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With July's heatwave expected to peak on Tuesday we take a look back at the unforgettable summer of 1976



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England is in the grip of a blistering heatwave that might see all previous records melt away by Tuesday.

But how does this week's prolonged hot weather compare to the record-breaking summer of 1976?

Crowds on Margate Beach in Kent in 1976
Crowds on Margate Beach in Kent in 1976

It remains one of the most prolonged hot spells in living memory.

The 1976 heatwave spanned 15 days in June and July and became one of the country's driest summers on record.

Staines Reservoirs in Middlesex, during the drought of 1976. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
Staines Reservoirs in Middlesex, during the drought of 1976. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
The River Thames, during the heatwave and subsequent drought of 1976. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
The River Thames, during the heatwave and subsequent drought of 1976. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.

Crops failed, water supplies were short, reservoirs all but disappeared and emergency measures had to be introduced by the government as a lengthy hot summer and a number of drier than average winters plunged the UK into a crisis.

Temperatures in 1976 were at their peak between June 23 and July 7.

Children enjoy an activity holiday in August 1976 in King's Lynn, Norfolk.
Children enjoy an activity holiday in August 1976 in King's Lynn, Norfolk.
A plea to save water was the theme of this carnival float in Snettisham, Norfolk in early August, 1976
A plea to save water was the theme of this carnival float in Snettisham, Norfolk in early August, 1976

It was a two-week long hot spell - or just over - during the course of which at least somewhere in England on each of those 15 days recorded a temperature of more than 32.2C.

Families flocked to beaches around England's coastline, carnivals and children's sports days took place under red-hot sunshine and lidos and outdoor pools were packed with people attempting to cool off and find some respite from the unrelenting sunshine.

Hunstanton Boat takes people on a tour of the Norfolk coastline
Hunstanton Boat takes people on a tour of the Norfolk coastline
People headed for the beaches to cool off including to Thanet's coastline in Kent
People headed for the beaches to cool off including to Thanet's coastline in Kent
The Donkey Derby takes place in 1976 in one Norfolk town
The Donkey Derby takes place in 1976 in one Norfolk town
Anyone for a day at the races in Folkestone?
Anyone for a day at the races in Folkestone?
The Carnival Court for Folkestone's procession in 1976
The Carnival Court for Folkestone's procession in 1976
Children pictured in Norfolk in July 1976 shortly after the UK experienced 15 consecutive days of high temperatures
Children pictured in Norfolk in July 1976 shortly after the UK experienced 15 consecutive days of high temperatures
Gaywood Park Relay took place in July in King's Lynn despite the scorching summer
Gaywood Park Relay took place in July in King's Lynn despite the scorching summer
Passengers climb aboard a plane in Kent in 1976 during the hottest summer ever recorded
Passengers climb aboard a plane in Kent in 1976 during the hottest summer ever recorded

The hottest day of that year proved to be July 3 when the mercury crept to 35.9C in Cheltenham - a record since surpassed by hotter temperatures including most recently the 38.5C recorded in Faversham, Kent in August 2003.

Cambridge then took the crown with 38.7C on July 25, 2019. This remains the hottest day on record to date.

While the Environment Agency and water companies are currently appealing for us to use water wisely as they keep a close watch over river levels and reserves, back in 1976 things were so bad the Labour administration considered shipping in supplies from abroad when rivers reached a record low.

Firemen damp down fires near a caravan site and St Leonards Hospital after drought stricken Britain's worst forest fire raged out of control in the New Forest. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
Firemen damp down fires near a caravan site and St Leonards Hospital after drought stricken Britain's worst forest fire raged out of control in the New Forest. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
With fishing and other water activities out the question, teenagers in Epping Forest dig for old bottles in August 1976. Picture: PA/PA Archive.
With fishing and other water activities out the question, teenagers in Epping Forest dig for old bottles in August 1976. Picture: PA/PA Archive.

Hosepipe bans were put in place, emergency communal standpipes were introduced as taps ran dry and all pumping from rivers had to be stopped.

And for those who have chuckled at winter gritters being put on standby in July to deal with tarmac softened by the heat, the roads did indeed melt in '76.

There are anecdotal tales of parked motorbikes falling over in the street as their stands sunk into the road like quick sand - only adding to the woes of council officials attempting to steer the country through a myriad of problems created by the dry weather.

Residents of Peryn Road, Tavistock, Devon fill buckets from a water standpipe in the street during water rationing in September '76. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
Residents of Peryn Road, Tavistock, Devon fill buckets from a water standpipe in the street during water rationing in September '76. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
Newspaper adverts encouraged people to take a shower rather than a bath
Newspaper adverts encouraged people to take a shower rather than a bath
Hosepipe bans were promoted with these newspaper adverts
Hosepipe bans were promoted with these newspaper adverts
A car goes through the car wash at a petrol station in Fulham, despite the hose pipe ban that had been enforced by Thames Valley Water Authority in response to the nationwide drought. Photo credit: Sport and General/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Archive.
A car goes through the car wash at a petrol station in Fulham, despite the hose pipe ban that had been enforced by Thames Valley Water Authority in response to the nationwide drought. Photo credit: Sport and General/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Archive.

Sharing baths became common place, washing up water was forcefully sent down the toilet to avoid flushing and dirty cars, windows, paths and front steps almost became something to be proud of as people joined the war-like effort to save water across the country.

So critical was the situation that avid cricket fans at Lord's even opted to cheer when a few drops of rain halted play for 15 minutes in June.

Caunton cricket club get their season underway during one of the hottest summers ever
Caunton cricket club get their season underway during one of the hottest summers ever
Cricket being played on Meopham Village Green, Kent during the hottest days
Cricket being played on Meopham Village Green, Kent during the hottest days

In 1976, farmers suffered some of the worst conditions they had seen since the 1920s, with many facing devastating financial losses.

George Dowse, divisional agriculture officer for Kent in 1976, warned the Evening Post newspaper on August 25: "The financial loss for farmers is going to be considerable and agriculture will take a long time to recover."

The Evening Post in Kent from August 1976 reporting on the worst drought to hit Britain for an estimated 250 years
The Evening Post in Kent from August 1976 reporting on the worst drought to hit Britain for an estimated 250 years
'Would you use as much as you do if you had to fetch it in a bucket' asks one newspaper advert appealing for people to save water
'Would you use as much as you do if you had to fetch it in a bucket' asks one newspaper advert appealing for people to save water

Nationally £500million of crops were destroyed and food prices soared by 12%, but Brewery Shepherd Neame reported sales were up by 8% on the previous year and were at their highest since the war!

Towards the end of August Lord Denis Howell was appointed Minister for Drought and he warned of water rationing until December - while a special drought bill meant there was the risk of a fine for anyone caught wasting the wet stuff.

Lord Nugent, chairman of the National Water Council with the new Save the Water symbol, commissioned by the National Water Council. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.
Lord Nugent, chairman of the National Water Council with the new Save the Water symbol, commissioned by the National Water Council. Photo credit: PA/PA Archive.

It is believed the Prime Minister at the time James Callaghan even suggested his ministers did a rain dance as things in Number 10 got desperate and ideas ran dry.

However, a week later severe thunderstorms brought widespread flooding to the country, leaving the country rejoicing at the sudden onset of rain and Lord Howell taking on a new role as Minister for Floods.