Like many others getting married at the end of August, I have been watching the weather closely – and crossing my fingers that it improves by the end of the month! Happily, this summer has been much more temperate – and drier – than those of the previous few years, but after such hot and sunny weather throughout June and July, August seems rather damp and dull in comparison.

The state of the weather is something that has always interested the Society’s Fellows and correspondents; accordingly, the archives here at the Centre for History of Science hold a swathe of records relating to weather, with many detailed accounts and observations of meteorology and associated phenomena. Reflecting the Society’s international links, these records describe weather patterns from across the globe, from Boston to Buckinghamshire, via Bermuda.

Many of these records are journals, and list information such as barometer and mercury readings, rainfall and wind direction / speed, along with a brief statement as to the general conditions – such as ‘rain’, ‘hot’, ‘foggy’ or ‘cooler’; others, however, provide much great detail. For example, J. P. Schotte’s 1778 meteorological journal for the Island of St Lewis situated in the River Senegal, comprises not only daily lists of weather readings, but a detailed account of the climate and seasons, and their possible effect on the island’s inhabitants.

Not only have the Society’s Fellows always been interested in observing the weather, but they have also been interested in observational methods and how these can be improved. In the late seventeenth century, Robert Hooke not only listed which weather phenomena he conceived it ‘requisite to observe’ – and its effects upon the earth and ‘the bodys of men’ – but also stipulated a precise methodology for making and recording observations, even attaching ‘a scheme, at one view representing to ye eye a modell of ye observations of ye weather for a whole monthe’ to his notes on the subject (Cl.P/20/2).
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Similarly, in November 1663 Christopher Wren wrote to John Wilkins about his proposed weather clock, enclosing a copy of his design, which has ‘changed a little into a more convenient forme, consisting of two winges which may be added to a pendular clock’, alongside a detailed account of its workings (EL/W3/4). Wren summarises that he does not ‘esteeme this instrument as a thing for common use, but for his ease who shall undertake to give a journal of wind & weather, w[hi]ch without such an instrument is impossible to be allwaies don.’

Opening of Wren's letter describing his design for a weather clock

Sadly, the archives don’t give me much hope for a change in the weather before the end of August; in fact, if William Derham’s registers of weather at Upminster in Essex for the early 1700s (Cl.P/5) are anything to go by, I should definitely advise my wedding guests to bring umbrellas! Derham’s registers for the last week of August invariably describe the weather as ‘rain’, ‘foggy’, ‘cloudy’ and ‘misting’ – usually only ‘fair’ at best – and he records hoar frosts for 24 August 1702, and 25 and 29 August 1703. Worst-sounding of all, however, is the ‘pernicious storm to fruit’ of 11 August, and the ‘much rain and thunder’ of 26 August 1705; umbrellas simply don’t sound like adequate protection if my guests and I have to weather these storms!

Diagram of Wren's weather clock

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