May 23, 2014, by Lucy

Getting into the archive: Joseph Woolley’s diaries

Joseph Woolley

This week I thought I would detail another source that I’ve been working on in Nottinghamshire Archives. 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. The series record personal and financial information. Included are Woolley’s accounts of private and business expenditure (frame rents, cotton purchased etc) as well as information pertaining to his locality – Clifton, Barton, Wilford and Ruddington. The latter primarily concerns the weather, events (particularly crimes) and characters but there is also some comment on national news. Woolley’s entries are recorded in printed almanacs that contain published information referring to the previous meteorological year and lists of remarkable events, many of which are weather related.

TEMPEST database

I have been using Woolley’s diaries to explore and experiment with entering archival information into our database which is now almost fully constructed! Using the accounts of weather events documented by Woolley and in printed form has proved a useful exercise in thinking about how best to enter the data we’re gathering into what will, by the end of the project, be a publicly searchable resource:

  • how will people search?
  • what kinds of things will they want to know?
  • which of the weather events recorded in the documentary archive should we deem ‘extreme’?
  • how best to date and geo-reference the weather events?
  • should we include published and unpublished materials, primary and secondary accounts?
  • how best to classify impacts and responses, and the weather events themselves?

If you have any thoughts on the above we’d love to hear from you!

Woolley’s weather observations

Woolley was not a regular observer of the weather. His handwritten entries actually only record 3 weather ‘events’, though several other entries contain observations that could be linked to the weather conditions of the time (relating to health and nature), the database will include both. Like so many of our other authors he also refers back to previous events to give an idea of magnitude and comments both on the impacts of the events and the responses to them. Some examples of both types of entry can be found below:

Records of weather events

January 1801: I begin this year with the account of a great flood that happened in January it was at the hite the 28 and it did a great deal of mischief in a many places people say that it was the biggest flood that hath been since the year 95 they had a deal to doe to keep it out of Barton and Wilford but it drained thro the banks and did make the town of Wilford all of a soss and filled the farm yards with water.

2nd August 1801: There was a very sore storm of thunder and lightening and a vast quantity of rain fell it rained so fast at Nottingham that it ran down the streets to such amazing sight that it run into some of their cellers in Leister Gate and Narrow Marsh and in some other parts of the town.

16th Feb 1813: 16th was a very windy day there was a maney stacktops blown off and some were blown over the wind had been very boisterous for a fortnite or more but it was the worst on that day, Mr Langfords hay in the Green Close was blown over and at the Colomearles there was several on topt… aram had 2 and henry francis one john brooks one and aram one and there might be several more these but I have hear of no more, Joseph Woolley had one blown of at home – there would have been a deal of thatch blown off the buildings but it was it the day time so people saw it before there was much damage done some thatched with ladders and some with fenceflash and rails and any thing they could lay their hands on which prevented a deal of mischief.

Recording the weather was clearly not routine practice for Woolley as it was for many of our other diarists. I think this makes it much easier to classify the weather events that he does record as ‘extreme’ or unusual – but you may disagree!

River Trent with Clifton Hall just visible, Richard Croft (Geograph)

River Trent with Clifton Hall just visible, Richard Croft (Geograph)

Records of possible weather related events

1801: In this year there was a very bad fever in Nottingham and its neighbourhood which I … of a great many people some days there was as many as seven and some days eight funerals at Saint Mary’s Church and I have been told ten one day but that it was true I cannot tell but there certainly was a great number of people died.

Summer 1805: 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 I knew of more than forty trees of plum destroyed.

7th September 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 Hoptons 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 or 3 oclock 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.

Secondary data

Printed in the diaries which were published by Francis Moore are meteorological observations and remarks on the weather for the previous year (usually on the national scale) that can also be entered into the database to help us build up a better picture of extreme weather over the last 300 years. Again examples are below:

30th June 1801: There was a violent Hurricane or Whirlwind, accompanied with Lightning and Thunder, and much rain.

July 1801: In July there was a good deal of rain, and on the 16th and 17th, violent storms of thunder, lightning, and hail…the 22nd was the hottest day of the year.

More information:

Copies of Woolley’s diaries can be consulted at Nottinghamshire Archives (ref DD/311/1-6) and more on Woolley and the contents  of his diaries can be found in Steedman, C. (2013) An Everyday Life of the English Working Class, Work, Self and Sociability in the  Early Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press.

PS – Weather Extremes on URN

On Monday Georgina and I went on the URN Science Show to talk about the project. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time on the show (and won chocolate) – a podcast is now available:

itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-science-show/id475088863

URN’s homepage: http://urn1350.net/thescienceshow/podcast

Posted in Archive visitsEventsProject themesWeather extremesweather observers