130 years of Weston Park Weather Station

Sep 11 2012

                                   Weston Park Weather Station, c1980

Weston Park Weather Station is one of the longest, continuously recording weather stations in the UK. It was founded in response to a serious outbreak of diarrhoea that had occurred in 1880, which resulted in many deaths, particularly of young children.  Scientists knew that there was a link between outbreaks of these kinds of disease and current weather conditions, but there was no weather station in Sheffield making regular readings.  Without this data, doctors couldn’t predict or prepare for the outbreaks when they occurred. In 1881, the Department of Health lobbied Sheffield Corporation, the equivalent of the Council, and the following year, the station was established.

Elijah Howarth (1853 – 1938), the curator of Weston Park Museum, was selected to set up the station. After consulting with the Meteorological Office, he selected Weston Park to house the station so he could be close enough to take regular readings. He began recording at the station in September of 1882.  He quickly became a weather enthusiast and was made a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Elijah Howarth

Elijah Howarth, c.1920

The original location of the weather station was in front of the steps leading to the Mappin Art Gallery (although this building wouldn’t exist until 1887).  The station was relocated in 1920, to an area around 20 metres to the South East. It stayed in this location until 1951, when it was moved for one final time to make way for a conservatory, installed to celebrate the Festival of Britain. The conservatory was dismantled in 1999. 

initial location of Weston Park weather station

Initial location of weather station, c.1905, © Sheffield City Council, http://www.picturesheffield.com

In the 1890s, the Meteorological Office took on Weston Park Weather Station as one of their official climatological stations, due in part to Howarth’s enthusiasm. This also resulted in him becoming a bit of a local celebrity and he gained the nickname, ‘Elijah the Prophet,’ due to his forecasting abilities.

Howarth retired from the museums service in 1928, but continued recording at the weather station until 1936, after recording for a remarkable 54 years.  He was succeeded by Joseph Baggaley (1886 – 1962), who had previously been Howarth’s assistant, since 1900. Assisting Howarth had given Baggaley some expertise in meteorology.  During the First World War, Baggaley set up a weather station at the front. After catching dysentery and malaria, he was sent away from the front and spent the remainder of the war training others to take meteorological readings. During WW2, Baggaley provided weather readings from Weston Park (classified as secret for the duration of the war) to the war office. During 1940, he was asked to provide by telephone hourly wind readings between 22:00 and 06:00, presumably because there was intelligence that Germany intended to bomb Sheffield. This was proved accurate in December 1940 as Sheffield, and Weston Park Museum itself, was badly hit by enemy action.

JW Baggaley

Joseph Baggaley, 1937

Baggaley retired in 1952.  In 1959, the weather station was passed into the jurisdiction of the museum’s newly formed natural history department.  The station was managed by a variety of people during this time until 1978, when a new post was created with specific responsibility for the station.  This post was initially taken by Steve Garland, and after he left in 1985, by Gaynor Boon. Gaynor would manage the station for the next 25 years.  Gaynor oversaw probably the largest change to the meteorology service since its inception, as the station was computerised.  Ground breaking new equipment was installed, improving the accuracy and efficiency of the station. The paper based archive was transcribed onto more than 1,300 monthly spreadsheets. These were eventually converted into a huge database containing 47,000 days worth of data.

Frozen Fountain

Frozen Fountain, Weston Park, 1897

Hottest day - 34.9 degrees celsius, 3/8/1990
Coldest day - 14.6 degrees celsius, 8/2/1895
Westtest day - 119mm, 5/7/1973
Wettest month - 285mm, June 2007

Today, the station is managed by the Curator of Natural Science, Alistair McLean and the data is still collected on a daily basis. The daily data can be found at https://twitter.com/WPWeather.  Access to archived data can be arranged by emailing alistair.mclean@museums-sheffield.org.uk.




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