1976 drought UK: who was minister for drought Denis Howell, how long did drought last - restrictions explained

During the 197drought the government encouraged people to ‘Save Water, Bath with a Friend’

The UK has declared a drought in parts of southern, eastern and central England.

It comes after a series of heatwaves this summer that saw record breaking temperatures of 41C.

Water companies in some regions have already imposed hose pipe bans, with further restrictions expected after the drought was announced.

The prolonged heat has drawn parrallels with the 1976 drought, which saw communities being encouraged to “Save Water, Bath with a Friend” in a bid to save water.

The situation got so bad that the government appointed Denis Howell as the Minister for Drought.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 1976 drought and who Denis Howell was.


Denis Howell was appointed the Minister for Drought in 1976 (Pic: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

Who was Denis Howell?

Denis Howell was a Labour MP who was elected to represent Birmingham Small Heath.

The son of a gasfitter and storekeeper, he joined the Labour party in 1942, slowly working his way up the political ranks.

He is most well known for being appointed the Minister for Drought during the 1976 heatwave.

Before taking on this position, Howell had previously worked as the Minister for Sport and Minister for Housing.


He was elected as a peer in 1992, earning himself the title Baron Howell.

Howell died in 1998 at 74-years-old after suffering a heart attack whilst attending a charity fund-raiser.

When was he appointed the Minister for Drought?

Howell was appointed Minister for Drought in the final week of August 1976.

Just seven days after taking up his position the UK was hit by heavy rainfall which caused widespread flooding.

This led him to be given the nickname the “Minister for Rain”.


Denis Howel, Minister for Drought in the operations room at his office in London (Pic: Getty Images)

How long did the 1976 drought last?

The drought of 1976 was caused by prolonged dry weather that had begun the previous summer in 1975.

The warm summer weather carried over into autumn and winter, with the UK experiencing the driest 11 months on record.

By winter 1975, reservoirs in England and Wales were at half capacity and when predicted rain in Spring 1976 didn’t materialise, things went from bad to worse.

The 1976 heatwave, which lasted for 15 days, caused some areas of the UK to go without rain for a staggering 45 days.


It caused widespread fires in southern England and the price of food rose rapidly as crops were damaged from the heat.

In response to the growing crisis, the government passed the Drought Act and appointed Denis Howell MP as the Minister for Drought.

It all ended rather suddenly in September 1976, when heavy rain caused widespread flooding.

A public information notice warning about the drought in the Bridport area of Dorset (Pic: Getty Images)

How many droughts have there been?

The UK has been hit with many droughts throughout the past century.


Droughts have been recored back to the 1880s, with the earliest notable drought in the 20th century hitting from 1920-1921.

The most recent droughts to hit the UK include: 2004-2006 and 2010-2012.

The UK has recently declared drought in regions of England, with water companies expected to bring in restrictions.

The UK has been seeing more and more droughts in the past few decades (Pic: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

What restrictions were put in place during 1976 drought?

The government brought in restrictions to help save water in the hardest hit areas.


Water rationing measures were introduced which saw the main water supply in these areas being switched off.

Instead standpipes, a type of communal water tap, were installed for residents, so they could ration how much water they used.

This meant that to access water for drinking, washing, cooking or bathing residents would have to queue at the standpipe and could only take a certain amount.

There were many public awareness campaigns to encourage people to save water.

In London residents were told to “Save Water, Bath with a Friend”.