The spring and summer of 2018 is promising to become a memorable one. With record-breaking May bank holiday temperatures, the ‘mother of all thunderstorms’, recent heat-stoked wildfires near the Saddleworth Moors, and the current heatwave with a looming hose-pipe ban, the list of extreme weather events is tallying up. These events are seemingly at odds with common notions of wet and moderate British springs and summers. But it is worth remembering that thunder and lightning storms, record-breaking temperatures and heatwaves have always been part of Britain’s weather history.
In recent years, members of the ‘Weather Extremes’ project have undertook extensive archival research to uncover instances of extreme weather events in British history and have compiled over 18,000 records as part of the TEMPEST database. Through their research, they have uncovered a range of extreme weather phenomena, including flooding, severe winters, and, as pertinent to our very recent and current weather conditions, summer lightning storms and heatwaves.
As part of ‘Weather Extremes’ project, members from the University of Liverpool and Aberystwyth University (including myself) will be hosting a free workshop at Derbyshire Record Office on the 23rd July on the timely topic of extreme weather. (For event and booking details, please visit – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/talk-the-storm-officer-tickets-45928522447). This workshop will introduce participants to the freely accessible TEMPEST online database. Using extracts from the database – some of which have been catalogued following extensive archival research previously undertaken at Derbyshire Record Office – we will showcase a series of short historical weather stories relating to Derbyshire and other areas of Britain. Through these stories, we will highlight the range of materials researchers can explore for creating their own weather histories. We will also reveal the differing ways in which people have coped and responded to extreme weather events in particular times and places, and how extreme weather events have been woven into the cultural fabric of local communities. There will also be an opportunity to view some of the materials held at the DRO relating to weather and the chance for participants to share their stories and memories of extreme weather in their region.
To provide a taste for the upcoming workshop, and in light of the recent hot and stormy weather events, the remainder of this blog post is made up of some extracts that I have mined from the TEMPEST database that relate to Derbyshire and are held in paper form at the DRO. These fascinating extracts cover drought, death by lightning and the impacts of the famous 1906 heatwave on Morley. They demonstrate just how tumultuous historical springs and summers have been in Derbyshire!
1615 – Dry Summer and Drought
In an entry in the Youlgreave and Winster Parish Register from 1615 (D3644/42/1), we can see that there was an extensive dry spell and severe drought, which disrupted the harvest and would have no doubt placed the local agricultural community under immense strain.
1615 A Dry Summer
There was no Rayne fell upon the Earth from the 25th day of March until the second day of May; and then was there but one shower, after which there fell none tyll the 10th day of June, and then there fell an other; after wch there fell none at all tyll the 4th day of August: after which tyme there was sufficient Rayne upon the Earth: so that the greatest part of this Land especially the South parts were burnt up, both Corne and Hay. (An ordinary Summer load of Hay was at 2lb and little or none to be had for money). This part of the Peake was very seve burnt upp: only Lankashyre and Cheyshyre had Rayne enough all Summer, and both Corne and Hay sufficient:-
There was very little Rayne all the last Winter but snow only.
1739 & 1743 – Fatal Lightning Storms
In a manuscript book of Derbyshire topography of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (D349/1), we can see instances of both animal and human fatalities from lightning storms within the space of four years.
Derby About 20th May 1739. They had for three or four days very hot weather at Derby, accompanied with much thunder and lightning, and heavy storms of rain which did much mischief in that Neighbourhood; particularly at Langley, four miles from thence two horses belonging to Thomas Grace of that Town were on the 22nd day in the evening struck dead by the dreadful lightning. Also about a mile from the said place a calf was kill’d by lightning at the same time.
In July 1743 was a violent storm of thunder and lightning ta Chesterfield which continued for several hours during which time Mr Larka Waiter at Derby was struck dead by a flash of lightning , coming from Buxton
1906 – Heatwave
Unusually for a heatwave in Britain, the 1906 heatwave was across August and September rather than the more usual June and July. This proved lucky for farmers in Morley who, according to the Morley Parish Authorities (D1797/A/PZ/1), had managed to collect in their harvest early before the terrific heat scorched the earth and emptied the ponds.
A beautiful summer brought grand crops of hay & corn which were gathered without any trouble. The harvest was all over by the beginning of Sept. The first corn was cut the last day in July. After the harvest the country became dreadfully burnt up & at the end of August the heat was terrific. Nearly all the ponds were empty & nearly all the springs dry – the fountain near the Rectory gate supplied the greater part of the drinking water for the whole parish
With more hot weather anticipated this summer, we may well start to see rivers, lakes and ponds start to dry up. Thankfully we will not need to rely on the local fountain for our water supplies.