Alan Crosby: The strangest summer on record

By Jon Bauckham, 2 July 2015 - 4:11pm

We may be in for a sweltering summer, but at least we won’t face the freakish weather conditions our ancestors endured in 1783, says Alan Crosby

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 2 July 2015
Alan Crosby
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My goodness, it’s hot – even up here in Lancashire. A week ago it was so chilly we had the central heating on and now it’s quite the opposite. British weather at its most unpredictable!

Our forebears had to put up with it, but sometimes the weather was so baffling and alarming as to cause genuine fear, even terror. I’ve been reading what Gilbert White, the Hampshire clergyman whose book The Natural History of Selborne is a classic, wrote about the summer of 1783.

White described it as “an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phenomena; for besides the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder-storms that affrighted and distressed the different counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island... was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man”.

For an entire month, he wrote, “the sun, at noon, looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-coloured light on the ground, and floors of rooms; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting. All the time the heat was so intense that butchers’ meat could hardly be eaten on the day after it was killed; and the flies swarmed so in the lanes and hedges that they rendered the horses half frantic, and riding irksome. The country people began to look [on it] with a superstitious awe”.

This terrifying blood-red sunlight and suffocating atmosphere was caused by the outpouring of immense clouds of ash following the huge eight-month eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki – among the greatest in recorded history. I suppose a temperature in the top-20s doesn’t seem so bad after all!

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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