Forecasters predicted this winter would be a cold one, but it is unlikely to match the big freeze of 1962, write Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD

Time alone will tell if 2006 will be remembered as a year with a severe winter. One thing is certain: we've seen it all before.

January 1962, for example, started with a very severe snowstorm on New Year's Day.

Many people had to cancel their new year parties and it proved to be the start of the coldest winter for 30 years. In Boreham Wood, for example, a temperature of -18C was recorded and two to three feet of snow fell.

The following day it was back to work for most people supposedly. The roads were impassable and the snow was too deep for people to dig out their cars. Even walking was difficult. The thaw did not arrive until mid-March.

The new Routemaster buses (which have just been retired) with their semi-automatic gearboxes found Barnet Hill a particular problem and at least one was abandoned with a burnt-out clutch. Coal sacks from a nearby coal yard were used under their wheels to stop them slipping back.

Coal was the main method of heating the home and many difficulties were caused by the coal delivery lorries and the horse-drawn coal carts being unable to move.

Northern Line trains from High Barnet were reduced because points froze almost as soon as they were thawed out.

Station staff tried to limit the number of passengers boarding the trains at High Barnet, but even so, trains arriving at Woodside Park two stops away were so crowded that it was impossible to board. Several trains had their wheels frozen to the rails.

The steam trains running through Hadley Wood and New Southgate continued to operate but were running between 30 and 60 minutes late. Elstree Station car park was deserted.

Milk delivery was a particular problem. In those days it was delivered daily by a milkman some of them still using a horse and milkfloat. Having started before dawn, many milkmen were still at work at 6.30pm.

The A1 & Dollis Dairy at Whetstone imposed a quota system because the farms supplying it could not get their milk to the depots.

One enterprising farmer delivered his milk by tractor but this could not overcome the major problem, which was the shortage of milk bottles, many of which were buried in the snow.

Local councils had gritting lorries out but, without traffic to churn up the salt, most roads remained impassable and were covered again when more snow fell. Finchley Council had 30 men at work before 8am on the New Year's Day when the snow fell.

In three days they used 80 tons of salt and 30 tons of sand on the main roads. East Barnet Council used 20 and 60 tons respectively. Gritting led to another major problem.

A number of dustmen had been called off refuse collecting to do gritting duties and even those who remained could not cross the pavements to shift the dustbins. Hardware stores sold thousands of extra gallons of paraffin oil, then a popular fuel for heating in houses where central heating was little more than a dream. New Barnet Gasworks extended their opening hours so customers could collect coke themselves many using barrows and old prams.