A FEW weeks ago I was giving a talk in Orpington and asked my audience to name the coldest winter of the 20th century.

Immediately a lady called out 1947 and suddenly there was a buzz of excitement as the audience recalled the fun — and hardships — they had suffered during sub-zero temperatures and snow which piled into drifts of almost 15 feet.

But the coldest winter of the 20th century was actually in 1963.

It started on Boxing Day 1962 and lasted through to early March, with record low temperatures at night, regular snowfalls and thick ice on the Thames which, upstream, stretched from bank to bank.

By early January the scene was chaotic, as another blizzard had released tons of snow and, driven by a severe gale, huge drifts had formed in fields and country lanes.

North and west Kent was virtually at a standstill and people in Orpington, Bromley, Beckenham and other metropolitan towns were in a strange, muffled world.

Brave motorists saw their vehicles slither on the snow-packed roads, while shoppers dragged toboggans laden with essential supplies.

By the end of January scenes across the Kentish coasts indicated this was no ordinary cold spell.

At Herne Bay and Whitstable, the frozen waters stretched for 2.5 miles out to sea and tugs battled against ice in the Medway and Thames.

In some villages there was snow cover on 65 successive days beating the previous record of 55 days in 1947.

In the third week of February it snowed again but this was to be the last.

By early March the snow was thinning, gently releasing several weeks of stored water and new perils — such as fog, floods and burst pipes.