Category Archives: Events

Ancient Egypt in Wanstead Park?

The unearthing of an ancient Egyptian statue, initially thought to be of the pharaoh Ramses II, in a Cairo suburb earlier this month reminded me of the mysterious stone that was discovered in Wanstead Park in 2014.

The mystery stone on the banks of Heronry Pond

The granite object, discovered partly buried in undergrowth on the banks of Heronry Pond, was initially thought to be part of the long-lost pyramidion (or capstone) of Tia, overseer of the treasury in the time of Ramses II, from his tomb at Saqqara in the Aswan region.

Though tests made last year at Reading University suggested otherwise the fate of the stone that once had pride of place in the American garden of Wanstead House remains a mystery.

The capstone was placed in the park as part of a landscaping project in 1784. Humphry Repton, the landscape gardener who devised plans in 1813-18, described Wanstead Park as “one of the most magnificent places in this country”.

Unfortunately, owner William Wellesley Pole’s debts caught up with him and the estate’s riches were sold off at auction, including the intriguing stone which was labelled Lot 279.

The catalogue of the 1822 auction

The auction on June 10th coincided with the hottest day of 1822 with the temperature peaking at 92°F. Evening thunderstorms brought some relief but the capstone remained unsold.

A catalogue of the 30-day event showed that Lot 279 was the last item to be sold, being bought by the auctioneer himself who immediately gave it to his son-in-law to display in his garden at Tamworth Castle. There is no evidence, however, that the stone ever reached Tamworth.


Though rainfall during the summer of 1822 was average much of it fell in cloudbursts. Luke Howard’s records in nearby Stratford for June and July reveal many days with maxima well into the 80s and destructive thunderstorms with deadly lightning and hail, some of which measured three inches in diameter.

the dig
Archaeologists at the dig in January 2015

It is possible that faced with transporting a very heavy lump of granite some 135 miles on a horse drawn cart on unmade, waterlogged roads those charged with the task instead quietly slid the stone into one of Wanstead Park’s lakes.


Ralph Potter, a member of Friends of Wanstead Parklands, has been following the story of the stone since it was discovered. He explained the reason behind why he thinks the stone’s origin is inconclusive: “Probably the world’s most eminent authority on stone from the Aswan quarries has declared, based on photos alone, that the stone does not originate from Aswan. On the other hand we have an eminent petrologist who within minutes of seeing the stone declared it almost certainly came from the quarry complex at Aswan.”

*A full history of the mystery of Lot 279, written by Chris Elliott, can be found here

**A chronicle of Wanstead Park, written by Alan Cornish, can be found here.

***The statue pulled from the mud in a Cairo suburb is thought to be most likely the first king of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt — Psamtek I .

wanstead house wikimedia commons
Wanstead House (Wikimedia Commons)




London to Dunwich by bike in the dark

Hypnotised by a long line of red lights and a sudden feeling of being totally alone in the darkness were surreal sensations I experienced as I took on the challenge of the Dunwich Dynamo last weekend.start

I’d read a few personal accounts of this 120-mile blast through the Essex and Suffolk countryside but nothing really prepares you for the ride that starts in the fading light of East London.

A sea of cyclists greeted you as you arrive in London Fields – a mix of serious lycra together with quite a few souls in regular clothes who look as if they were popping down the shops for a pint of milk rather than an overnight ride to the coast. The park was also still busy with people out enjoying the warm weather with the thermometer still hovering around 25C. Though the event has been running for 24 years a couple of bemused onlookers asked me “what the hell is going on”.

“This is NOT a race”, screams the first line of a sheet of A4 directions handed to me by one of the organisers. And without any fanfare, at 8pm, legions got on their bikes by the Pub on the Park. My intentions of grabbing a big bowl of pasta before the start were soon forgotten as I joined the throng making its way through the narrow confines of Martello Street bike path.

The procession through Hackney was not everyone’s idea of fun though the sheer number of cycles was enough to stave off even the most impatient motorists.

eppingEast London quickly turned into suburban Essex and the scrum of cyclists had already turned into a single file. The sun was already set by the time we reached the Wake Arms roundabout though I assured my two cycling buddies that there would be plenty of options for pasta and coffee in Epping – noble intentions that ended up as pork pies and cans of Coke from Londis…

I’d never cycled beyond Epping – unknown roads even harder to navigate in the darkness. Familiar names started to flash past: Moreton, Fyfield, Leaden Roding and the 32-mile point Great Dunmow. Pockets of villagers screamed encouragement at cyclists including a four-person handbuilt contraption, tandems and one brave cyclist who’d brought his child along in a trailer.

nags head moretonWe stopped for a pint in Great Bardfield at 43 miles; locals joining in the party atmosphere as cyclists either stopped or pedalled on. Although just gone midnight conversations seemed to hover over the fast pace of the tour, probably helped by the fine weather and almost constant light westerly breeze. Finchingfield, Wethersfield, Sible and Castle Hedingham then passed in quick succession before we reached the halfway point at Sudbury about 1am where huge queues had formed for coffee and a barbeque put on by the local fire crews.

Though the temperature never fell below 16C over the entire event tiredness was now starting to set in but before we got too ensconced in our chairs we decided to push on.

sudburyIt was this part of the event where groups of cyclists started to spread out though, because most were cycling at roughly the same speed, you started to notice the same people: the guy in the Heinz baked beans top, the group cycling for Alzheimers, the guy with the kiddie trailer (again) comes into view, the child still awake and appearing to be transfixed by a tablet. I exchanged pleasantries with a guy in a top with the dragon of Wales emblazoned on the back – inane conversations though most seem happy to just get their heads down and eat up a few more miles.

martin sizewell
Sizewell B is getting closer

It was around Bildeston that the roads suddenly seemed to turn really dark. Pedalling on I focus on the line of red lights in the distance – almost hynotised by the rhythm of the whole thing – but then suddenly realised that I was cycling downhill at roughly the same speed as I would in daylight. I turned my head to find that my two cycling buddies were nowhere to be seen, and neither were any other riders. An overwhelming feeling of being alone suddenly dawned on me and I eased back on the pedals though it was a good 10 minutes before my companions catch up – one asked just what exactly was in the muesli bars that I had been munching away on for six hours.

At 3am the delirium started to set in: the University Challenge theme tune was going on a loop in my head – a couple of cyclists that have brought along loud speakers failed to distract me. Our charge to the coast was eventually interrupted by a puncture, my cycling buddy exclaiming in the darkness: “This wheel doesn’t feel right!”.

moretonBy 4am the sky had long begun to lighten and the fading batteries of many riders’ headlamps was no longer such a pressing issue. I think it was around Sibton Lake that pop-up cafes started to emerge at the side of the road. Alas, the long queues prevented us from stopping, so terrified were we that if we stopped for too long our bodies would cease up. No matter. Many other cyclists by now were beginning to stop and rest on verges; a few oblivious that the sun was beginning to rise as quick as they were falling into a slumber.

framlinghamDunwichThe last 10 miles from Framlingham, once the sun had risen, seemed to be the hardest. I’m not sure if it was my brain being unable to cope with the additional distraction of having to deal with looking at beautiful countryside. And a couple more inclines seemed to be the last straw for a few cyclists who got off and walked.

The pine scrub of Minsmere spread out after passing through Darsham before our ultimate destination Dunwich, the Lost City, ended our odyssey. After 10-and-a-half hours we’d done it.

I’ve managed to raise over £1,000 for Sarcoma, the soft tissue and bone cancer charity




June weather can be flaming horror show

The past week has produced the highest 24-hour rainfall total recorded in Wanstead since at least 1960. The multi-cell thunderstorm on Wednesday night saw 60.8mm fall, most of it in two hours, bringing flash floods to the surrounding area. The spectacular lightning and thunder that accompanied it was almost a side show such was the intensity of the rainfall.

An image from the Home & Dry app revealed a succession of dark red echoes passing over our area. The heaviest rain seemed to run on a line from Battersea to Romford

I was unfortunate enough to be riding home right in the middle of the event: the entire length of the Mile End Road bore a resemblance to a shallow river, the heavy rainfall bouncing back off the Tarmac high enough to create what felt like a powerful drench shower.

The legacy of the downpours caused chaos in the morning and evening rush-hours. Many commuters were stranded at London terminals including Waterloo station because of flooded tracks, possibly robbing many of the chance of voting in the EU referendum. It will never be known if this would have had a bearing on the final result.

Many people think of June as a warm, summery month. The term Flaming June  is regarded in most peoples’ subconscious as a reference to past weather. That it is a actually the name of a painting is often missed. Looking back through our local history there has been many notable events of thunderstorms and prolonged rainfall. In 1903 a record-breaking 59-hour deluge left vast swaths of the borough inundated.

The offical UK weather station totals all recorded less than Wanstead

This weekend 200 years ago, during the Year Without a Summer, a powerful tornado, strong enough to carry away objects weighing 60lbs, tore through the Edgware Road area in west London. Luke Howard recorded the event in the Climate of London.

At two o’clock being a still sultry day a whirlwind passed over the nursery ground of Mr Henderson in the Edgware Road which lifted seven lights from the greenhouses and carried them to the height of the highest elm trees, each of the lights weighs 50 or 60lbs at least. At the same time two garden mats were carried to an immense height so that the eye could not distinguish them.

The following day “extremely heavy and prolonged rain from 9am (26th) to 9am on 27th gave 2.95 inches”. This total of over 52mm is notably high though not a record.

This weather was a continuation of what had been an awful May and June – cold with more than twice the average rainfall in June.

The weather then was not unlike what we have experienced this month. Indeed, a look at the weather throughout this year was similar as this graph shows.


Though the mean temperature at times bears a close resemblance this year is no comparison to 1816: The mean then was running at 6.2C, over 3 degrees colder than today.
Mean pressure was also lower being 992.1mb; the 2016 mean 9am pressure is 1010.6mb.
Perhaps not surprisingly this year’s rainfall rainradaractually trumps 200 years ago; the running total for rainfall here is 390.1mm, higher than the 309.6mm recorded in 1816.

The dreary summer and frequent thunderstorms of 1816 inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. A summer vacation in Switzerland led her to spend much of the time indoors. She, along with Lord Byron and John William Polidori entertained each other with a contest to write the scariest story of all. The unseasonal conditions, along with this dare, led to the creation of Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus— as well as Polidori’s novella The Vampyre and Byron’s long-form poem, The Darkness.

It will be interesting to see if this June’s weather, along with momentous political changes here and in Europe, produce more fine fiction from the this and the next generation of writers.

Wind speed during the event from 2300 to 1000
Temperature during the event from 2300 to 1000
Pressure during the event from 2300 to 1000
Rainfall from 2300 to 1000
Rainfall rate from 2300 to 1000


Brexit to bring back those halcyon summers

I’m joking. But with the lies and half-truths spouted by both sides of the EU referendum debate it is a statement I wouldn’t be surprised to hear uttered in this last full week of campaigning before June 23.

This preposterous statement, however, got me thinking that perhaps there may be some truth that summers really were better before Britain joined the then European Economic Community with Denmark and Ireland in 1973.

But comparing the past 43 London summers with the period of summers from 1930-1972 shows that this is not the case in terms of temperature and rainfall.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 13.17.20
Summers during the period 1973-2015 are on average 0.8C warmer than summers 1930-1972
Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 13.22.19
A look at rainfall shows the average since 1973 is 84% that of the period 1930-1972
Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 13.35.47
Average sun since 1973 is broadly the same as period 1930-1972 though has recently dipped

Perhaps it is just our minds playing tricks on us when we think back to summers being better than what they are today, and before EU membership?

Voter turnout and the weather

Over the years it has been argued that weather can affect voter turnout and therefore the result of an election. One Dutch study states: “We find that the weather parameters indeed affect voter turnout. Election-day rainfall of roughly 25 mm (1 inch) reduces turnout by a rate of one per cent, whereas a 10-degree-Celsius increase in temperature correlates with an increase of almost one percent in overall turnout. One hundred percent sunshine corresponds to a one and a half percent greater voter turnout compared to zero sunshine.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 14.24.26
Weather for the referendum on June 5, 1975, was mostly fine nationwide. A temperature of 21.3C was recorded at Greenwich after an overnight low of 7C. It was the start of a settled period of summer weather that had followed a cool and miserable late May and early June. Sound familiar?

In June 1975 the electorate expressed significant support for EEC membership, with 67 per cent in favour on a 65 per cent turnout. Though the turnout looks low you certainly couldn’t blame the weather.

In terms of this year, with ten days to go, it is too early to say for sure what the weather will be like on June 23rd though the GFS model suggests, like 1975, it could be the start of a more settled spell of weather?

There are signs that the Azores high may ridge north-eastwards around June 23rd, possibly bringing fine weather for referendum day 

Weather forecasting and the European Union

Weather forecasts have improved immensely since the 1970s. A three-day forecast is now much more accurate than a 24-hour forecast was in the 1980s, partly thanks to the collaboration between national met agencies throughout Europe and beyond.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), formed in 1975 as an intergovernmental organisation located in Reading, UK, will maintain its independence in the event of Brexit.

A spokesperson for ECMWF said: “While most of ECMWF’s member states are also members of the EU, ECMWF is structurally independent of the EU. The location of ECMWF in the UK, as well as the UK financial contributions to ECMWF and the tax arrangements between ECMWF and the UK are regulated by agreements between the ECMWF, its member states and the UK. These arrangements are entirely separate from the UK’s EU membership.”

There’s a huge amount riding on this referendum. The EU has flaws but there’s far more good comes out of it than bad. And even if the EU has too many technocrats and bureaucrats I’d rather entrust funding to them than the short-term policy making that plagues modern Westminster on both sides of the political spectrum. And that’s why I’ll be voting Remain.


Blitz bombs bring yet more tragedy

With the arrival of spring the people of Wanstead and the surrounding region must have thought that the terror of bombs raining down was at an end. Just one raid in February that damaged a few houses was in sharp contrast to the devastation wrought by the Luftwaffe since September.

Synoptic chart for March 19th 1941

But further horror lay in wait in March when four members of the Civil Defence Services, two of them young lads, would lose their lives while heroically carrying out their civic duties.

March continued the theme of the wet, miserable and dull winter. The early part of the month was unsettled with heavy rain at times. On the 6th, over 13mm fell. During the second week it became dry with sunny periods. There were some frosty nights and lingering fog. On the 12th, the maximum temperature was only 5°C. Temperatures slowly rose during the third week.

The morning of the 19th dawned cold and frosty. Patchy fog soon lifted under the warm spring sun – it was the second day running the region was bathed in over five hours of sunshine.

The fog soon returned after dusk but plummeting temperatures were no excuse for the wardens at Post 41 ‘F’ District to undertake their nightly duties from their Aldersbrook Tennis Club headquarters. This area of south Wanstead received a real battering from the early days of the Blitz, earning the nicknames “The Battle Field” or “Hell Fire Corner”.

The following impression of that night is written by one who was at the scene:

“The wail of the siren opposite the Post announced at 8.15pm the arrival of the raiders. The Post personnel saw a startling sight. The Flats were a sea of flame. Thousands of incendiaries were burning on the open space. The guns roared. It was obvious that the enemy was making a concerted and determined attack. Bomb flashes stabbed the blackout. Planes droned overhead. The batteries on the Flats joined those further away in putting up a terrific barrage.

At 8.50pm, three high explosive bombs fell in Lake House Road, damaging a number of houses and partly demolishing Nos 14 and 31. A few casualties resulted, one being a man who was trapped in the doorway of No. 14. Wardens heaved on the obstruction to release him. Gas escaping in the same house caused a fire. This was quickly dealt with and the flames smothered. A nearby barrage balloon had burst into flames, illuminating the scene with glaring brilliance and revealing the widespread damage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 12.37.33At 9.20pm this first incident appeared closed, and services were awaiting the result of a final search and check-up before being dismissed. Then a parachute mine landed. It exploded a few yards from Aldersbrook corner on the Leytonstone side. A house in Lake House Road, already badly damaged, tottered to destruction. Number 11 caught fire and was destroyed. Loss of life would have been heavy but for the fact that most of the inhabitants had by now taken refuge in the Aldersbrook public shelter, and those who remained were in their dugouts.

The attack died down. Wardens returned to their posts – but the number for 41 was sadly lacking. The two boys’ bicycles stood in their usual place. ‘Busy somewhere’ said the chief. But the absent ones did not return, and a search was made. They were found – in the mortuary, three of them. It was known that two others had been taken to hospital. Warden Barnett was one of these. He died next morning of his injuries.

Just before the mine exploded, the messengers had been giving assistance in one of the less badly-damaged houses. Broome, although officially not on duty, had rushed out to lend a hand. Warden Hutton was endeavouring to turn off the gas at No 14 when the mine fell.

So the four from Post 41 died doing their duty on the Home Front. The two boys, pals in the service, sleep in one grave in Old Wanstead churchyard. The two men lie close by, in Ilford Cemetery.

A few days later their comrades stood silently at attention as the funeral cortege halted outside the Post. A Union Jack covered each of the four coffins.

The four members of the Civil Defence Services who gave their lives were: Thomas Hutton, 44, a warden, of Blake Hall Crescent, Wanstead; William Barnett, 36, a warden, of Belgrave Road, Wanstead; Roy Broome, 17, a messenger, of Lake House Road, Wanstead; and Herbert Stower, 18, a messenger, of Clavering Road, Wanstead.

Winston Churchill’s letter to his constituents

As spring wore on the weather remained mostly miserable though raid incidents lessened and petered out in May. Wanstead and Woodford had its last bombs of the period on May 10th.

In total 129 people lost their lives and 194 were injured during the campaign. This figure would nearly double when the next phase of the bombing, using V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets, would begin three years later in June 1944.

It is hard to imagine how people coped with the constant barrage of bombs during the Blitz. What seems to get lost in articles and historical texts I’ve read is just how grim the weather was at the time – remember this was a time before central heating. Not only were bedrooms freezing cold people must have laid there wondering if they were going to see morning.

It seems to be a human condition that when we are faced with adversity we just find a way of ‘getting on with it’ as best we can.


December 2015: Exceptionally mild

December 2015 was a ridiculously warm month, the mildest on record in my local series going back to 1797.Top 10 warmest Dec means

The mean temperature of 10.9C is 5.3C above the average for the first winter month and breaks the previous record set in 1974 by an increadible 2.2C.

Indeed the month was warmer than what was a very mild November and was air frost free.

A persistent flow of air from the Azores was responsible for the unseasonal warmth

Sunshine was below average: 34.6hrs (86% of average) was the lowest total recorded since 2010, another December that was as exceptionally cold as this month was mild.

Rainfall was more run-of-the-mill: 44mm fell during the month: that’s 83% of average.

The warmest day occurred on the 19th with 16.3C recorded, the second warmest December day in my daily record going back to 1959 – the record fell short by just 0.1C.

warmest xmas daysOther daily records were broken including for daily mean temperature: 14.3C on Boxing Day smashed the previous record set on December 4th 1985 by 0.4C. This day also saw the highest daily minimum for December recorded: 13.5C. It was also the warmest Christmas Day on record in a series going back beyond 1852.

decrainThe lowest temperature occurred on the 8th when the mercury fell to 2.4C.

The wettest day was on the 3oth when 5.9mm of rain fell. There were only three completely dry days during the month. Thanks to the synoptic situation this area thankfully escaped the awful flooding which affected the north of England and Scotland.

december mean 1797-2015
There is quite a marked upward trend in the December mean since 1797

What has January got in store weatherwise? The models today (January 1st) suggest that low pressure will continue to pile into the UK from the west on quite southerly latitudes over the next week with some colder air infiltrating into the east and north of the UK from Europe with rain at times for our area. From that point on most output suggests largely unsettled weather continuing until the end of the two week period though there is a hint that high pressure may try to edge up from the SW or west later with less wind and rain but still mild.

Because of the exceptionally mild December there are virtually no figures I can work with to try to estimate January – but I’ll have a crack anyway, using figures that were at least 1C above the 1981-2010 December average.

A mean of about 5.2C with 59mm of rain, both around average. The highest probability is for average temps at 33% probability. Interestingly something ‘very cold’ comes in at the same probability. Rather mild and rather cold come in at 16% probability. I emphasise that even at such low probability my confidence is even lower.

My December outlook for temperature was way off – there was no chance shown of anything ‘very mild’.

Here follows the full weather diary for November. To view full stats follow this link:

1st: A few spots of rain after deluge overnight then cloudy.
2nd: Cloudy to start, some sun mid morning before it clouded over with two spots of rain. Mild overnight.
3rd: Cloudy start with little brightness all day. Rain moving in at 7.15pm and intermittent into the evening, clearing later with temp falling from midnight.
4th: Sunny, clear start, tending to cloud over at 11am with limited brightness.
5th Cloudy and windy all day – the wind peaking at 9pm but remaining fresh through the night.
6th: Cloudy and dull most of the day.
7th: Cloudy start with some light drizzle mid morning.
8th: Dull, drizzly start with steadier bursts. Heavy rain as front cleared through at 2pm. Evening and overnight much colder than of late.
9th: Sunny start, clouded over afternoon.
10th Cloudy start and through the day. Rain spreading in in the evening, clearing by midnight.
11th: Cloudy through the day until 2pm when a narrow band of rain passed through then dry and feeling cooler.
12th: Cloudy start with some drizzle around 10am.
13th: Cloudy and drizzly to start then just cloudy.
14th: Cloudy start with some brightness at noon. Cloudy into the afternoon with some drizzle overnight.
15th: Cloudy and dull. Rain later in the evening.
16th: Cloudy with two sunny intervals then cloudy with odd drizzle.
17th: Cloudy with odd brightness then rain at 5pm.
18th: Cloudy all day.
19th: Bright and breezy start.
20th: Dull start with heavy rain at 3.40pm. Then cloudy but clear by morning.
21st: Sunny start but quickly clouded over with rain.
22nd: Dull start with patchy drizzle up to 11.30am. More rain later with squall at 8pm.
23rd: Sunny start with cloud moving in then sunny spells.
24th: Sunny start quickly turned cloudy with heavy rain around noon, clearing to sunny spells.
25th: Cloudy start with light rain spreading in at 10.10am. Cloudy rest of afternoon with temperature climbing through the day for record warm Christmas day. Temp didn’t fall below 14C all night.
26th: Cloudy and warm all day. Temp fell to just 13.9C though the day then rose again to give the warmest December night on record, and also warmest December mean.
27th: Dull with brief burst of drizzle early then breezy and very mild. Clearer overnight and cooler than of late. Sunny start with pink clouds am.
28th: Sunny start with just a few cirrus. Mostly sunny through the day.
29th: Sunny start with brief heavy shower at 10.05am. Then sunny intervals.
30th Cloudy and breezy to start. Rain spreading in in the evening, stopping around midnight
31st: Sunny and clear to start but with cloud bubbling up from late morning. Brief rain after dark then dry and turning colder. Frost in early hours of 1st

Blitz bombs bring more terror to Woodford

The run up to Christmas 75 years ago saw yet more terror in the form of Luftwaffe bombs falling on an already shellshocked population in east London.

The final raid of the year, on the evening of December 8th, saw yet more tragedy befall the borough of Woodford.

wordsworthJust after 7pm a high explosive bomb fell in St Albans Road, killing three people. And at 10.25pm a paramine was dropped on Wordsworth Avenue, South Woodford, killing 14 people and injuring 41.

It was the second deadliest day of the Blitz for the two boroughs which had already endured three months of bombing raids that had left 27 dead and over 100 injured.

The weather was fairly typical for early December, some winter sunshine with a high of 6C followed by a minimum of 2C. Really cold weather didn’t arrive until much later in the month.

Over a period of eight months around 450 bombs were dropped on the two boroughs, killing 129 people and injuring 194.

From autumn to spring in December 1806

When I was writing up my winter forecast I came across an analogue that was very similar to what happened during the period November 10th to December 31st.

mean 1806 v 2015
The period November 10th – December 31st in 1806 and 2015 show some striking similarities. It is also notable that mean during 2015 was 3C higher than 1806. Is this a question of synoptics or a warming world?


The results showed a close similarity between the two periods, November 10th – December 31st, though the mean in 2015 was some 3C warmer than 1806. Is this a question of synoptics or is this area now 3C warmer than it was just over 200 years ago?

Rainfall was also remarkably similar: 87.7mm fell from 10/10 – 31/12, just over 5mm more than 1806.

rain 1806 v 2015
The period November 10th – December 31st in 1806 and 2015 show some striking similarities. It is also notable that mean during 2015 was 3C higher than 1806. Is this a question of synoptics or a warming world?

Luke Howard, in his first volume of The Climate of London, describes a very warm December that followed on from a warm November that fooled flora and fauna into thinking spring had begun early.

Howard’s statistics are very high: a November mean of 9.5C while December was 7.2C. CET that November was 2.3C above average while December was 3.3C above average. Considering the England Wales Precipitation series a slightly wetter than average November was followed by a very wet December – over 250% the monthly average.

“The catkins of the filberts expanded prematurely. On December 25th a hedge sparrow’s nest was taken at Doveridge, Derbyshire, with four eggs and near Warwick a green linnet’s with two eggs. It is worthy of remark that the heat was the same on December 24th as on June 24th last – on both those days the thermometer being nearly 60F.”

Howard goes on to describe how the south-west wind had “reigned for weeks” – for most of November and December before finally giving way at the turn of the year.

“The south west wind which had so long reigned yielded just at the close of the year to the north and west . Some frost ensued which, however, had not the characters of permanence being neither ushered in by driven snows nor accompanied with a dry and serene atmosphere.”

The River Lea close to where Luke Howard's laboratory stood by wanstead_meteo
The period November 10th – December 31st in 1806 and 2015 show some striking similarities. It is also notable that mean during 2015 was 3C higher than 1806. Is this a question of synoptics or a warming world?

His description is not dissimilar from what is known as a “three-day toppler” cold spell where a dominant European high briefly gives way to cold air from the north-west or north, bringing often heavy snow to Scotland and the north but just a few cooler days in the south, before the cold feed is cut off as the high re-establishes itself.

Howard also describes how the warmth affected plants.

“The effects of the late high winter temperature on vegetation must have been obvious to everyone who has seen the country. To the very close of the year the grass continued to grow, the daisies to enamel the turf and many of the inmates of our gardens native and exotic to thrive and blossom. Even hyacinth bulbs left in the open beds shot up and flowered. Ten years ago winter came on six weeks earlier and with considerable severity.”

Words that echo what’s going on this month, particularly in the south-west where I’ve heard reports of roses still in bloom and affected by greenfly whiles daffodils look like they will be out in a couple of days.

January and February 1807 were, by the standards of that time, roughly average.

Fog now rain put dampener on Bonfire Night

Between 2mm and 3mm is estimated to fall between 6pm and 9pm . Fog cancelled fireworks organised for Wanstead Flats on Sunday

Bonfire Night celebrations are looking a bit damp tonight with rain spreading in just at the time many will be looking to light the fuses of fireworks as darkness falls.

According to the Euro4 model revellers can expect light but steady rain between 6pm and 9pm – annoying given that Sunday night’s festivities on Wanstead Flats were cancelled thanks to thick fog forming during the late afternoon as the sun began to set.

Wanstead Flats has put on some spectacular Guy Fawkes’ nights over the years. I didn’t realise quite how many years until I stumbled upon this old British Pathe clip which shows nurses at Wanstead Children’s Home building a huge bonfire for the children in 1934.

The footage shows the nurses struggling to get the Guy atop the bonfire, using numerous ladders, while the children, including 12 sat in an old perambulator, look on. The stats for the day reveal that the temperature fell to a chilly 2.7C after a day high of 7.9C. There was also some drizzly rain, though less than 1mm.

The Aldersbrooke Childrens Home for Waifs & Strays is still there in Brading Crescent on the Aldersbrook Estate, although the five lodges have been converted to flats.

'To Go Up in Smoke' is available to buy from British Pathe
‘To Go Up in Smoke’ is available to buy from British Pathe

In 1907, the West Ham Guardians purchased the Aldersbrook site. In 1911, five receiving homes were completed. The homes were called lodges and were: Elizabeth Fry Joseph Lister, Tom Hood, Edward North Buxton and William MorrisA bit of history…

In 1913, a workshop, for training of the older boys and girls was opened. Skills learnt were in tailoring, carpentry, laundry work and needlework, under skilled industrial trainers.

In 1930, on the 1st April, the ownership of Aldersbrook homes and the leases of the Scattered Homes, were under the 1929 Local Government Act, and by agreement with the Essex County Council and the West Ham Corporation, vested in the East Ham Corporation who are required to continue to receive destitute children from the Essex County Council and West Ham, formally comprised in the West Ham Union area.

On 27th May 1933, the Aldersbrook Children’s Homes new nursery was opened. The County Borough of East Ham owned it. Alderman T.W.Burden, Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee, opened it. The Mayor of East Ham, Alderman G.H.Manser J.P, proposed a vote of thanks, which was seconded by Alderman C.W.Brading J.P, and supported by Alderman Mrs Taylor (East Ham) and Councillor G.Doherty, of West Ham. After the official opening, the older children (14 to 16 years old) of the homes put on the play “David Garrick”.

The superintendent of the home was W.T.P. Steele, and the matron was E.M.Steele. S.R.N. The building was described as being divided into three sections – ground floor, babies under twelve months and toddlers one to three years, first floor staff. Accommodation is given for ninety infants under three years. Wards are provided for these age groups were newly admitted children will be housed for three weeks before being sent to the general rooms. Two ranges of isolation rooms are also provided where “suspects” can be nursed to reduce the risk of infection. The south end of the building is allotted to the youngest or cot babies and comprising of long dormitory with sun rooms at the end, designed to catch the winter sun.

The former Aldersbrook Children's Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats
The former Aldersbrook Children’s Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats

The programme went on to describe the building as being the most modern of children’s institutions. The building has a veranda at the front. The first floor has 21 separate staff bedrooms. The building had an oil fired heating system and flooring with fire resistant Terazzo material whilst the children’s play room and dormitories are protected by rubber flooring. The lighting and power points are controlled by locking device to prevent the children switching them on and off. The building was built by Messrs Hammond & Barr Ltd Chelsea.

The Nursery is now gone and the Aldersbrook estate covers the area, although the recreation Hall, the lodges (See photo) and the porters lodge are still there.

The incident of frosts during the season from October to May. There has been a general uptick overall since 1999/2000

1934 and this year, together with the last couple of years, is a far cry from my memory of Bonfire Night being a frosty affair – despite the fact that frosty nights during the season from October to April have been showing an uptick since 1999/2000.

The synoptic chart on November 5th 1934 portrays an unsettled regime
The synoptic chart on November 5th 1934 portrays an unsettled regime