Peter Holme looks back through The Westmorland Gazette archives to reveal Christmas weather in the 1800s

HOW often do you hear grandmas and granddads saying Christmas weather is not like it used to be? They recall their grandparents telling of the wonderful white Christmases they remembered.

However, their memories were quite selective. Looking through the Gazette archives I found that Christmas weather in the 1800s was not all it was cracked up to be.

(From the Gazette in 1872): “Now we are drawing near to Christmas Day and yet as far from the veritable real old-fashioned enjoyable frosty Christmas of former days as can well be imagined. Wet and wind continue here as everywhere and even the rustic waits have been deterred by the soaking rain and howling winds from making their usual appearance at our doors. We are all hoping for a change, and every morning the barometer is tapped by sundry fingers to see if the long wished-for freezing point is coming.”

( ‘waits’ is another name for young carol singers)

However, it was not all doom and gloom for the ‘traditional’ Christmas weather. (From the Gazette in 1878): “The scene on Windermere at Bowness on Christmas Day reminded one of those graphic accounts given by our grandfathers, to which many of us have listened with intense interest and longing.

"The whole country was white with snow, the mountains looked magnificent in their spotless purity. The lake was frozen over and the Ice King ruled the lake and held all fast in its chilly grip.

"Christmas Day dawned and by eight o’clock a youth of sixteen winters started from Bowness Bay and was the ‘first man to the Nab,’ another quickly followed, then another and in a few hours the whole sheet of ice was a moving mass of living beings.

"Every class of people was represented, rich and poor, big and little, fat and lean, tall and small, male, female, old folks and young folks and little ones of every size; and dogs in abundance. Altogether the scene from Cockshot point to below Storrs Hall on Christmas Day was one unparalleled in the minds of anyone living in the present generation.”

The Christmas of 1894 was almost the opposite. (From the Gazette of 1894): “Attendant upon the Christmas of 1894 there was one circumstance which will keep it in the memory of Westmorland People for some considerable time. That is the alarming storm which passed over Westmorland at the end of last week.

"The first symptoms were exhibited about 11 o’clock when heavy rain fell, accompanied by a strong westerly wind. This gradually increased in force with such violence. Slates were blown off the roofs of houses and other buildings; the smashing of windows was heard during the night in Kendal.

"It was daylight, however, that a better notion was obtained of the extent of the damage. The roads were in a very disorderly state, broken slates were strewn in all directions, tree branches were whirled through the air and pedestrians were surrounded by considerable danger.”

Finally the coldest Christmas in the 1800s appeared to be in 1860. (From the Gazette of December 1860): “So intense has been the cold, and severe the frost, this seasonable Christmas time, that the thermometer was three degrees lower on Christmas Day than any time last winter, severe as it was. Christmas morn broke with the mercury 16 degrees below freezing.” (That was the equivalent of minus 26 degrees Celsius.)