Tag Archives: London heatwaves

The night London slept out in the heatwave

Sleeping in heatwaves is never a great prospect even in an age where fans and air conditioning units are becoming more and more common.

In 1948, however, residents of Kensington and other areas of London were so hot and desperate to escape oven-like houses caused by temperatures well into the 90s that they decamped en masse into the streets and local parks to get some kip.

A report published in the Aberdeen Journal on Friday 30th July describes how folk down south were coping with the heat.

“The metropolis last night was like a large restless household—with all the lights ablaze, doors and windows thrown open, the family fretful, and endless pots of tea brewing far into this morning.

aspro heatwave ad Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 13 August 1947“Perhaps one in ten among the 8,000,000 of us slept after midnight. For the rest, we tossed and turned and saw out this heatwave night, when temperatures were never below 71 degrees, a variety of ways. About midnight I walked past the gaunt old Edwardian mansions in Kensington. With the exception the lights that burned from every window, the scene was reminiscent of the early days of the Blitz.

“Families trekked across the roadway in varying stages of undress to their little bits of ornamental gardens. With them went camp beds, bed linen, umbrellas, “in case,” the children, and the household pets, choose a cool open-air camping spot and feel wonderfully adventurous and spartan in the process.”

“At regular intervals the adolescent members of the squatting colonies were dispatched to the tea and coffee stalls on the corner, and perhaps for the first time in years these traders ran out of stocks. On the Kensington-Chelsea boundary, where life becomes noticeably less inhibited and on occasions less swish, a mixed group of young artists was sleeping on the pavement off Fulham Road.

“Round the next corner, where many theatrical and film stars live, several had slung hammocks on their meagre front lawns – one actually suspended between the bathroom windows of two adjacent houses. Midnight street wear for both sexes was cool if unconventional —silk pyjamas, bath robes, tennis shorts, and one in kilt and bathing costume top who could have gone straight into the arena at Lonach.”

The temperature at Westminster that night never fell below 23.3C (73.9 F), a record for July that still stands.

The column goes on to describe the situation in the House of Commons where the heat had reached “almost Turkish bath intensity”.

“Some members were in natty tussore silk suitings, but this helped little, and it was many of their number who appealed to the Speaker to have more windows opened. The Speaker, panting like the rest of us, said they were all open. If they wanted more cool breezes from the Thames, members would have to smash the windows.”

This hot spell and others features in my Premier League of Heatwaves.

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