Pontypool’s great snow of 1947

I live in a split-level house so that my lounge is on the top floor. Three-quarters of one wall consists of a huge window with a sliding door leading out onto a roof garden. I can look straight across at the low hills of Caerleon; to the west is Twm Barllwm mountain and to the east the tree-clad hills of Wentwood. For over 40 years I’ve seen this vista change through the year as we go through the seasons.

As I write now I can see the whole scene blanketed in snow. It’s only about three inches deep here, but I imagine in Pontypool – being 600 feet higher than Newport – the snow is considerably deeper.

My memory returns to the great snow of 1947 which was my last year living in Pontypool. What snow we had then! We woke up one Sunday morning to find that about 12 inches of snow had fallen overnight. As it was a Sunday, about 12 or so young men and boys, armed with spades and shovels, decided to dig our way down to the main road. The snow was only just a little below the tops of our wellingtons. We only cleared a path a couple of yards wide, but it would have enabled anyone on foot to walk down to the main road fairly easily.  I didn’t know at that time that our efforts were to be recorded in “timeless verse” and we would receive the accolade of “heroes”. (See below)

After many hours of hard toil we returned home for our very welcome hot Sunday dinner and took it easy indoors for the rest of the day; but when we awoke the following morning a new fall of snow had filled in our pathway. As the snow now was much higher than wellington boots, our one consolation was that, by wearing wellingtons we could at least get down to the main road.

I was talking about this matter to my friend, Eric Smith, a few weeks ago, (Sadly after the funeral of his much loved wife, Betty.) and he recalled having to dig a way out at Wern Terrace, only to find it filled in again the following morning. He also remembered that, because of the extreme cold, birds were found, in Pontypool Park, dead and encased in ice.

There were all sorts of accounts passed on by word of mouth about the huge snow drifts that were about. I remember one person telling me that when he was up the Varteg he saw some boys sliding down a roof top and straight on to a snow drift which had reached the eaves of the house. From 2nd February until 22nd of that month it snowed every day. It was not until the middle of March that the very cold weather eased and we eagerly looked forward to the approaching spring.

The war had only ended just two years before so we were used to hardships and shortages; rationing was still in force anyway; in fact it lasted for 14 years! The snow stayed for many weeks and deliveries by tradesmen were impossible. I remember having to walk over to Harry Brown’s bakery in High Street to get a loaf of bread. As it was obvious that, if supplies of food and other essential commodities were to get through, the roads would have to be cleared, the wartime spirit returned and volunteers came forward in large numbers to do the job.

Naturally the whole event was recorded in the Free Press, and a local poet, using the pseudonym “Chware Teg” of Varteg, wrote a poem called “A Ballad of the North Ward“. In the style of Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” he writes:

Have you ever been at Varteg with the needle three below,

Or on Garn when drifts are piling ten feet high?

Have you ever drawn your belt in with the kids a-starving slow

And “No Nuthin'” in addition to “No Beer”?


Have you seen the way a blank, with a single trodden path

Just six feet up above the road that was,

With Pontypool and Griff just five miles down the line,

With half a world between us till it thaws?


There’s an epic of the South Ward, blazoned in the weekly “Press”;

How the heroes of Wainfelin dug a way.

How the men of Pontypool and the warriors of Griff,

Opened up their bit of highway – without pay.


But the men of Garn had stirred, and the Varteg lads had heard,

And the road to Abersychan lay ahead.

They were seven or eight score strong, and I won’t be in the wrong

When I say that at the end of it was BREAD.


Two whole days they toiled and sang, Ira Tucker in the “van”,

Linking up with Rowley Hanson by the Church.

Varteg Co-op to “Bob-a-day”, on the ribbon wound its way,

And the men from Abersychan? . . . Well, just search!


There’s a saga of the North Ward, etched in piles of virgin snow,

Of the volunteer road men, strong and true.

Of the lads who moved that load from Garn to Foundry Road,

And let the bread and rations hurry through.


You have heard of British Fairplay, and the North Ward men don’t boast,

And they did their job without a coin, – or moan.

But the Press should blare it forth as “The Ballad of the North”

Or “How Garn and Varteg more than held their own.”

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One Response to “Pontypool’s great snow of 1947”

  1. Reminiscences of Old Pontypool Says:

    […] Regular visitors to this blog might remember an early posting:  https://oldpontypool.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/pontypools-great-snow-of-1947/ […]

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