Long hot sum­mer of 1976

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Some Like It Hot - By Ed McCon­nell and Julie Cler­get

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

PA Ar­chive Pic­ture: PA/

Res­i­dents of Tav­i­s­tock, Devon, fill buck­ets from a water stand­pipe in the street and right; an ad­vert from the Ken­tish Gazette in July 1976

Pic­ture: PA/PA Ar­chive

The River Thames dur­ing the drought

Pages from the Evening Post about the 1976 drought

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