Tag Archives: Luke Howard

Hurricane force in the Georgian era

Such was the force of the wind that the masses of masonry were carried 30 feet beyond the base of the tower penetrating not only the roof of the church but also the floor and breaking through the vaults to the foundation.

The account of a windstorm that severely damaged St John’s Church in Edinburgh in January 1818 was carried in the second volume of Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

1889 view looking east along Princes Street, with the church to the right in front of St Cuthbert’s Church and Edinburgh Castle public domain

Thursday morning 15th the barometer had fallen eight tenths of an inch it then blew very hard and during the whole course of the day slates and chimney pots were flying about in all directions. In the evening the gale increased and about five o’clock it blew a perfect hurricane.

The ‘perfect hurricane’ was referring to the Beaufort Scale which had been written just over a decade before in 1805. Obviously anemometers were not around at the time – the scale was merely to describe sea conditions to help sailors. A modern interpretation of hurricane force 12 estimates mean speeds 72 – 83mph.

The church in Howard’s account had only just been built, it’s dedication being completed on March 19th the same year. Howard continues:

In houses fronting the west a good deal of mischief was done in breaking the panes of glass, stripping the lead from the roof, dashing the cupola windows from their frames and shivering them to atoms. In the course of the fore-noon two of the small minarets on the top of St John’s Chapel at the west end of Princes Street gave way and fell without doing any material damage to that beautiful building . Not so, however, the effects of the evening the violence of the wind carried off the whole of the minarets, large and small, leaving the summit of the tower a perfect ruin.

Later the same year storms struck the south coast of England.

Ryde, March 5 One of the severest gales of wind that has been felt here for the last 37 years was experienced last night. It commenced about 4.30pm and continued with increased violence until 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between four and five thousand pounds (£500,000 in today’s money) No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.

Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE.

Some four years later the storms were back.

On December 5 Howard reported that the barometer had been low for an unusually long period of 23 days, a mean of 29.4 inches with southerly and westerly winds.

Norwich The Mercury reported that the city experienced one of the most tremendous gales and heavy rain in living memory.

The gusts which followed each other were most terrific and threatened the safety both of the houses which actually rocked to and fro from the violence and their inmates. By the tremendous gale of wind on the night of Thursday last a brick wall of between seventy and eighty feet in length at Ipswich was completely blown down.

Brighton At 7 o’clock on the 5th a small squall came on from the WSW and raged until 9.30am during which the rain descended in one incessant torrent and the roar and fury of the wind is not to be described.

Considerable alarm was excited by it in many parts of the town several houses were nearly unroofed and one not quite finished five stories high in Russell Square was levelled with the ground. The chain pier works sustained further injury but not to the extent which had been anticipated. Fortunately there were no shipping in this part of the Channel last night or we might have had many wrecks at this time to have particularized. Several vessels were wrecked during the storm on Thursday night. At Dover many houses were injured by the tempest and some tenements were blown down.

Manchester The Guardian reported on “one of the most terrific gales of wind with which this town has been visited for many years”

It commenced about night fall from the south west afterwards veering round to the west and gradually increased in violence until about 12am when it blew a perfect hurricane accompanied by heavy rain. By 10pm the town was left in almost utter darkness the greater part of the gas lights being blown out and those which escaped extinction were so violently agitated by the wind as to afford but little light. Many families passed the greater part of the night by the fire side not daring to retire to rest until the gale had abated.

Warrington The cupola of the church near the George Inn was blown down and part of the roof destroyed. A windmill in the neighbourhood was also blown entirely down.

Liverpool The Mercury reported that a “remarkably strong gale of wind was experienced here accompanied with rain, sleet and hail which continued with little intermission until after 9pm when it increased in force and destruction bursting against the higher buildings of the town in sudden and stunning gusts.

The alarm was general and accounts are now pouring in upon us from all quarters of the melancholy effects of the storm both on shore and on the river

Falmouth A “tremendous gale from SW and WSW” was reported.

We scarcely recollect seeing a more heavy sea running between the castles of Pendennis and Mawes.

Monmouth Among the casualties in Wales was a huge elm tree situated in the grounds of Raglan Castle.

The venerable tree which formed a happy termination at the east end of the terrace measured 26ft in girth and from whose trunks the two limbs which grew from the head of it spread their protecting shade 22ft fell a sacrifice to the fury of the elements, being blown from its commanding situation into the mead below. During the violence of the late storm twelve fine elm trees of large dimensions were torn up by the roots in front of and in the grounds of Trevallyn Hall, the seat of George Boscawen Esq. One of the trees that grew in the centre of the lawn is much to be regretted. It was a very handsome ornamental tree whose branches spread over a large extent of ground and which was the admiration of those who noticed it. The circumference of the butt is 12ft and contains in measurement 322ft of solid timber it was planted about the year 1760 by the late Mr Boydell of Trevallyn.

Halifax A large chimney was blown on to the roof of a house next to the Sportsman Inn at Greetland. It burst through three floors taking along with it two children out of the middle room and depositing them in the cellar. Amongst the ruins were the father and mother and three children who all survived.

Bristol reported a “most tremendous gale of wind from the SW”. The Birmingham and Oxford mail coaches reported that roads were strewn with trees and branches while in the north of Staffordshire the wind gradually rose accompanied with showers and blew with terrific violence during the night.

The Salopian Journal reported on a “hurricane of ten hours continuance”. In Shrewsbury the driver of the Holyhead mail coach spoke of 90 trees blown down in Powys Castle.

Luke Howard’s aurora sightings

Luke Howard‘s Climate of London volumes provide a plethora of interesting facts and figures about the atmosphere during a time when few reliable records of London weather were made.

Over a period of just over 20 years he mentions the aurora borealis being sighted somewhere in Britain 15 times.

The first, on March 3rd 1807, describes the phenomenon.

The whole hemisphere very red for some time after sunset which we ascribed to the reflection of light from elevated cirri. Our Manchester correspondent, however, states the same phenomenon at the same time as an Aurora Borealis. Additional communications decisive of this point will be acceptable. The phenomenon was repeated on the 21st which with the preceding and following night was windy.

Seven years later, on April 14th 1814, proceedings were described thus.

Aurora Borealis of late years a very unfrequent visitant in these parts appeared last night with no great degree of splendour but with the usual characteristic marks of this phenomenon. About 11pm when my attention was first called to it there was a body of white light in part intercepted by clouds extending at a moderate elevation from the N to the NW with a short broad streamer rising from each extremity. After this it became an arch composed of similar vertical masses of fibrous light which moved along in succession preserving their polarity and curved arrangement. One large streamer in particular went rapidly through nearly the whole length of the arch from W to E. Some of these masses were rather brilliant and one exhibited colours. After some cessation and a repetition of this appearance carried more towards E and W the light settled in the N and grew fainter in which situation at midnight I ceased to observe it 

Further mention is made on 8th February 1817 and later that year, on 26th October, another account.

A little before 8pm I observed from the neighbourhood of Lowestoft, Suffolk, a distinct commencement of Aurora Borealis in the north in white streamers ascending to a considerable elevation which after a minute or two became converted into a still light the latter remaining for an hour or two after was at length obscured by clouds.

And the same year, as shown in the book.

More sightings were recorded on 12th and 17th October 1819 and 14th December of the same year. Also 31st July 1821.

Six years later, on 18th january 1827, an account of the Northern Lights in Epping Forest was noted.

The final case of the aurora of London was made on 25th September 1827.

Further records were noted on 15th September 1828 in Glasgow and 11th December 1830 at Ackworth, Yorkshire

THE STORM OF MARCH 4, 1818

Early March often brings stormy weather, a singularity that has a probability of 88 per cent!

An example of just how long this singularity has been around can be found in the early 19th century

In his book The Climate of London Luke Howard mentions that the air pressure on March 4th was the lowest measured for some 37 years. The lowest point of 28.35 inches (960mb) is remarkable in that the lowest I’ve measured in Wanstead since 2012 was 969.8mb last December!

The storm brought devastation across a wide swath of southern England with loss of life on both land and sea.
Howard’s account of the storm mentions the barometer falling an inch in 15 hours with rain after dark with the wind “raging in violent gusts from SE and SW till past midnight when it abated after much thunder and lightning”.

His friend in Manchester, Dr William Henry, wrote a storm SW caused considerable damage, delaying the London mail in Macclesfield from 8pm until 3am on the 5th, the storm raging until 3am. The barometer fell to 28.2in (955mb) at Manchester.

Character of the period for the most part tempestuous with frequent rains the barometer running through a series of sharp depressions till near the close when it suddenly assumed the elevation of fair weather Almost all the showers from the first were more or less mingled with hail

Elsewhere in Britain public ledgers also reported the storm.

Yarmouth A most tremendous gale of wind from the S to the SE with rain came on about 8pm which continued with increasing violence all night and has done considerable damage to the shipping on this part of our coast.

Deal Last night it came on to blow a most tremendous gale from the south and continued nearly the whole of the night with unabated violence at midnight it blew a complete hurricane accompanied with thunder and lightning during which several vessels in docks suffered.

Portsmouth It blew a tremendous hurricane last night from S and SSE accompanied with the highest spring rides ever remembered.

Ryde One of the severest gales of wind that has been felt here for the last 37 years was experienced last night. It commenced about 4.30pm and continued with increased violence until past 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between £4,000 and £5,000. No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.

Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE from 6pm to 10pm

Exmouth On the 4th instant between 7pm and 8pm we had a most tremendous gale of wind about SSE with dreadful rain thunder and lightning.

Falmouth At day light this morning the wind was from the WSW moderate. About 11am it strengthened to the S and from that to SSE and since that time until 10pm it has blown a hurricane with a heavy sea.

Penzance We had a very heavy gale here on Wednesday the 4th.

Milford On the 4th it blew a very heavy storm from SW to WNW.

Leicester Wednesday night was one of the most boisterous recollected for years past. Much damage has been sustained in this town and many parts of the county.

Hull At high water about 4.30pm the wind then blowing from the SW with moderate weather the tide flowed at the Old Dock Gates 18ft 6in. After the tide had fallen from 1 to 2in the dock gates closed as usual with the ebbing of the tide which then began again to flow to the height as near as can be calculated of four or five inches thereby opening the gates again and continued flowing. The tempestuous night of Wednesday ensued the wind blew a heavy gale still from the SW and at high water at 5am Thursday morning the tide was 14ft 1in being 4 feet 5 inches less than on the preceding evening although from the spring tides having put in the water ought according to the usual state of things to have flowed higher than on the Wednesday evening

Plymouth At the commencement of the winter a few large stones were placed by themselves on the top or finished part of the Breakwater to see if they would stand the winter gales they stood all but this last and this morning I found them washed from the top and lying on the North Slope There were three of them one of nine tons and the other two of five tons each they will be replaced as soon as possible for further trial Plymouth The effects of the late thunder storm of the 4th March on a fir tree belonging to W Langmead Esq at Elfordleigh in the neighbourhood of Plymouth are too singular to be omitted and perhaps the most extraordinary ones that ever occurred in this county on such an occasion The tree in question has been long admired for its size and noble proportions being more than 100 feet high and nearly 14 feet in girth but it exists no longer having been literally shivered to pieces by the electric fluid Some of the fragments lie 260 feet from the spot and others bestrew the ground in every direction presenting altogether a scene of desolated vegetation easier to be conceived than described.

The year snow fell in London in October

Two hundred years ago this October the extremely rare phenomenon of lying snow in October was recorded in London.

A likely plunge of Arctic air on the 21st saw rain turn to snow which lay nearly 8cm deep by the morning and remained for nearly a week.

The month started dry and warm. On the 1st Luke Howard recorded 75°F at his laboratory in Stratford. The warmth remained into the second week with 77°F recorded on the 10th, 11th and 12th.

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The values from Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

The wind swung into the north on the 18th and with it arrived the first hoar frosts that were cold enough to kill garden plants.

On the 21st the cold air further dug in and with it rain that turned to sleet. Howard said: “It began to snow about noon falling in very large flakes thick and rapidly for an hour and covering the ground. Some rain followed.

“In the evening the wind rose and it blew hard in the night from NNW. At midnight came a second heavy fall of snow which continued till 6am and though at first much of it melted it lay in the morning a full three inches deep.”

Howard adds that the surroundings ‘took on appearance of mid winter with the single exception of the foliage still remaining on the trees which mingled with an enormous burden of snow presented a very singular and grotesque appearance’.

The weight of the snow was also enough to break off large limbs from fruit trees.

The snow was still lying on the 23rd and, probably caught out by the earliness of the polar plunge, swallows were seen at Stamford Hill. On the 24th a very white frost was observed with a low of 31°F recorded at Tottenham.

More wintry weather followed in November, December and January.

Could snow fall here again in October? The probability is very low but it is not impossible, given the right synoptic conditions. Recent cases of notably positive and negative anomalies following in quick succession somewhat mirror the weather of Howard’s day.

 

 

Days in Wanstead Park, 200 years apart

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.

WP weather

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.

 

In the tracks of Luke Howard

The tow paths along the river Lea have provided generations of Londoners a place to escape – the route coming into its own following the legacy of London 2012 and the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

bryant
The river Lea near the Bow flyover is roughly where Luke Howard’s chemical factory was situated

It also provided a means for Luke Howard’s commute to work when he moved his family from Plaistow to Tottenham in 1812.

Seven years earlier Howard set up his pharmaceutical laboratory on the banks of the Lea in the area where Bow flyover now stands. From this vantage point, as the factory produced chemicals including quinine, Howard kept a meticulous record of the atmosphere later publishing results in The Climate of London, among the first texts to discuss urban meteorology.

Development in the region was in its infancy and it would be years before the river banks became covered by factories and warehouses, these now fast making way for luxury flats and restaurants.

canal1`
The river is lined with canal boats, breweries, old factories, residential development and street art

I’ve often wondered what his journey to and from the factory was like so on Tuesday, tempted out by cloudless skies and a warm 23C I grabbed my bike and headed to the Olympic Park. Despite numerous visits I still got lost in the myriad paths in the park, turning into dead ends and finding myself on the ‘wrong side’ of canals.

Anyone familiar with Bow Flyover will know it’s not the most inspiring place; it probably represents the low point of the way north.

It was at this point in 1809 that Howard noted that the river had swelled to a width beyond a mile wide. Five years later Howard also noted how the Lea had become choked with ice following a bitterly cold winter, the year the last Thames’ Frost Fair was held.

anchor
Anchor and Hope: a good spot to stop for a pint

As you ride north the familiar sites of the Olympic Park hove into view on the right while, if you look left, beyond the cacophony of the A12, the old Bryant & May match factory can be seen. Opened in 1861 the factory, which was one of the first east London renewal projects to feature luxury flats, is yet another landmark that simply wasn’t there in Howard’s time.

Just after Old Ford locks is a canal that turns left. This ‘cut’, called the Hertford union canal or Duckett’s canal, was in the process of being dug when in July 1829 lightning during a thunderstorm killed three workers. Howard, in one of many weather-based accounts in the The Climate of London, takes up the story:

A tremendous storm of thunder and lightning broke upon the metropolis about 1 o’clock on Saturday morning. The sky had been lighted up the whole evening by vivid electrical flashes and so late as half past twelve the stars were visible when a dark cloud suddenly arose and in a few minutes one of toe heaviest showers of rain and hail ever witnessed fell in torrents from its bosom.

Peals of thunder soon followed and continued rolling with scarcely any intermission for upwards of two hours accompanied with awful bursts of lightning; the residents of Bow, Stratford and Bromley were thrown into the greatest consternation by the violence of the storm, one poor fellow lost his life and two others have been so severely injured that but faint hopes are entertained of their recovery.

The three sufferers Sullivan, Salter and Fitzpatrick were engaged in excavating a canal, at present constructing by Sir George Duckett at Old Ford, and were at half past two o’clock diligently employed in their work when the storm commenced. Sullivan was at once struck lifeless and Fitzpatrick and Salter were so seriously injured as to make it necessary to procure immediate medical attendance.

Fitzpatrick was removed to his lodgings at Bow where he was attended by Dr Fairhead who on examining his person found that his left side had been most seriously injured and that there was reason to believe his intestines had suffered severely from the shock. The damage which Salter sustained has not been of so serious a nature.

Deaths caused by lightning were a much more common occurrence in the 19th century, mostly because so many people worked outside and the dangers of this natural phenomenon were not well document. The thunderstorm in July 1829 was particularly severe, as Howard continues:

During the continuance of the lightning on Friday evening a man who was employed in pumping in Bethnal Green fields which the late heavy rains have flooded was struck by a sudden flash which caused his instantaneous death.

The clothes exhibited a singular appearance being literally torn to atoms and every part of the metal in his buttons had the appearance of having been fused. The body itself showed no traces of the electric fluid with the exception of a slight mark on the forehead.

As you cycle on the factories / flats gradually thin out until you reach Lea Bridge Road when Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes become visible on the right. The big skies probably the same as they were during the 19th century. On reaching Tottenham Hale it is time to leave the river and turn left toward the town centre.

bruce
7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham.

A total of 6 miles later brings you to Howard’s family home, 7 Bruce Grove. It still stands but, despite having a blue plaque, is in a terrible state of repair – internal walls have collapsed and the roof is clearly porous. The owners have a plan to turn the building into flats but nothing has happened in years. A petition to save the building was set up a while ago but this, too, seems to have had little impact.

Howard and his family divided their time between here and Ackworth, Yorkshire. I’ve known about 7 Bruce Grove for years but I didn’t realise just how long the garden was, stretching back hundreds of feet.. It was here that Howard also kept a weather station and was the venue for his account of the partial solar eclipse in 1820.

monkey
The monkey puzzle tree

There is precious little left of the original garden, it being overgrown with bramble, nettles and alder. I did notice a tall money puzzle tree which I wonder once had pride of place in one of the borders.

Because of the dense undergrowth and it being behind a large wall there is precious little you can see but I wonder if there is any evidence of Howard’s meteorological enclosure somewhere in the garden?

It would be a fitting tribute Luke Howard if any future development would allow the provision of a weather station somewhere on the property.

rear
The rear of 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham

 

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Walthamstow Marshes were flooded to a depth so great that many trees briefly disappeared

When the River Lea turned into an inland sea

It is 194 years ago this week that the River Lea burst its banks in the Stratford area leading to an ‘inland sea’ forming on nearby marshland.

Days of heavy rain that started on the 12th sent the water rising to record levels, the height was 2.5 inches higher than the devastating flood of 1809.

Luke Howard, in an entry in The Climate of London, had measured nearly three inches (74mm) of rain by the 16th and was expecting a flood:

“Towards evening the waters rose suddenly in the Lea and passing over all the banks of the level soon filled the marshes and in the course of the night rose to an unprecedented height being two inches and a half higher than in the flood of 1809.

The houses in the marshes south of the road were filled nearly to the chamber floors and some of the inmates removed with great difficulty. The flood remained stationary for nearly 24 hours. On the 17th in the afternoon it began very gradually to subside and on the 18th in the morning was much abated; the marshes still presenting the appearance of a sea the tops of the trees appearing in places only.”

Though there are no reanalysis charts from the time Howard’s daily entries state that pressure was low with the wind in the north-east, a classic pattern where depressions can move along the Channel before getting ‘stuck’ in the North Sea. A similar pattern with an almost identical amount of rain caused severe flooding in June 1903.

There was some 96mm of rain recorded during May 1824, locally the 11th wettest back to 1797. There have been wetter Mays since but, thanks to massive investment in the River Lea Navigation , prompted by more devastating floods in 1947, widespread flooding is a thing of the past.

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The area around where Luke Howard’s factory once stood

 

w marshes
Walthamstow Marshes were flooded to a depth so great that many trees briefly disappeared

 

Constable’s fair view of Waterloo Bridge

A sketch of Waterloo Bridge by John Constable sold for £2.3m as auction this week.

The canvas, confirmed as the first prototype for “The Opening of Waterloo Bridge”, the celebrated work by one of Britain’s greatest landscape artists that hangs in Tate Britain. was discovered hanging in the hallway of a private home.

It is an excellent example of how Constable managed to harness the realistic detail of skies of the period, a detail that was overlooked by artists before him.

1817Sketched shortly after his 41st birthday on June 18th 1817, the scene depicts a pleasant summer afternoon, echoing that day’s meteorological observations in Luke Howard’s Climate of London: a high of 26C with light SE’ly winds, the start of a fine spell of weather.

It is thought that Constable, who in 1817 moved from his native Suffolk to London, had been greatly influenced by Howard’s work on naming the clouds a decade or so earlier. It was the same year that Howard gave his Seven Lectures In Meteorology, the subject matter of which was later published as the first meteorological textbook in 1837.

The sketch, which shows ceremonial barges leaving the shore at Whitehall to celebrate the opening of the new bridge, with St Paul’s Cathedral and the spires of Wren’s City churches visible beyond, fetched £2,289,000, far the figure it was expected to receive, between £1m and £1.5m, at Sotheby’s, on Wednesday.

waterloo
“The Opening of Waterloo Bridge seen from Whitehall Stairs, June 18 1817,” oil on canvas, by the English artist John Constable. 51.5″ X 85.83″. Courtesy of the Tate Britain, London.}} |Source=http://www.the-athenaeum.org/

 

Centuries of London fogs

November normally marks the return of those autumn staples frost and fog and this December marks the 65th anniversary of the Great Smog.

Looking back through the archives the worst fogs tend to appear throughout these two months, set off by recurring weather patterns. The usual scenario, an anticyclone centred over Switzerland and Austria, leaves our part of the UK in a light SE’ly feed off the continent. Warm air aloft traps already poor quality air at ground level, the temperature inversion gradually leading to increasing levels of pollution.

During the Georgian Regency period fog occurs numerous times in Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

November 27th 1816 : “The atmosphere was so darkened yesterday morning in the vicinity of the metropolis by the thick fog combined with smoke that in some parts it appeared like a cloudy night. In the neighbourhood of Walworth and Camberwell it was so completely dark that some of the coachmen driving stages were obliged to get down and lead their horses with a lantern.” (Evening Mail)

December 31st 1817: “The fog of Wednesday (31st) seems to have been confined to the metropolis and the immediate vicinity. No further to the northward than the back of Euston Square the weather was clear and even bright. A gentleman who came to town from Enfield saw no fog till he approached London. Southward of London it extended as far as Clapham and it was rather thicker in some of the environs than in the metropolis itself. Upon an average 10ft was the distance at which objects became invisible out of doors. Within doors it was impossible to read without a candle.”

November 3rd 1820: “A very thick fog in the morning.”
And on the 18th: “An extremely thick fog which remained most of the morning. About 10am the coachmen on the road were unable to see the heads of their horses which in many instances were obliged to be led.”

In 1828 several days in November were noted for their fogginess, including 11th, 17th and 19th. The 12th had “extreme dense fog all day.”

“The fog of Wednesday (12th) has seldom been exceeded in opacity in the metropolis and its neighbourhood. It began to thicken very much about half past twelve o’clock from which time till near two the effect was most distressing making the eyes smart and almost suffocating those who were in the street, particularly asthmatic persons.

“In the city all the bankers and offices of different descriptions as well as the principal shops were obliged to have lights. To see with any distinctness further than across the street was impossible. All the narrow lanes beyond the perspective of a few yards were absolutely in a state of darkness and in the great thoroughfares the hallooing of coachmen and drivers to avoid each other seemingly issuing from the opaque mass in which they were enveloped was calculated to awaken all the caution of riders as well as of pedestrians who had to cross the streets.

“On the Thames as on land the tendency which fog has to enlarge distant objects was strikingly illustrated. The smallest vessels on their approach seemed magnified to thrice their usual dimensions. St Paul’s had a prodigious effect through the mist though neither that nor the Monument were visible above the height of the houses. This optical illusion is said to arise from the fog diminishing the brightness of objects and consequently suggesting a greater distance since while the visual angle remains the same the greater the distance the greater the real magnitude. It cleared off a little about a quarter past two but returned with all its density in the evening. (Public Ledger)

The following year 1829 saw a virtual repeat with wintry weather setting in at the end of the month. Fog was recorded on November 2nd, 11th and 19th. On the 20th the diary entry read: “hoar frost, foggy day and so thick at night as to prevent travelling,” before the weather turned colder on 24th: “a hoar frost, cloudy, a heavy fall of snow from 10pm through the night – 4 inches and upwards on the ground. 25th: a little more snow, thaw. 26th: thaw going on cloudy, very cold. 27th: very thick fog, drizzly.”

With coal being the primary source of heat and power for millions of Londoners the air during anticyclonic conditions would have been thick with acrid soot. The smell of coal in pea soupers, fogs caused by a mixture of soot, smoke and fog, is referred by a Mr Guppy in the letters page of The Times on December 5th 1837.

A London particular…
Not only was the darkness so great [in the morning] that the shops were all lighted up, but also every object in the streets, however near, was totally obscured from the view of the persons walking along. In Piccadilly the darkness was very great, and the confusion caused by the vehicles running against each other beyond description. About 9 o’clock the Hastings branch coach, which had just left the Old White Horse Cellar, while endeavouring to turn into St. James’s Street, ran into the shop window of Mr Hoby, the celebrated bootmaker, at the western corner, which it demolished with a fearful crash, breaking upwards of 40 squares of glass.

Fast forward 35 years, with the industrial revolution in full swing, a notable fog in December 1873 was described in The Medical Times and Gazette as “one of the most disastrous this generation has known,” going on to point out that “to persons with cardiac and respiratory disease it has in numerous instances proved fatal.” Some 273 people died as a result of bronchitis caused by the coal-smoke saturated fog which enveloped the city for days.

09121873
Reanalysis charts enable us to see how an anticyclone centred over Austria allowed ideal conditions for fog to form, the worst conditions probably being on November 9th 1873

With the population of London steadily increasing, together with ever higher demand for fossil fuels, the fogs grew steadily filthier. Throughout 1892, the letters pages of The Times were filled with complaints about the increasing number of fogs which slowed the metropolis to a crawl. Most were concerned with what could be done to either end the great scourge or to at least ameliorate the worst effects of the great seasonal nuisance.

By the autumn, the governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company was becoming tired of accusations that they were not supplying enough gas during fogs and pointed out that during a particularly foggy week in November, consumers used 60 million cubic feet of gas more than in the corresponding week a year earlier. Turning to the chief complainant, he suggested that his problem lay with his fittings “over which the company has no control” and went on to accuse him of “recklessly bring[ing] a baseless charge against this company.”y

09111892
Conditions in November 1892 prompted many to write to The Times of London to complain about the ever increasing occurence of fog

And so it went on. But it would be another 60 years before the Great Smog, in December 1952 that led to at least 4,000 deaths and 100,000 being taken ill by the smog’s effects, finally brought about a wave of action that led to the Clean Air Act in 1956. The six days of the anticyclonic conditions are shown below.

 

 

30 mile fog 1952
How the Daily Express reported the ‘pea souper’ in 1952. Absolutely no need for any hype that plagues that paper’s weather stories today!

The anticyclones that caused these horrendous smogs still happen today. Since 2013 I have recorded 10 days of fog at 9am in the autumn / early winter seasons, including one in December 2013 that prompted the iconic image of Canary Wharf poking up through the gloom below.

canary
Canary Wharf fog picture: Metropolitan Police helicopter takes stunning pictures of fogbound London from the sky | Metro News

11122013

Fog on November 1st 2015 was thick enough to see the annual firework display on Wanstead Flats cancelled.

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With the advent of the Clean Air Act the often annual problem of smogs became a thing of the past though, over the past few years, pollution levels have been creeping up again. Campaign groups such as Clean Air in London seem, at last to have a handle on the seriousness of the situation and that these 19th weather patterns that brought such horrendous conditions still occur today. Indeed this table, drawn up by Xmetman, shows how common high pressure still is in winter.

It would be interesting to see how pollution today, in terms of total airborne particulates, NO2 etc, compares with pollution that Londoners had to suffer throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Christmas 1810: stormy then very cold

Earthquakes in Italy and early season snow cover in Siberia have been well documented in 2016.

They were also mentioned by Luke Howard in his publication The Climate of London in 1810.

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He also mentions winter thunderstorms over the Yuletide period, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day – the amount of rain overflowing the Thames.

24th: Very windy night with heavy rain. 25th: Wind high all day with rain frequent lightning in the evening from SE. 26th: Wind very boisterous early in the morning day fine the rain of the last three or four days being impeded in its passage to the Thames by the spring tides overflowed the banks and filled the marshes.

Within two days of this wild and wet spell, complete with strong north-westerlies, the wind swung north and then north-easterly to usher in 1811 with a 12-day cold spell.

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The conditions of the cold spell were not severe, the coldest night was -8C, it was a pretty standard cold spell for the time and one that the south-east used to experience with fair regularity in the early to mid 1980s.

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Models currently show a (fairly) narrow chance of a stormy Christmas period. It would be interesting if it were followed with a cold spell in January – just like the ones we used to get in 1980s.

* The Booty website also contains the following on that notable month…
What is thought to be Britain’s strongest tornado occurred in December 1810. A category of “T8” (on a ten-point scale) occurred on the 14th at Old Portsmouth. The TORRO website says it:  “tracked from Old Portsmouth to Southsea Common causing immense damage – although no deaths, it is believed. Some houses completely levelled and many others were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished; chimneys were blown down and the lead on a bank roof was ‘rolled up like a piece of canvas and blown from its situation’.”