Bingham’s Weather in 1870s

The All Saint church magazines for the period 1869 to 1874 contain a monthly weather report. They run from and to the 20th of each month, presumably the date that the magazine went to the printers, J. Shimeld of Market Place, Bingham. The only indication of who prepared the reports is the initials J.G. that appear after the reports in the later years. This might have been John Godfrey, who in 1871 was the Master of the Union workhouse and a sideman at the church. Terry Scholey, a specialist in long-range weather forecasting, has examined the reports. He was able to fill in details of the missing years (1871 and 1872) from data he holds in Radcliffe on Trent.

The first thing to be aware of is that the quality of the equipment used at that time and the environment in which it was placed may not have compared well with modern equivalents. For example, the highest temperature reading was 92 degrees Farenheit recorded on the 26th August 1869 (Centigrade was not used in those days). This is a little late for such a high figure, but not impossible. 91oFarenheit was recorded in July the previous year, during a very dry, hot summer.

More reliable are likely to be the minimum temperature values as the radiated effect of the sun is taken away at night and is not so dominant in winter. Interestingly, the lowest temperature also occurred in 1869 suggesting this was a year of extremes. It was during a white Christmas on the morning of 28th December, when the thermometer fell to just 9oF, a very sharp frost indeed.

Several well-known singularities were observed in these weather records. Singularities are events that occur with some regularity at the same time of the year. One such is the notorious mid-May cold spell; another the very warm weather that tends to occur around 21st April. Both are evident in these records and there are other long-term weather cycles that also manifest themselves.

There is an approximately 22 to 23 year cycle of severe winters, with the one of 1870/71 falling into this category. This singularity holds good to the present with the subsequent winters of 1894/95, 1916/17, 1939/40, 1962/63 and 1984/85 also very cold. All these winters were preceded (a warning if you like) and followed by some very cold individual months. With the next cold winter in this cycle due in the next couple of years, it will be interesting to see if this pattern holds true.

The 22 to 23 year weather cycle is in fact dependent on a magnetic effect known as the Hale cycle. This encompasses two sun spot cycles. The Hale cycle starts and ends at points of minimum sun spot activity. Period of high geomagnetic activity, such as there is at present and there was in the early 1870s, can cause weather extremes. Both 1868 and 1870 produced droughts for example, followed by excessive storms and floods in 1872 when the Trent burst its banks. August and December in 1872 were particularly wet, with six and half inches of rain (three times the average) falling on Bingham in December that year.

High geomagnetic activity is often associated with aurora or Northern Lights and this was confirmed in the parish notes on couple of occasions. The first is on the night of 24th/25th September 1870, another is recorded on the night of 18th April 1873. It was easier to spot the phenomenon during the latter half of nineteenth century, as street lighting was limited and there was considerably less light pollution in the night sky than now.

January 1873 was mild until the 20th then another noteworthy cold spell gave severe weather with snow well into February. The summer that followed was poor and quite wet, with resultant harvesting problems into the autumn.

By 1874 the Hale effect was beginning to fade but interestingly, as in 1965 also just after a magnetic peak, some of the coldest winter weather was experienced in the second week of March. On the morning of the 11th 1874 temperatures fell to 13oF at Bingham, with a similar occurrence on 2nd March 1965 of just 12oF in the same area suggesting a connection.

A dry spring followed when there were brief very warm spells, but it was often cool, with a chilly wind. July was the best of the summer months ending with some welcome rain, followed by an unsettled and occasionally windy August. 1874 then ended very cold, with particularly severe frosts during December.

Whilst looking further into the parish magazine notes, the use of Weather Lore was as strong then as it is now. There is a reference of ‘Come the oak leaf before the ash in for a splash; ash before oak in for a soak’ in the spring of 1870 suggesting a dry summer, which turned out to be correct, but it does not always work. Far more reliable is to examine the record of solar activity. In this respect the Bingham weather records are valuable in that they add to the evidence that weather extremes are linked to geomagnetic activity. The strong burst of sun spot activity in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s was relatively short lived during a generally quiet period, but the Bingham weather records show vividly how it interfered with our climate. There is no better example than the biggest extreme of all in these records. That is February 1869. This was one of the mildest ever, recording an average temperature of 7.5oC. This hasn’t been beaten since and has only been succeeded once, in 1779, also during a period of enhanced geomagnetic activity. This seems to confirm the suggestion that solar particles increase temperature or cause extremes. As the sun has been more active than normal, more often, since the late 1940’s, this may go some way to explaining the current enhanced global warming.

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