The summer of 1976 has gone down in British folklore as the heatwave to end all heatwaves. It is impossible to have a conversation about the British summertime without the summer of ’76 coming up.
So why is this? Is its reputation justified? We thought we would look back and examine the reality.
Luckily our Springchicken audience supplied us with over 77,000 memories of the Summer on our Facebook page. So, this could be the most well-informed study ever into what unfolded that year and what we experienced as a nation.
Here’s a great memory to get us going,
Hot, hot, hot sunny days, smock tops, Cheesecloth, Platforms, Levi jeans, desert boots, The Eagles, Status Quo, Bellamy Brothers, Hot Chocolate, Rubettes, Bay City Rollers and Mott the Hoople. Best days of my life!
The Summer of ’76 – Let’s separate the fact from the fiction.
Back in June 1976 began the ‘summer to end all summers’. It seems that the facts support the anecdotal evidence that our Springchicken’s have provided. It seems that the period 1975-1976 had set the stage as it was the driest on record since the great drought of 1749-1750.
The period between September 1975 and Augusts’76 was the driest since records began.
The records show that between 22nd June and 16th July temperatures reached a sweltering 80 degrees Fahrenheit (old school) or 27 degrees Celsius.
Whilst this meteorological milestone is amazing, the fact that for 15 consecutive days between 23rd June and 7th July, temperatures in excess of 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32degrees Celsius) were recorded really does put this into perspective.
The extreme heat was to spark forest fires and drought up and down the country.
The hottest day of summer spiked on the 3rd July at 96.6 degrees Fahrenheit (35.9 degrees Celsius) in Cheltenham according to the Met Office.
Those are the facts now here's the fiction.
Save water, bath with a friend!
This particularly un-British slogan was handed out by the British government.
The government were forced into acting to save the country from Armageddon! The 1976 Droughts Act was passed in response to the persistence of droughts that caused crops and food prices alike, costing an estimated £500 million.
Whilst most people treated the Droughts Act as a joke, it did have some far-reaching powers. On the 6th of August 1976 the Act enabled not only the annual hosepipe bans common in hot weather, it also allowed the switching off of domestic and corporate supplies, an emergency power never before enacted by the British government.
Water supplies directly impacted by the extreme weather included East Midlands, East Anglia, South Yorks and Devon. It was common in these areas to see people queuing at standpipes to secure water supplies for their household.
If the high temperatures continued for jus ta few more weeks it is thought the more severe restrictions would have been implemented in the southwest of England too.
The Minister of Drought, Denis Howell was appointed (a short-lived position in the UK). He was to suggest revolutionary new ways in which people could save water. One such suggestion was putting a brick in your toilet cistern to reduce the amount of water flushed.
However, the one that grabbed the imagination most was of course ‘Save Water, bath with a friend’ the very suggestion raised temperatures even more so across the land, after all we were still British!
The Plague of Ladybirds
As much as this sounds like a low budget B-movie from the 1960s, it really did happen. The increase in the population of greenfly, a popular food for the domestic lady bird had in turn caused a spike in the ladybird population.
One Springchicken has a particularly vivid memory,
We were on holiday in Whitby when they came never seen anything like it, the cottage windows were blacked out, the 199 steps were covered, the hotel walls, the paddling pool and every road had a thick 'carpet like cover over them 'as you walked you were crunching them under foot.
The children were upset because they loved the little lady birds. They had apparently followed the greenfly invasion to feed, it was alarming, they were landing on you and you had to get indoors quickly. Then they flew off en masse and left a huge clear up for the council. It was a one off, never seen again, thank goodness!
It seems for many the experience of getting their ice cream attacked by a swarm of ladybirds or in some instances being physically attacked was to stay in their memory for decades.
Entomologists thought that whilst the human attacks were rare the extreme temperatures possibly led to ladybirds seeking rehydration on human sweat!
It seems that summer romances were also on the rise that year. Many of the Springchickens remember meeting a partner during that long hot summer of ’76.
Such a wonderful summer - I was 16-going-on-17 - fell in love with a gorgeous boy who became my husband 3 years later ... long hot days and long warm evenings ... bliss!!
For some it seems the power of love was enough to even make them forget about the soaring price of a sack of spuds!
Drought, until the weather broke in late August. Water and potato shortages, with a previously unheard of price of 12p for a lb of the latter. On a personal level, I was young and very much in love.
But it wasn’t all sweet hearts and romance.
There were thousands of Springchickens giving birth around this time and all was not sweetness and light,
I was pregnant with my daughter (she was born in Sept. ‘76) …my god was it an effort, 2 buses back and forth to the hospital every week! Soooo hot and uncomfortable!
My beautiful daughter, born in September and it was a very hot summer to be pregnant but well worth it x
What else was hot in 1976?
Our Springchicken’s are keen to tell us what else was trending back in 1976.
It seems the hottest tickets in town were the Rolling stones at Knebworth backed by 10CC and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Were you one of the 200,000 that made the gig?
Or David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, was playing Wembley and not to be missed.
The newest sweets on the block were The Turkish Delight – full of Easter Promise or every Dentist’s kryptonite, The Texan Bar!
Every kid and quite a few adults wanted to get their hands on the big orange bouncy beast, the Space Hopper, probably responsible for a substantial number of A&E visits in the summer of ’76.
One British engineering classic ends as the final Hillman Imp rolls of f the production line. However, another classic takes to the air as the Concorde launches supersonic transatlantic air travel.
Bjorn Borg wins Wimbledon for the first time and minnows Southampton beat giants Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
And lastly apparently according to Neil Kinnock, ‘some men even worse shorts in Wales!’
Then came the rain!
As sure as night follows day.
You can guarantee that rain is always on its way. However back in ’76 it was a welcomed sight as the first rains came and the uncharacteristic heat began to relent. We welcomed the wettest September since the WWII with open arms.
Who knew we would be talking about those 15 consecutive days for the next 5 decades?
It seems that there were darker times that people still don’t like to talk about, we can confirm tarmac was indeed melting but the more chilling rumours that pubs ran out of lager are still uncorroborated.
The Summer of '76 - What are your most enduring memories?
The relentless heat?
The hosepipe ban?
or the plagues of ladybirds?
Let us know in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.
Header Image by PxHere
Ladybirds Photo by form PxHere