December 16, 2016, by Lucy

Weather Extremes: Making and Breaking Records in Nottinghamshire

Over the last few months Georgina and I have been working closely with staff at the Department of Manuscripts, University of Nottingham, to curate a public exhibition for the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts, on the University campus. It opens today.

Last night we held a private view that was opened by BBC meteorologist Helen Willetts, an alumna of the University of Nottingham. We’d like to thank Helen for her fantastic opening speech and for giving all of those present an insight into the life of a weather forecaster, forecasting particularly important when it comes to warnings of extreme meteorological events. It’s also been fantastic to be able to share the exhibition with BBC Radio Nottingham, BBC Radio Derby, BBC online and Central Weather over the last few days – thank you for visiting and talking to us!

The exhibition features key events in Nottinghamshire’s weather history: floods, droughts, storms, extremes of temperature and other strange atmospheric happenings (some well-known, others long-forgotten). Archival sources reveal how extreme weather affected daily life in the city of Nottingham and the wider county, the impact it had on different groups in society, their responses to it and which events entered the public memory. The display also explores the contributions of Nottinghamshire people to the extreme weather archive and to the wider development of the science of meteorology. The exhibition materials not only illustrate the diversity of documentary records available for extreme weather history in the UK, but also serve to demonstrate the changing nature of weather recording and weather records over time.

As well as documents from the University collection, the exhibition includes a selection of photographs from the Nottingham Post archive, now held by the Local Studies Library. We also have copies of material from the Derbyshire Record Office (a fantastic handbill documenting a tornado of 1811) and Picture the Past, and an original manuscript notebook kindly lent by the National Meteorological Library and Archive. We’d like to thank all those people that have loaned material or given us permission to use images.

Visitors also have the opportunity to search TEMPEST – the online database of extreme weather events that is one of the main outputs from our broader project. Most of the items on display in the exhibition can be found in the database, alongside hundreds of others from around the UK. We are also encouraging those that visit to share their memories of extreme weather with us via a map on the gallery wall.

Weather Extremes poster



In this post we’d like to share a few of our own highlights from the exhibition.

The University of Nottingham and the History of Weather

It is especially pleasing to have been able to include a number of items with strong connections to the University; photos and receipts relating to Highfields Lido, very popular during hot summers in the city, and which occupied the site of the exhibition from 1925 until 1980, closing after a run of disappointing summers; photos of students skating on Highfields Lake and bathing in Kegworth canal; a fabulous photograph of the release of a weather observation balloon during the meeting of the British Association held at the University in 1937; items relating to Arnold Tinn, inspired by Professor H.H. Swinnerton of the Geography Department to begin a record of the weather and later described by KC Edwards in the same Department as the city’s ‘most distinguished local meteorologist’; recording sheets from the Geography Department’s own weather station; and published and manuscript material produced by Edward Joseph Lowe (affectionately known as the big snowflake because of his snowy white beard), a founder member of the British (later Royal) Meteorological Society who began his weather recording at his family home in Highfield House (now home to the Centre for Advanced Studies), and a pioneering figure in the history of meteorological extremes.

Extreme Weather and Nottingham’s People

The diaries of William Parsons are a long time favourite, and a source we have featured in previous blog posts: In the exhibition we have been able to include Parson’s account of learning to skate on the frozen River Trent during the severe winter of 1838. Staff at Manuscripts and Special Collections have recently begun to digitise Parson’s diaries so that more people can enjoy them, and some of the new material is available on a touchscreen just outside the gallery space. More information on the transcription project and William Parsons here:

A ‘chatterbox’ phone in the gallery space invites visitors to listen to Mrs Fitzgerald’s account of the flood of November 1852, a narrative rich in information relating to the impacts of the flood on the small village of Fledborough and its residents, and the community’s response to the event.

Correspondence from a number of different estate collections is particularly valuable in exploring the impacts of extreme weather on agriculture, horticulture, building works and the knock on effects on physical, mental and economic wellbeing. Visitors will recognise many of the places featured, including Wollaton Park and Sherwood Forest.

There are also some fantastic visual sources documenting extreme weather in the city; a small photograph album that captures people skating, walking and cycling over a frozen River Trent in 1895; and other photos that capture the local effects of the flooding that struck much of the country in 1947 and 1960.

We have also been able to draw upon material from the Mellish Meteorological Library and the H.R. Potter collection both held by the University – Henry Mellish and Harold Potter being key figures in meteorology and in historical hydrology respectively.

Events Programme

Details of the exhibition, and the supporting public programme of events can be found on the Lakeside website:

The first event is a talk by Georgina and myself on the 12 January 2017. It’s free to attend but booking via the Lakeside box office is recommended. We’ll be reflecting on our experiences of working on the exhibition as well as looking at a number of the events and items featured in more detail.

The exhibition itself is open until 26 March 2017. We do hope that our readers will be able to visit and would love to hear your thoughts on the materials and the weather events we’ve showcased.

Finally we’d like to use this opportunity to acknowledge our huge thanks to all staff at Manuscripts and Special Collections, especially Kathryn Summerwill who has expertly guided us through the process of putting together the exhibition. We are really proud of it and especially pleased that it provides the opportunity to share our research with colleagues, family, friends and the wider public.



Posted in Archive visitsEventsProject themesWeather extremesweather observers