Sunday, 20 January 2013

Jings, it's awfy cauld!

See how I revert to my inner Scottish self when the temperature drops? I'm sure my friends in places like New England, Minnesota, Utah and Canada think it's pretty funny when the UK gets a few inches of snow and then panics. To be honest, I think it's funny too, sometimes. That's the thing about British weather, its unpredictable. Some winters we get little or no snow in the south east of England, and some summers...well, let's just say that sometimes we get a summer, and sometimes we don't. I reserve the right to be REALLY CROSS with Buckinghamshire County Council for not gritting the roads I need to drive on (while sending out glossy brochures saying how well-prepared they are for winter) but it's not all their fault.  Our cars aren't always prepared for winter, and neither are we. But in modern life we are much better protected from the vagaries of the weather than our ancestors were. It's worth considering the part that the weather might have played in their lives.

Thames Frost Fair 1683
Centuries ago it could get cold enough for the Thames to freeze over, and the ice was so thick that fairs could be held on it. More recently you can tell that the British have always been obsessed with the weather by just reading the newspapers. In December 1891 this item appeared in the Western Daily Press:
What to-day will be like it would be rash to prophesy, for the ways of the English climate are inscrutable. Although the provinces have suffered considerably from the effects of the fog, London has been most painfully victimised. The visitation has, in fact, been as severe as any experienced within the last decade, and the result of it will be to send up the death rate with a bound, for persons with a predisposition to asthma, bronchitis or other chest diseases are usually swept away by the hundred when the fog descends.
The winter of 1891 was an unusually severe one, but the increase in deaths from the effects of fog and extreme cold was not the only thing that our ancestors had to fear. Many were temporarily thrown out of work because goods could not be carried on frozen canals and rivers, or loaded and unloaded at the docks. Nor could bricklayers, masons or plasterers work in sub-zero temperatures. Business in general would be slow, as people would be reluctant to venture out unless they had to. Those who did brave the cold ran an increased risk of accidents on the icy roads.

The mail has to get through 1872
Newspapers are a great source for finding out what the weather was like in the past, especially the effects of extreme weather. You can also find historic statistics for some weather stations on the Met Office site. Most of them are 20th century in date, but a few are earlier.


1 comment:

  1. it could get cold enough for the Thames to freeze over, and the ice was so thick that fairs could be held on it

    The weather hasn't necessarily got warmer. I can remember the autumn of 1981 being bitterly cold - temperatures in my part of Yorkshire well below -10C for a week and more.

    The reason the Thames doesn't freeze is in part because in the 19th century there was at least one bridge (London Bridge, I think) where the arches were so narrow that the ice could freeze across, stopping the passage of tidal water. Once there was one blockage the river further west would also get cold enough and still enough to freeze. After the new London Bridge was built, the river never froze again.