Extreme weather – extremely fascinating!

As the archivist responsible for outreach at the record office I am lucky enough to attend many events – the Weather Stories event which was held at our office in Matlock yesterday was a particularly fascinating one, and one which I, and all who attended, thoroughly enjoyed.

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Weather Stories was an event celebrating the project ‘Weather Extremes’ being run by the University of Nottingham (and other partners including the Universities of Liverpool, Glasgow, and Aberystwyth, Historic England, the Royal Geological Society and the Met Office).  The project uses archival research and oral history interviews in order to develop local and regional climate histories to identify periods of unusual weather and extreme events.

The project team certainly have their work cut out for them during this 3 year project (culminating at the end of this year) as it covers Wales, East Anglia and North West Scotland, South West England and the Central England region – hence their interest in Derbyshire Record Office collections.

Georgina Endfield and Lucy Veale, from the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, have undertaken a huge amount of research using archive collections, which include diaries, letters, contemporary accounts, newspapers and much more.  They explained how they set about such a huge task, the information they found and what they plan to do with that information – publications, exhibitions, educational resources etc.

Georgina highlighted just some of the fascinating archival evidence which she has uncovered during her research here at the record office, including accounts of the ‘Great Frost’ of 1739/40 which saw the Trent frozen so hard that a wagon and 8 horses and 9 quarters of malt could travel over it (James Harrison’s note book 1734-47 ref: D2912/10).

Also featured was a letter from a Mr Edward Cludde writing to the FitzHerbert family of Tissington Hall in 1816 (ref: D239 M/F 8389) about, amongst other subjects, a particularly bad winter  “Our crops also turn out very unproductive so that at present things wear a very gloomy aspect…”  At first glance this is a fairly innocuous letter, however, when put in a wider context it shows the effects felt by Derbyshire people of a devastating climatic event which happened thousands of miles away.

1816 has become known as ‘The Year without a Summer’.  Severe climate abnormalities caused a dramatic decrease in temperature, resulting in poor harvests and major food shortages across the Northern hemisphere.  The abnormality was the result of a volcanic winter caused by the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies in the year previous.

We followed Georgina’s talk with an enjoyable hour looking though some of the original archive material which has formed part of the team’s research.  Conversations sprung up, not to mention lots of interesting questions and memories of weather events, all which Georgina and Lucy took away to help in their research.

I speak for all those who attended in saying it was a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing afternoon.  Many thanks to Georgina and Lucy for recognising the wealth of valuable material held in our collections and for making Derbyshire Record Office part of the Weather Extremes project.

If you have memories of interesting weather to share Georgina and the Weather Extremes team would love to hear from you.  You can contact them in the following ways:




Twitter: @Weather_Extreme

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/weatherextremes


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