In pictures: How Britain sweltered in record-breaking 1976 heatwave

·Freelance news writer, Yahoo UK
·3 min read

Watch: Met Office issues first ever red warning for extreme heat

The Met Office today issued its first ever “red” warning for extreme heat.

The warning applies to Monday and Tuesday, with swathes of the UK expected to face temperatures in the high 30s. However, the Met Office added there is a 50% chance the mercury could reach 40C in parts of the country, which would smash the 38.7C record set in Cambridge in 2019.

And spokesman Grahame Madge said: “This is potentially a very serious situation.”

For people of a certain age, today's warning will bring back memories of the notorious 1976 heatwave.

To this day, the sheer and consistent heat between June and August of that year remains a benchmark by which UK heatwaves are judged.

Three girls sunbathing in Birmingham during the summer heatwave of 1976. 28th June 1976. (Photo by Birmingham Post and Mail Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Sunbathers in Birmingham in June 1976. (Getty Images)
Wimbledon Tennis Championships, Thursday 24th June 1976. two women enjoy a beer as they cool down during heatwave. (Photo by Monte Fresco & Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Two women enjoying a beer at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships during the heatwave in June 1976. (Getty Images)

It was the summer when temperatures exceeded 32C somewhere in the UK on 15 consecutive days, starting on 23 June. It was also the sunniest summer on record, with 669 hours of sunshine.

The heatwave saw a then-record temperature of 35.9C set in Cheltenham on 3 July, which remains one of the hottest days on record. Meanwhile, the heatwave saw a record June temperature - 35.6C in Southampton - which remains to this day.

Londoners relaxing on a summer day near The Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, UK, 25th June 1976. The British Isles experienced a heatwave from 23 June – 27 August 1976. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Londoners at The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, central London, in June 1976. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Holidaymakers enjoying themselves at Eastbourne, East Sussex, during the summer of 1976, 19th June 1976. (Photo by Geoffrey Day/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Holidaymakers, including some wearing trousers, in Eastbourne, East Sussex, during the summer heatwave of 1976. (Getty Images)

Looking back on that summer, Richard Gibbs told The Telegraph during the 2018 heatwave: “Every summer from when I was very young, we used to go on holiday to Cornwall. Even though it’s 42 years ago, I very much remember the fact that every day it was clear blue sky and quite hot," he said with slight understatement.

Londoner Fiona Stein added: “Very few places had air conditioning, so those that did actually advertised it as something that might attract people in. People were flocking to the cinema, to any restaurant that had air conditioning.”

Would-be bathers Maureen, aged 10, and six-year-old Kathleen Armstrong, found themselves out of their depth when they arrived at Pleasurelad Park, Upperby, Carlisle, children's pool for a cooling dip. Water shortage regulations which came into force in Cumbria this week meant the pool could not be topped up. Using hose pipes in gardens and for car washing has also been banned, 19th August 1976. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Maureen and Kathleen Armstrong, aged 10 and six, in an empty swimming pool in Carlisle in August 1976. Water shortage regulations meant the pool could not be topped up. (Getty Images)
The River Thames, during the drought.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
The River Thames during the drought in the 1976 heatwave. (Getty Images)

The summer is also remembered for severe drought, which was characterised by stand pipes in the street and rationing. There was even the appointment of a government minister for drought.

Archive footage of an ITV news report shows a reporter telling the camera at a Welsh reservoir: "Where I'm standing now, at this time of year, I should be well underwater. But this reservoir, like others in the area, is just a puddle."

Cracked earth at Lands End pool, June 1976. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Cracked earth at Lands End pool in June 1976. (Getty Images)
The temperatures rose again today in London and pavements became hotter and hotter. A man relaxes in the sunshine in Trafalgar Square, 24th June 1976. (Photo by Freddie Reed/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Men relaxing in the sunshine in Trafalgar Square, central London, in June 1976. (Getty Images)

Parts of the South West went an astonishing 45 days without any rain. However, the UK's drought wasn't caused by the 1976 heatwave alone. As the Met Office pointed out in 2018, the drought "came after a previous sunny summer of ’75 and also a very dry 12-month period".

Nonetheless, the 1976 heatwave still played a major part in the most significant period of drought - May 1975 to August 1976 - since Met Office records began.

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