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Nottingham Castle and Trent Bridge

On Thursday I visited Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery to see what I could find in the way of collection items relating to climate change! Unfortunately the answer was very little… In the main gallery several paintings chart the changing landscape of the city, as does ‘The story of Nottingham’ display which includes agricultural implements and makes mention to the decline of Nottingham and many other cities in England during the 14th and 15th centuries owing in part to the deteriorating climate, as well as the Black Death, war and changes in the cloth industry. Any links to climate change would be very tenuous!

After my visit to the Castle I walked to Trent Bridge to see the high water levels (in feet above ordnance datum) marked on the wall in years of flood; 1857, 1864, 1869, 1872, Oct 1875,  Jan 1877, 1901, 1910, 1932, Feb 1946, March 1947, Nov 2000. I hope to follow up this visit with some more research on extreme weather events in the East Midlands region.

River Levels, Trent Bridge

River Levels, Trent Bridge


Calke Abbey

Today I visited Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, accompanied by friends Kate and Oli. The property (which stands on the site of a priory) dates from 1704, was home to the Harpur-Crewe family, and was taken on by the National Trust in 1985. It is described by the Trust as an ‘un-stately home’, the desire being to leave it as an example of ‘the decline of the great country house’. The house and extensive grounds are well worth exploring, and we were expertly guided by Nigel and treated to a view from the roof and a peak inside the store rooms as well as a tour around the house which is packed full of taxidermy specimens and the results of a variety of other collecting obsessions!

In terms of house contents with relevance to the theme of climatic change, the natural history specimens include a large collection of lepidoptera, and also an herbarium that have potential to provide a record of which species were previously found at Calke and the surrounding area, although the labelling of Sir Vauncey (the man responsible for the majority of the collection) is patchy at best! Wardens in the park are currently surveying the vegetation and wildlife species found, generating data that could be used alongside the house collections to produce evidence of changing climate. We were also able to spot a weather vane on the stable block, a collection of parasols, a children’s weather house (unfortunately something has gone wrong with my photo of this lovely house!), and a couple of John Whitehurst clocks (although an absence of barometers). The library houses an extensive collection on natural history, including some texts on butterflies that have been annotated with sketches of specimens found at Calke.

The team at Calke have also recently made several alterations, particularly to the drainage system, in an attempt to protect the property from flooding. The house flooded in June 2007 after extremely heavy rain and a hail storm, damaging a number of rooms. However, staff responded quickly and were able to rescue and dry out the majority of the affected contents. A small display on the flood was put on in the house in the months following the flood event. The team also discovered a record of the house flooding back in June 1830 recorded in the diary of Sir George Crewe, “…The first thing which attracted my attention, as I left the Saloon, was the noise of the Buckets, Pattens, Brushes, etc, etc, and numerous voices below. I hastened down and found that the water had penetrated the front lower door, had filled the passage on the ground floor and my Anti-room – and made its escape into a Bed-room… Here was a scene of confusion, the Mats and Carpets saturated with Red Mud – and the boards soaked.”

BBC news article on the 2007 flood at Calke Abbey.

Link to Royal Meteorological Society fact-sheet on weather houses.

Calke Abbey collections archive

Calke Abbey collections archive

Calke Abbey

Calke Abbey


Louth Museum

Today I visited Louth Museum in Lincolnshire. This is a great independent small museum, with a number of different collection themes, brought together through their links to Louth (William Brown’s panorama of Louth -1844-47, geology, brick-making, the Lincolnshire rebellion – 1536, natural history – birds and butterflies, navigation and the canal, malting, Lincolnshire carpets the wood carver T.W. Wallis and the Louth flood of 1920).

The flood exhibition was the main reason for my visit although I also found several other items of interest. The flood display features a map showing the extent of the flood waters, location of the 23 deaths and single birth that occurred during the flood, and the location of the photographs of the flood event and clear-up which are in the display cases. As the curator David Robinson has documented in his book on the flood, the extensive photographic record of the disaster is owing to the presence of journalists following a bi-election in the town. Other items include a short film of the clear-up effort and a painting damaged by the flood waters.

David was really helpful and full of ideas for the project. He also has links to the School of Geography at Nottingham, having completed his geography degree there in the 1950s, and subsequently completing some research with Professor of Meteorology Frank Barnes. He’s also published papers relating to meteorology and weather lore in a number of books and journals which I’m now intending to track down.

Other items of interest in the museum were a barometer by Innocenti Tara, an Italian manufacturer who settled in Louth, and a pair of ice skates, designed for use outside in suitable weather conditions!

Exhibition on the Louth flood at Louth Museum

Exhibition on the Louth flood at Louth Museum


5 weather diarists of the East Midlands

Following a visit to Nottingham Archives last week I thought I would share some prominent weather diarists of the East Midlands with you…

1) Thomas Barker of Lyndon Hall, Rutland

Barker recorded his first rainfall measurements at the age of 17 in 1736. His subsequent records for his home at Lyndon Hall, Rutland are highly regarded, and he is considered to be one of the first scientific weather observers, taking almost daily readings of temperature and rainfall until almost the end of the century. He was in good company, marrying the daughter of Gilbert White the famous naturalist.

2) Hayman Rooke of Mansfield Woodhouse

After a military career, Major Rooke retired to Mansfield Woodhouse and became an antiquary and pioneer archaeologist in Nottinghamshire. Rooke’s weather observations cover the period 1785-1805. The major oak was named in his honour owing to his love of Sherwood Forest.

3) Colonel Henry Mellish of Hodsock Priory, Notts

Mellish was President of the Royal Meteorological Society and recorded temperature and rainfall between 1876 and 1900. His extensive meteorological library is now held by the University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

4) Mr J. Hunter of Belper

John Hunter of Belper was a member of the Urban District Council who recorded his observatiosn of temperature and rainfall between 1876-1926. The summarises are held in Derbyshire Record Office.

5) Mr Thomas Edge of Strelley Hall, Nottinghamshire

Thomas Edge recorded sunshine between 1882-1916.

These five men are just a selection of the people who have kept weather records in the East Midlands. Increasingly in the twentieth century organisations and institutions have taken over the recording role from dedicated individuals. I hope to be able to map both shortly!


New Walk, Charnwood, and Collections Resources Centre, Leics, and Derby Museum and Art Gallery

A busy week of visits!

On Tuesday I went to New Walk museum in Leicester. There weren’t any exhibits specifically related to climatic change, although in the ‘Wild Space’ section, the different climatic regions of the world were featured and mention made of mass extinctions due in part in some cases to climatic cooling or warming. The human effect on habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and over exploitation were emphasised over climatic change, although the role of biodiversity in regulating the earth’s climate was drawn out. In the Ancient Egypt gallery the fascination with different climates was made apparent and given an East Midlands connection through Thomas Cook’s tours. The dinosaur gallery is currently closed for refurbishment, but the collections would here give evidence of changing climates over a long timescale! Thanks to Oli for coming along to New Walk – we’d recommend a visit to the current Space Age exhibition!

Next up was the Collections Resources Centre for Leicestershire in Barrow-upon-Soar. This was a fascinating warehouse where all of the collections not currently on display in the county museums (the city collections have been separate since 1997) are held. The items are arranged into five categories; costume, home and family life, working life, natural life and archaeology. Carolyn Holmes who looks after the biology collections was my guide. Carolyn was extremely helpful in providing a number of other useful contacts for my research, and in telling me about the holdings and the current projects to increase the use of the collections. In terms of biological collections, the county mainly holds the entomology and lower plant items. Community and local interest groups are now able to borrow teaching trays from the Centre for a wide range of activities – their use in art workshops seems to be particularly strong, and they also provide training in identification (the team have been particularly involved in recent ladybird surveys). Workshops on keeping nature diaries and phenological records have also taken place (see the Leicestershire ‘Season Watch’ project – Carolyn and her team are also still actively collecting items missing from their collections, or which have contemporary importance in showing developments like climatic change. They have recently put together a collection of dandelion species from the county. There is also an awareness of the need to reduce the Centre’s own environmental impact, the entomology collections are being re-curated to use the limited space more effectively, and the team are working on improving airflow through the warehouse. In terms of the other collection categories, there are a couple of barometers, but the curators have not been able to identify any major collections which could explicitly be used to tell us about climatic change during more recent times.

I then went on to Charnwood Museum in Loughborough where the focus is very much on the local environment and industry. The skull of a woolly rhino unearthed in 1938 is displayed alongside ‘kipper’ a large pilosaur fossil found in 1851 in Barrow. There is also a model of the post mill at Woodhouse Eaves which was destroyed by fire. Windmills of the region are another area I need to investigate further!

To round off the week of visits on Thursday I went to Derby Museum and Art Gallery where I found my first major exhibition of barometers and related instruments! A number of Derby based manufacturers are represented with pieces by Whitehurst and Sons featuring prominently (see earlier post for more on John Whitehurst). There are a number of clocks and barometers, a pocket barometer, weather vane dial and the sundial which is pictured below, alongside a portrait of Whitehurst by Joseph Wright. John Whitehurst also features in the geology gallery, famous for establishing the law of stratigraphy, deducing the origins of coal, and coining the term ‘millstone grit’.

Elsewhere in the ‘Nature Gallery’ there is an exhibition of butterflies and moths, the Derby Hippo – indicative of a swampy environment and a mild climate (discovered 1895), and a time tunnel going through 700 million years which includes a number of exhibits from the Cresswell Crags site. More images on my flickr page.

Weather vane dial by John Whitehurst, c.1760

Weather vane dial by John Whitehurst, c. 1760

Collections Resources Centre, Leics

Collections Resources Centre, Leics

Bronze sundial by Whitehurst and Sons, 1812

Bronze sundial by Whitehurst and Sons, 1812


School of Geography – recording the weather, 1935-1979

Automated rainfall gauge

Automated rainfall gauge

Today I got chance to go over to the University manuscript collection where I looked at some of the weather records produced my members of the School over the period 1935-1979. There are around thirty boxes of material containing a huge quantity of data relating to pressure, wind direction and speed, sunshine hours, visibility, weather at present, in the past 24 hours and in the past hour, cloud cover, air temperature, humidity, earth temperature, rainfall, state of ground and general remarks. The record would have taken around an hour to complete and was for several years completed twice a day (including weekends) at 9:00 and 16:00, and thereafter once a day at 9:00. The station was thus a big part of the School’s activities. Lots of people were involved in the recording, technical, academic and postgraduate members of the School, and it would be interesting to compile a full list of the observers. The actual sunshine charts and some for rainfall are in the archive, but most of the records are single sheets with the day’s measurements. My next task is to locate some of the monthly summaries which were published in the Evening Post. I would also like to find the end of year charts which were produced from the data…

This afternoon I took some more photos of the instruments from the weather station which have been kept in the lab – the automated rainfall gauge above is the star of the show but please see my flickr album for more! The rainfall gauge has a windup mechanism which rotates the internal cylinder once every week, a pen attached to the mechanism then makes a trace on the chart according to the level of rainfall.

Thanks to Ian Conway for providing assistance and memories!