Frostquake by Juliet Nicolson review – Britain's frozen winter of 1962

The Beatles, the pill, the Profumo affair ... how British morals thawed as the snowdrifts got higher

On Boxing Day 1962 it began to snow and didn’t stop for the next 10 weeks. In effect, Britain had entered its own little ice age. There were drifts 23ft high on the Kent-Sussex border, while Stonehenge was buried so deeply that it was almost invisible when viewed from the sky. Icebergs entered the River Medway and, inland, icicles hung from the trees. The upper middle classes dug out their skis, while everyone else experimented with bits of corrugated iron strapped to their feet. A milkman died at the wheel of his float in Essex while indoor laundry froze before it could dry, so that next week’s vests and pants stood rigidly to attention before the kitchen fire. Someone had calculated that the last time it had been this cold was 1814, the year before Napoleon met his Waterloo.

Meanwhile eight-year-old Juliet Nicolson divides her time between the King’s Road, where she lives with her unhappy parents, and Sissinghurst, the Kentish stately home recently bequeathed by her grandmother Vita Sackville-West. Vita’s widower, Harold Nicolson, haunts the beautiful old place in his own cloud of freezing damp, alternately sobbing aloud and snubbing his grandchildren. Back in Chelsea there is the excitement of having to queue at the standpipe for water, since all the indoor pipes have burst.

Continue reading...


All in My Head by Jessica Morris review – an attempt to make the incurable treatable

Faced with a devastating diagnosis, Morris responds by doing all she can to improve the odds of surv...

Read More >

The Siege of Loyalty House by Jessie Childs review – the English civil war in all its fog and mess

The story of the clergymen, soldiers, architects, actors and apothecaries forced to rub shoulders du...

Read More >

Adventurer by Leo Damrosch review – a post-MeToo biography of Casanova

The self-deceptions of a dangerous groomer unravel in a portrait that reassesses his life and writin...

Read More >

House Arrest: Pandemic Diaries by Alan Bennett review – typical Bennett on atypical times

The octogenarian playwright documents the baffling absurdities of lockdown with his usual flair It i...

Read More >

Portable Magic by Emma Smith review – a love letter to reading

From ancient China to Marilyn Monroe – this fascinating history celebrates the joy of ‘bookhood’O...

Read More >

Critical Revolutionaries by Terry Eagleton review – five critics who changed the way we read

How modern literary criticism came to be – with a little help from TS Eliot, FR Leavis, Raymond Wil...

Read More >