When Lancashire enjoyed a White Christmas

Local historian Keith Johnson recalls a Christmas when Lancashire was under crisp snow

By Mike Hill
Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 3:51 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd December 2020, 3:58 pm

Perhaps it was Irving Berlin’s song ‘Dreaming Of A White Christmas’ released by Bing Crosby in 1942 or the writings of Charles Dickens and recollections of snow covered cobbles that had later generation yearning for a white Christmas. Nonetheless, such an occurrence in Preston is a rarity, although we annually continue to live in hope.

Back in 1931 a reporter of the Lancashire Daily Post had consulted with Archdeacon Phipps John Hornby, a former Vicar of St Michael’s on Wyre, and a keeper of weather records, who revealed that a snow covered landscape at Christmas was quite unusual. Just eight years in the previous 50 years could be placed in that category namely 1884, 1890, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1918, 1925 and 1927.

The reporter was fortunate to have his white Christmas wish come true in 1935 and 1938 and there has been the odd snowy Christmas in recent times such as 2009 when many a snowman was built on Christmas Eve, and especially 2010 when the whole of Lancashire looked like a winter wonderland, although it is usually January when the snowdrops start falling.

Father Christmas makes his way through the snow in Hutton in 2010

One White Christmas which still lingers in the memory of older folk was Christmas 1956. That year Christmas Day began with howling southeasterly winds which were the prelude to the coming snow. On Christmas night the snow arrived and driven by the gales it was soon a blizzard, its depth ranging from a light covering to drifts several feet deep.

There had been good news for lovers of a plump turkey feast with a glut of turkeys bred. The best quality home bred turkeys were selling for 4s a pound with one Preston butcher taking more than 1,000 orders. Local turkey breeder Major Kenworthy of School Lane, Longton though was far from happy as he struggled to make a profit. With Christmas Day on a Saturday the week before had seen the jangle of cash tills as shopkeepers reported a record spree.

Sylvia Lovat Corbridge, the popular LEP columnist, had been canvassing opinions and concluded that the ladies would like expensive perfumes, leather handbags, silk stockings, wrist watches or even a gift voucher for the January sales. While the man about the house would be content with ties, shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, tobacco or a bottle of spirits.

Overall the well established stores such as the Co-op, Owen Owen, Woolworths, Milletts, Merigolds, Mears, BHS and Mark & Spencer had a prosperous time. The churches certainly built up to Christmas with the usual enthusiasm and many a church choir was out singing on Christmas Eve.

Picking sprouts at Hesketh Bank for Christmas 2010

The popularity of midnight services was shown once again,with the Vicar of Preston, Canon Gordon Fellows conducting a ‘Communion and Carols’ service at the Preston Parish Church (nowadays the Minster) and the Roman Catholic congregations flocking to ‘ Midnight Mass’ on Christmas Eve at St Ignatius, St Walburge’s, St Augustine’s and St Gregory’s.

By tradition the busiest man in town over the Christmas period, except for Santa Claus who had spent everyday in his grotto at Owen Owen, was the Mayor of Preston. Alderman Edgar Hewitt and his wife the Mayoress went simply everywhere, they listened to carols and handed out presents at Preston Royal Infirmary and Sharoe Green Hospital; they attended a Christmas concert at Whittingham Hospital; made a Christmas morning visit to the Chestnuts Sanatorium.

More carol singers greeted them at the Willows Continuation Hospital and the Deepdale Isolation Hospital; they assisted in giving out treats to the children in the Shepherd Street Mission and were on hand at St Joseph’s Mount Street Hospital as a turkey laden Christmas dinner was served.

It seems the only institution that missed out on his company was Preston Gaol, but the prisoners did have carol singers calling and a roast beef dinner to follow. Being Christmas it was inevitable that a child was born and the first to arrive in Preston on Christmas Day was Gary Gaynor who was delivered at Sharoe Green Hospital to the delight of his Penwortham parents.

Sledging in Astley Park, Chorley, in 2010

Although the places of entertainment were closed on Christmas Day there was plenty of entertainment over the holiday period. In true pantomime tradition it was ‘Goldilocks And The Three Bears’ at the Royal Hippodrome on Friargate with two performances daily.

On Christmas Day the North End visited Burnley where more than 23,000 spectators had braved the chilly weather to see the North End earn a 2-2 draw with two goals from Tommy Thompson and some fine saves from goalkeeper Fred Else. The return clash on Boxing Day was played on a Deepdale pitch covered with a layer of crisp, powdery snow that made playing conditions very tricky.

It looked like a scoreless draw would be played out until a Les Dagger shot was deflected past the Burnley goalkeeper by one of his defenders to the delight of most of the 19,265 crowd who braved the weather. For rugby union enthusiasts there was disappointment when Preston Grasshoppers traditional clash with Fylde became a victim of the snowy weather on Boxing Day.

There was snow on higher ground at Christmas 2014, as this photo from Great Hill above White Coppice shows Photo: Bernard Noblett
Garstang Arts Centre at Christmas 2009