time, warned the Evening Post on August 25: “The financial loss for farmers is going to be considerable and agriculture will take a long time to recover.”
Dairy farmers in Cranbrook who were still using churns had a hard time, with 500 gallons of milk rejected in one day.
Nationally £500million of crops were destroyed and food prices soared by 12%.
Despite the scorching temperatures and water shortage those at the helm of one well-loved Kent industry remained in high spirits.
Brewery Shepherd Neame, of Faversham, reported sales were up by 8% on the previous year and were at their highest since the war.
Company secretary Stuart Neame reported while ale was proving popular the company’s biggest sellers were cooled beer and lager.
He added it had not been troubled by the weather as it had its own well, which was still plentiful.
The National Water Council made repeat appeals to people to save and recycle water, with one advert explaining jobs are more important than flower beds.
Meanwhile, in addition to appointing a Minister for Drought, James Callaghan’s Labour government actually drafted emergency plans to bring water by tanker from Norway.
Towards the end of August Lord Denis Howell was appointed Minister for Drought and warned of water rationing until December.
A week later severe thunderstorms brought widespread flooding to the country and he became known as the Minister for Floods.
That brought to an end the history- making summer, which is still used as a benchmark today.
Do you remember the drought of 1976 and do you have any photographs of that sweltering summer? If so please write to Kentish Express, 34-36 North Street, Ashford TN24 8JR or email kentishexpress@ thekmgroup.co.uk
Residents of Tavistock, Devon, fill buckets from a water standpipe in the street and right; an advert from the Kentish Gazette in July 1976
The River Thames during the drought
Pages from the Evening Post about the 1976 drought