July 3, 2015, by Lindsay Brooke

It’s hot, hot, hot! But ’twas ever thus!

As we sizzle in this week’s high temperatures it is worth remembering that heat waves have always been a feature of the British summer. And it is worth having a read of some of the archives currently being brought together by a team of experts led by The University of Nottingham.

The Extreme Weather team led by Professor Georgina Endfield and Dr Lucy Veale in the School of Geography are drawing on historical records and personal recollections for the £1m British Climate Histories project. They are hoping to explore how and why events like these have become inscribed into our cultural fabric.

The following extracts recall ‘severe tempests’ and hurricanes after spells of bad weather, August hail storms with ‘ale stones so large it was feared they would have ‘broak the shop windows’ and people ‘dying from the hot sun’ and concerns over children ‘being drowsy in the classrooms’. Farmers recall considerable ‘injury’ to growing crops, hay stack fires, springs failing and ‘smokeing hot’ days with the ‘ground burning for want of rain’.

The following make a fascinating read.

 H O Nethercote Esq 

Meteorological Register kept at Moulton Northampton

August 1857- 1883

Box 125 43 MO (National Meteorological Library and Archive, Exeter)

August 1857: “A lovely month with a succession of hot clear weather. The grain was nearly all housed by the 23rd inst. All nature still wears her summer garb. Besides being favourable to the farmer this month has been full of interest for the meteorologist in the occurrence of phenomena: a rainbow was seen on the 9th and the 20th which was seen the greater part of the day pm.  Thunder was heard on the 4th, 5th and 9th and a severe tempest broke over on the evening of the 12th after an excessive hot sultry day rain mingled with hail fell without intermission from 8pm to 11pm with heavy thunder and vivid lightning on the 13th day much cooler with tempest heavy from 11 am to 4 pm doing much damage in various parts of the kingdom.  Falling stars were noticed on the 14th and 29th inst.

The tempestuous heavy weather proved very beneficial to our crops likewise to our neighbours.

June 1858: The month opened with hot dry sultry weather which continued till nearly the middle of the month a great relief was afforded on the 4th with a thunderstorm and a heavy refreshing shower the rain in depth being about ¼ inch, on the 9th we were again visited with thunder, rain and hail, the latter doing considerable damage in many parts of the kingdom. Here the damage was confined to the breaking of a few squares of glass but in places situated within 30 miles of London the damage done was considerable, bed of cabbage were riddled as if with heavy shot. potatoes.., completely severed close to the ground and glass trachined in places, especially in the neighbourhood of Reading Berks, wholly deviated of glass and trees of their leaves. For several nights after this storm, lightning was frequent and unusually vivid, the atmosphere appearing so highly charged with the electric field as to present continued illumination.

July 1858: The dryness which formed so striking characteristic of the last month has continued through this and has caused to the growing crops considerable injury. Turnips, swedes and other root crops are in places entirely destroyed. On 11 inst at 1pm the hygrometer indicated 26deg of dryness with a brilliant sun. Insects of all kinds appear very numerous, especially red spider whose ravages has extended to such an alarming rate as to threaten the destruction of the plants in beds. A hurricane occurred on the night of the 26th ins doing considerable damage to the corn in exposed localities, such a storm of wind as prevailed in the night of the 24th and morning of the 25th  is almost without parallel in this country. Trees are blown down, buildings and haystacks damaged and everything movable carried about in all directions.

Summer of 1864, from a letter to the Times Newspaper, included in Nethercote’s diary

Sir- droughts in this climate have been of rather frequent occurrence . Within the last quarter of a century five years have thus been characterised, namely 1840, 1844, 1852, 1863 and 1864. It is however in the spring when droughts have usually happened and in that season of the year they prevailed in the first four of the above. We have not had so dry a summer as the one as that just closed since 1800. Dry summers are therefore very rare. We have not had a hot summer since 1859 when the shade thermometer  exceeded 90 deg on several occasions.

Birmingham: (about the centre of England) the summer was the driest for 64 years, The total rain in two months ending the 27th August was under an inch . August was the driest ever known here up to the 28th. Only 0.21 inch of rain had fallen in the first 27 days.

Joseph Woolley, framework knitter:

Born c. 1773, Joseph Woolley was a framework knitter and stocking maker from Clifton, Nottinghamshire. There are 6 surviving volumes of diaries, for the years 1801, 1803, 1804-05, 1809, 1813, and 1815 which can be consulted at Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/311/1-6

1805 summer: This summer, that is 1805 there was more asps or wasps than ever I knew they were very troublesome and destroyed a deal of fruit and did a great deal of mischief.

Sept 7th 1805 the hay stacks that stood in Nottingham meadows and that stood nearest to the town were burnt most of them they was set on fire by one of Mr Hopton’s stack taking fire and the reason it took fire was it was got too soon it had been on fire 2 days and about 2-3 o’clock on the 3rd morning the wind blowing very strong it blased out and caught the other stacks that stood with it there was 19 stacks and they was all burnt but one…

1809 hailstorm August the 10 about forty minutes past 10 o’clock there was such a hail storm as forever saw in my life before it as thundered most of the afternoon and rained some time but the storm began in an instant the wind blew as if it would have tore the trees up by the roots and it began to ‘ale and rain in such a manner as I never saw before and they was the largest hale stones that I ever saw I was afraid they would have broak the shop windows but they did not, they were some lay nearly ‘alf hour after it was over and it was soon over it lasted but about six-or-seven minutes. On Friday morning about seven o’clock there was another storm but not so violent as that on Thursday night – but the ail stones was much larger  I was informed that there were ail stone picked up three inches long and two inches and a half round with three or four sharp spikes to them, Thomas Wootton found one in the stable yard a very large one and henry Francis found one in the hooking a very large one, there was a many very large ones found by several different people and measured which measured three inches or there abouts and two and a half round.

On the 11th there was ail stones found at the rylads in Beeston Libersty that measured seven inches long John Barker told William Tongue so it broak some of their windows and did some damage there was some damage done at several neighbouring towns.

Commonplace Book kept by members of the Wakefield family of Shelford (Nottinghamshire Archives DD/2236/1)

In the year 1826 a very dry summer it did not set in till the later end of May – in the 18 9 July a very hot Wednesday a many people that dropped and died with the hot sun.

Peter Pegge-Burnell, farmer who kept a diary in Winkburn, near Newark, Nottinghamshire between 1789 and 1834

(Nottinghamshire archives, DD CW 8c)


22 June – very hot & very weather warm burning

20 June – burning hot weather

Very dry & hot during the remainder of the month

5 July – the weather still very hot & dry, a better crop of hay rather than last season, pastures much burnt and spring corn very short

14 July – finish our hay harvest, got 70 tons of excellent hay with little or no trouble!


3 July – smokeing hot day – ground burning for want of rain

5 July – a burning hot day

11 July – gleemey & hot

12 July – hot & windy

17 July – the hottest day this dry & hot summer

J WescombEmmerton papers  Thrumpton John Wescomb Emmerton at Thrumpton, from a series of letters.  He lived in Thrumpton Hall,

Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/SY /169/1-55.

August 26th 1796

My Dear Brother

The weather is very hot and our springs very lo . Such a season a few years ago, I remember, was followed by a number of putrid disorders which Stevenson imputed to the exhalations from the mud in the ditches and the pools, the water being quite gone. The boys should not be abroad either too early or late in the day and a cold infusion of bark might be of service as the autumn advances

John Thomas Swanick’s diary, Derby (he was a surveyor of Derbyshire)

(National Meteorological Library and Archive, Exeter, MET/2/1/2/3/127)


July 1825

This month is remarkable not only on account of the excessive heat which has prevailed for the last 20 days but also for the great length of time without any rain. We have had only one shower which happened on the evening of the 1st and that amounted to only one hundredth part of an inch a circumstance which has not occurred since we kept a rain table. The springs are beginning to fail in many places and as the quantity collected in the last seven months is only one third of the annual average it is much to be feared they will still continue to decline.


This year will be remarkable for the extraordinary drought which prevailed through a large portion of great Britain throughout the entire summer. Here followed some extremely hot weather.

 Keele (St John’s School) 1862-1942

(National Meteorological Library and Archive, Exeter MET/2/1/2/3/207)

July 4th 1904 Scorching hot weather 89 deg in the sun

Concerns over children being drowsy in the classrooms

July 8th work has been sluggish on account of the heat. There have been numerous cases of faintings

There’s more on the latest Weather Extremes blog.

More information is available from Professor Georgina Endfield on +44 (0)115 951 5731, georgina.endfield@nottingham.ac.uk or Lindsay Brooke, Media Relations Manager at The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 9515751.

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