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Thirty years since January 1987 when heavy snow fell in Kent

Thirty years ago today Kent was covered in half a metre of snow as the worst wintry conditions in two decades hit the county.

The flakes began falling heavily on Sunday, January 11, 1987 and it snowed everyday until January 14, leaving people stranded in their homes, cars buried under blankets of the white stuff and businesses unable to open.

Children listened to the radio on Monday morning to find out if their school was one of 500 across the south east that was closed, hoping they would be free for snowball fights and building snowmen.

Sledding in Rochester
Sledding in Rochester

Homes were without electricity for days, main roads became impassable and train services were cancelled.

Met Office records show some of the heaviest snowfalls were in Sittingbourne and the Isle of Sheppey on January 12 and this, combined with strong winds, led to drifts a staggering 6m deep.

Looking over Borstal village towards Rochester
Looking over Borstal village towards Rochester

Richard Jeferies, a Sheerness artist, said: “I got up at 5.30am to catch my usual morning train to London. As I opened my front door the snow level was at my knees. At the station the snow on the tracks was level with the platform.

"Then later in town I have a vivid memory of walking past the bingo hall, seeing a broken down car, a broken down AA van and a broken down AA tow truck all in a line.”

Halfway Road on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Barry Hollis
Halfway Road on the Isle of Sheppey. Picture: Barry Hollis

Sue Whiting, wife of Swale Borough Councillor Mike, was a midwife at Sheppey Community Hospital, Minster, while pregnant with their first child.

She said: “I woke to find a snow drift higher than my front door and all the cars in the street completely buried. We lived in Queens Road, just a short walk from the hospital, and Mike ploughed through the middle of the road and escorted me to the hospital.

Andrea Everett, now Waite, admires a giant icicle in Rochester
Andrea Everett, now Waite, admires a giant icicle in Rochester

"There I stayed on duty with other local midwives, at the midwifery-led unit, with no doctors, being supplied with food and drink by neighbours and supporting mums in labour.

"It was obviously a little scary for mums in labour, knowing that if emergency care was required it would be a long journey to the ‘mainland’ hospital as the old Kingsferry bridge was pretty much impassable.

Snow in Northfleet. Picture: Denis Llewellyn
Snow in Northfleet. Picture: Denis Llewellyn

"On a couple of occasions the Gurkhas came to our rescue and helped escort mums as needed, but all in all things went smoothly.

“For two weeks, in temperatures of minus 18, community spirit was in abundance. Milkman, Kim, brought milk for the elderly and young families. Food, money and supplies ran low, with air drops at the far end of the island for those who were unable to get to the local shops.”

Snow drifts were several metres high in some areas
Snow drifts were several metres high in some areas

Just across the water from Sheppey, at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, the sea froze over.

Sittingbourne firefighter Mathew Barney recalls seeing a “massive queue” outside AE Barrow and Sons, the bakers in the High Street, as people desperately tried to get hold of bread.

Travel disruption at Maidstone East station
Travel disruption at Maidstone East station

The deepest level snow in the south east was recorded in East Malling where it was 52cm deep – the greatest depth of level snow in the area for at least 40 years.

Mike Brown was living in Shepway, Maidstone, and was unable to get to work in East Peckham for a week.

Having fun in fields near Rochester
Having fun in fields near Rochester

He said: “The snow must have been 6 to 8in deep, maybe more, and the drifts up the back of the house were about 3ft high. I don’t remember seeing any buses running and there was very little traffic on the roads. I didn’t go to work for a week.

"One of my colleagues was very keen and tried to drive to East Peckham from Larkfield but his car got stuck in the snow on Seven Mile Lane and a farmer had to pull it out using his tractor.

Snow reached the Canterbury district as well
Snow reached the Canterbury district as well

“I didn’t leave the house at all. My wife went to the shop in Willington Street but the rest of the time we stayed in and watched TV or played cards.

“The lake at Mote Park froze and there was chaos in Maidstone as people tried to drive into town. Towards the end of the week shops were running out of things because the deliveries couldn’t get through.”

Borstal Street in Borstal village
Borstal Street in Borstal village

Lester Gosbee, Kent weather correspondent, remembers being trapped in what was then Pembury Hospital, near Tunbridge Wells, as west Kent ground to a halt.

He said: “I had to stay in hospital as not even 4x4s could reach Frittenden. They suggested I could walk home but I wasn’t having that.

“I was there for a few days and after a while the hospital began running out of food because it couldn’t get deliveries in.”

Traffic jams on Blue Bell Hill
Traffic jams on Blue Bell Hill

Ray Morris, from Strood, was a field engineer working to restore electricity across the county when he became lost in a blizzard.

The 67-year-old, who has worked for UK Power Networks – Seeboard in 1987 – for 52 years, recalled: “The linesmen managed to get me up the top of Detling Hill in the Land Rover. The snow was almost as high as the windscreen. It was terrible, I’d never known anything like it.

Commuters weren't getting very far at Gillingham station
Commuters weren't getting very far at Gillingham station

“The equipment I needed to reach was within walking distance, but the snow was 4ft deep in places. I started walking but the snow was blowing all around me, my tracks were covered and I became disorientated.

"I was lost for about an hour and a half, which was frightening, but I eventually found my way back by recognising the shape of the trees I noticed when I left the Land Rover.”

Lance Morgan walked from his Rainham home to Chatham to show his face in the office and buy his five-year-old son a birthday present.

Public transport struggled to keep running
Public transport struggled to keep running

He said: “The snow was so deep it covered my car. My son’s birthday party was called off and instead he and his brother made an igloo in our front garden.

"I got him a present from Woolworths as we couldn’t get out to the shops. I can't remember what I bought him but it was pretty much the last thing in the store for kids.

Customers still made it to Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre near Gillingham. Picture: Hempstead Valley
Customers still made it to Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre near Gillingham. Picture: Hempstead Valley

Kim Tomlin's relatives came to stay at her Chatham home for a weekend from Essex and ended up spending the week as they couldn’t get their car off the drive in Scotteswood Avenue.

She said: “Their boss didn’t believe it was so bad. They went around getting supplies for neighbours and I had to walk to work and back down Maidstone Road – it was an ice rink! I had to launch myself from railing to railing and still slipped over several times.

Friends have fun while shovelling snow
Friends have fun while shovelling snow

"I remember someone riding a horse along New Road Avenue, Chatham, as there was pretty much no traffic. The only people who got in were those of us who walked. I remember that good feeling of strangers talking and helping each other.”

The Isle of Grain was cut off for 12 days meaning doctors and midwives could not get to expectant mums.

When village policeman Michael Dale got a call from the maternity unit in Chatham saying Debbie Marsden was about to give birth and it could be breech he commandeered a helicopter owned by The Sun newspaper, which had flown a crew in to report on the snowfall, and the mum was whisked away to hospital where she had her son, John.

Boys on the Isle of Sheppey find a unique way to take a bottle of milk home. Picture: Barry Hollis
Boys on the Isle of Sheppey find a unique way to take a bottle of milk home. Picture: Barry Hollis

Jenny Samper, a retired teacher and Canterbury City Councillor for Chestfield, remembers skiing in the road and being confronted with frozen toilets.

She said: “Herne Bay Junior School was closed for three weeks because the lavatories were frozen – they were outside. One boy came to school when it was closed and we had to get a taxi to take him home.

Reporters John Nurden and John Hammond brave the snow storm to cover the event. Picture: Barry Hollis
Reporters John Nurden and John Hammond brave the snow storm to cover the event. Picture: Barry Hollis

“There were pieces of ice floating on the sea but it wasn’t a complete ice flow like in 1947. My parents had a shop in our stables in Whitstable and people were coming in for potatoes and things but I don’t remember big queues or us running out of food.

“While I was off work I took my skis to Elham and skied down the road. The snow had drifted across so the field was nearly bare and the snow in the road was really deep.”

Snow in Northfleet. Picture: Denis Llewellyn
Snow in Northfleet. Picture: Denis Llewellyn

Ashford historian Steve Salter was just 12 years old in 1987 but remembers it vividly.

He said: “It was pretty surreal to see the familiar locality hidden beneath several feet of snow, which seemed to take weeks before it finally melted.

“It drifted significantly on the A20 outside Ashford. My dad was a traffic sergeant at the time and gave my mum and I a guided tour of those passable routes – an unforgettable winter wonderland!”

The Six Bells pub in Old Perry Street, Northfleet. Picture Denis Llewellyn
The Six Bells pub in Old Perry Street, Northfleet. Picture Denis Llewellyn

Temperatures remained largely below zero throughout the snowy period with some areas dropping to a chilly minus 14 degrees.

The snow only began to thaw properly on January 18.

Later that month, Faversham became one of three places in Britain to have 15 consecutive days without seeing any sunshine, from January 13 to 28, which was a new record.

What are your memories of the snowfall in January 1987? Share them in the comments section below. 


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