During a miserably cold and wet stroll around the golf course in Wanstead Park I happened upon the remains of Wanstead House – basically a deep excavation where the basement and kitchens once were.
As a freezing cold mixture of rain, sleet and snow fell, gradually thawing the remnants of last night’s snow, I wondered what the weather was like when this magnificent building last stood. Luke Howard’s entry in The Climate of London revealed that the weather on this day 200 years ago was remarkably similar.
Wanstead House around 1819 just before its destruction
February 1st 2019
As I stood and tried to imagine what the house must have looked like it occurred to me that 200 years is a mere blip in time in the history of the Earth. People come and go, buildings rise and fall but the weather goes on and on.
* There’s a fascinating extract on Wanstead from James Dugdale’s The New
British Traveller (1819) that you can find here.
** This video clip shows the site where Wanstead House once stood.
Lewisham’s Beckenham Place Park will next year be home to a new wild swimming lake, thanks to a plan to make London the world’s first National Park City.
The scheme put me in mind of the Shoulder of Mutton lake in Wanstead Park which, decades ago, used to host swimming galas and other events. Long-time residents of Aldersbrook will remember the jetty and diving board that stood at the edge of the lake before falling into disrepair that led to their removal.
With millions set to be spent shoring up the dams of the park’s lake system it is surely feasible that the City of London Corporation can reopen Shoulder of Mutton to swimming while the work is undertaken.
While being cheaper than a lido it would provide an excellent resource and give local residents the chance to enjoy once more swimming in natural surroundings, just like in the Serpentine and Hampstead Ponds.
The sensor unit, 750m NNE of the weather station wansteadweather.co.uk on the Aldersbrook estate, is much better exposed and will hopefully offer more accurate wind and sunshine readings. It will also provide a chance to further investigate the area’s microclimate.
The station has already shown that the golf course is warmer on a radiative cooling night than the Aldersbrook Estate.
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 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 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.
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 .
Luke Howard’s entries in the Climate of London at the end of July tell of a very stormy period of weather