From The Vaults

19 December 2022
#FromTheVaults - Snow at Twickenham

This month, we're highlighting some photographs in our collection which show action from a rugby match which was played in very wintry conditions. In 1952, England and Ireland played their Five Nations fixture in a blizzard at Twickenham.

match in action

The match took place on 29th March, but this was not the date when it had been scheduled. The match had been due to take place on 9th February but was postponed following the death of King George VI on 6th February. A period of national mourning followed, with the funeral taking place at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 15th February. Rugby and hockey were postponed during this time, although football matches continued with the singing of the hymn "Abide With Me" before each game.

The rugby match was rescheduled for the end of March. The weather had been warm earlier in the month, but this gave way to a cold north-easterly airflow, bringing with it widespread snowfall on the 29th. Southern England was worst affected by heavy snow, with an average depth of 12 inches in the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills. Gale-force winds caused many roads in the south-east to become blocked by snow drifts. Were it not for the previous postponement of the match and the fact that the Irish team had already made the journey to London, the match probably would have been called off. The FA Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Chelsea, scheduled for the same day, was postponed and horseracing at Kempton Park was cancelled. The University Boat Race went ahead and, despite the appalling conditions, resulted in one of the closest finishes in its history.

chilly spectators

Newspapers reported that the Twickenham grounds staff spent hours clearing the lines of snow, and spectators were advised to bring extra layers of clothing. Despite the challenging conditions, both teams put on a skilful display and the English backs managed to execute several attacking runs.

The only try came halfway through the first half, when an English kick ahead was gathered by Brian Boobbyer near the Irish line. He crossed for a try, which Nim Hall was unable to convert. The score was 3-0 at the final whistle. The Irish team gained admiration for their brave attempts to seize the ball from the hard, snow-covered ground whenever the English team threatened to score from another kick ahead.

Only two international matches at Twickenham have been postponed because of winter weather and the hazardous travelling conditions which ensued - a match against France in 1947 and a match against Scotland in 1987.

groundsmen at work

These days, Twickenham has heating under the pitch to protect the grass from frost, but the heating system cannot melt a layer of snow. The groundsmen still have to use brooms to clear snow when it settles on the pitch, just as they can be seen doing in this photograph taken 70 years ago.

You can learn more about the Twickenham pitch on one of our Stadium Tours.