Solar activity during the current sunspot minimum has fallen to levels unknown since the start of the 20th century. The Maunder minimum (about 1650-1700) was a prolonged episode of low solar activity which coincided with more severe winters in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. Motivated by recent relatively cold winters in the UK, we investigate the possible connection with solar activity. We identify regionally anomalous cold winters by detrending the Central England temperature (CET) record using reconstructions of the northern hemisphere mean temperature. We show that cold winter excursions from the hemispheric trend occur more commonly in the UK during low solar activity, consistent with the solar influence on the occurrence of persistent blocking events in the eastern Atlantic. We stress that this is a regional and seasonal effect relating to European winters and not a global effect. Average solar activity has declined rapidly since 1985 and cosmogenic isotopes suggest an 8% chance of a return to Maunder minimum conditions within the next 50 years (Lockwood 2010 Proc. R. Soc. A 466 303-29): the results presented here indicate that, despite hemispheric warming, the UK and Europe could experience more cold winters than during recent decades.