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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 06, 2013

  • Victoria and Albert gather the family around the Christmas tree

  • Blanchard and Jefferies high above the Channel

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Weather in Dudley

21st – 30th November 2013


This was a rather cold period as northerly airstreams dominated the weather. The Black Country Ridge had its second air frost of the season, together with frequent grass frosts. Pressure was high to the west of the British Isles, producing an air flow from the north-west, but, unfortunately, a lot of cloud was entrapped within the circulation as cold and warm fronts edged towards us both to the east and to the south. The small amount of sunshine was largely confined to mornings. It was extremely dry with less than 1mm of rain.


1. Mean maximum 7.5, 45.5F

2. Anomaly -0.2

3. Mean minimum 2.3, 36F

4. Anomaly -1.2

5. Average of max. & min. 4.9, 40.5F

6. Anomaly -0.7

7. Highest/date 9.3, 49F 27th

8. Lowest/date -0.6, 31F 23rd

9. Number of air frosts 1

10. Number grass frosts 6

11. Lowest grass/date -3.2, 26F 26th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 6, 43F


13. Days with rain falling 2

14. Total fall 0.85mm

15. Wettest day 0.8mm 29th

16. Days with snow/sleet falling 0


17. Relative humidity at 9h 86%


18. Average at 9h 1030mb

19. Highest/date 1039mb 25th, 26th

20. Lowest/date 1008mb 21st


21. N 3, NE 3, E 0, SE 0, S 0, SW 0, W 0, NW 3, CALM 1


It is amazing how December comes so quickly every year – or so it seems. Most of us enjoy the Winterfest season despite the hard work which has to go into making it successful. It used to be largely a Christian Festival, but before that particular religion arrived in these blessed islands in the first few centuries Anno Domini/Common Era, these feasts and festivities were centred around the Festival of the Winter Solstice.

Since time immemorial it had been noticed that daylight was at its minimum at the end of December – not that the month of December was known as such. The Norse people always burned the Yuletide log – now remembered in the form of a Swiss Roll covered in chocolate, and mystical ceremonies took place around the fertility symbols of mistletoe, ivy and holly.

We still use these plant symbols at Christmas without realising how non-Christian they are. The ubiquitous Christmas Tree is a very modern innovation and is also linked with fertility celebrations. We are told that we have Prince Albert to thank for this, as he brought the tradition of Christmas trees from mainland Europe. However, there is evidence that this custom goes back much further, and we must not forget the tremendous contribution made by Charles Dickens with A Christmas Carol and The Pickwick Papers.

Nowadays, Christmas is fundamentally a family affair, and gives us the opportunity to renew friendships and relationships with those who may be far away. Unfortunately, the downside is that older people, who have been left by themselves because of death and the mobility of younger people, are frequently isolated at this time.

Statistics show that one third of all households only have one person. The only way they may be kept in touch is through the agency of Christmas cards, and the growing tendency to refuse to send any cards reinforces this isolation and unhappiness. I hope that everyone sends Christmas cards this year as many charities depend on the sale of their cards to survive.

Right on the heels of Christmas is Hogmanay – New Year, and coming so close together they have been combined – willy nilly – into one long Winterfest. New Year has always been the main celebration in Scotland, with little attention paid to it in England and Wales, but over the last few decades it has gained in popularity throughout the United Kingdom.


December is the first of the three winter months, but it has to be remembered that this start to winter is arbitrary, as wintry weather often arrives in November – as it has done over the last few years.

30th November 1784. In 1783 the Montgolfier brothers had demonstrated a hot air balloon, in Paris. The following year, Dr John Jeffries from the English Colonies in America, was taken aloft by another Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, from Grosvenor Square in London, for a fee of 100 guineas. They carried a dog, a variety of thermometers, food and wine.

Initially they landed on the roof of some stables, and then hit a roof, dislodging some chimney pots. However, by releasing ballast – sand – they rose above all nearby buildings. They rose through fog and cloud until at about 1,830m, 6,000 feet, the temperature fell below freezing.

At 2,740m, 9,000 feet, they rose into a clear azure sky. The balloon had by now swollen into a much larger size which alarmed them, so they bled off some gas and rapidly descended to about 5,000 feet, where they remained drinking wine and eating cold chicken for some time, before they finally descended to land near Dartford Kent.

1665 According to Samuel Pepys, ships were trapped by ice in port at Hamburg.

1st December 1937. Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace burned down with the flames being fanned by high winds. Although it was all glass and steel, there was a large amount of timber inside which was enough to heat the metal girders until they twisted and melt the glass until it flowed like a fluid.

Paxton's design was revolutionary as no previous building had been constructed before which enclosed such a large space without the aid of stone pillars and concrete. The fantastic Pantheon in Rome, which covered a large area, built in the first century AD, was constructed with massive concrete for its roof, and is one of the wonders of Rome. However, nothing like Paxton's light 'greenhouse' design had ever been seen before, and it was based on the hot houses he had designed and built at Chatsworth for the Duke of Devonshire.

Sad to write, the wonderful palace has never been rebuilt as it was grossly under-insured!

1978 Dudley temperatures ranged from a high of -0.1, 31.8F, to a low of -4.8, 23.5F accompanied by snow showers.

2010 With 4cm of snow lying and snow showers, Dudley's maximum temperature was -0.6, 31F, and night minimum -2.8, 27F.

2nd 1665 A severe frost set in over the country but only lasted until the 7th.

3rd 1933 I have written about the blacksmith Percy Shaw before, but the story is worth re-telling as it resulted in a safety measure which must have saved countless lives since then. On a journey home in Halifax, Yorkshire, on a foggy night, he had to drive along a section of road with a sheer drop on the side. He couldn't see the tram lines reflected in his headlights as usual, because they had been removed. All of a sudden as he was crawling along, he was startled to see two brilliant lights which turned out to be the eyes of a cat. He reasoned that such reflections would enable drivers to see enough to drive safely, so he designed the first 'cat's eyes'. Well, that is the story – it may be a little apocryphal!

The long and short of it was the reflecting stud embedded in the road, which he patented in 1934. It consisted of two glass beads encased in a rubber mould held in a cast iron frame. As vehicles pass over the studs, the rubber mould is depressed, thus cleaning the glass faces. It's ingenious – but it worked!

It really took off during World War Two when the blackout made driving hazardous, and then in 1947 the Labour Government introduced it all over the country. Since then it has been sold all over the world. Now we give them no thought as they enable us to drive safely.

4th 1957 There was a death toll of 90 with 173 injured in one of the worst railway crashes in the nearly 130 years of railways in the country which invented them. The primary cause was dense fog, which prevented the driver from seeing two warning signals.

It was the Lewisham rail crash which occurred when the 4.56 pm steam train from Cannon Street to Ramsgate smashed into the back of the 5.18 pm electric train from Charing Cross. Over 2,000 passengers – Christmas shoppers and rush hour commuters were on board. The derailed steam train swung sideways on impact, destroying a steel column holding up the viaduct above. It fell onto the two coaches, crushing them to half their size. Since then an Automatic Warning System has been introduced.

5th Parasols were used millennia ago – in China and certainly in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. On this date Dr. John Shebbeare, was sheltered from the rain by a 'rain shield', now called an umbrella, held by his coachman. He had been sentenced to be pilloried at Charing Cross for publishing ant-Hanoverian pamphlets; but apparently the sub-Sheriff of London sympathised with his views so he was not chained to the cross.

Umbrella comes from the Latin for shade – umbra. The pioneer of the use of the umbrella in this country was Jonas Hanway in 1750 – who, incidentally, campaigned against the evils of tea drinking! He suffered persecution because of his strange habit of carrying an umbrella. When I was younger it was regarded as rather "cissy" for men to carry umbrellas in the Black Country.


How splendid to see a picture of the Black Country Flag, flying bravely from the north of Scotland, in last week's Bugle. I have just purchased one from the Black Country Living Museum, now flying from my flagpole, and I urge you all to do the same.


The Romans are supposed to have left these islands in 410 AD, leaving little evidence behind them. However, a Roman coin was found at Russells Hall quite recently. It was of Lucilla Augusta Sesturtius, Lucilla was sister of the Emperor Commodius.

It seems that Anglo-Saxons didn't reach the Stour valley until around 600 AD, and it was probably the territory of the British Hecani. Then Pybba, Anglian king of the Tomsaeton – the Tame Valley people, also called Mercians - came into the Stour Valley. Remember that the Black Country is split into two parts – the Stour River Valley to the south-west, and the Tame River Valley to the north-east – by the Black Country Ridge which runs south-east to north-west. (More next week)

When Pybba died, his son Penda expanded his kingdom to include the lower and middle River Severn Valley in 655 AD. After his death, the Mercians were converted to Christianity.

During the 7th and 8th centuries it appears that a separate sub-kingdom of Mercia existed in the Stour Valley, called the Province of Hwicce.

The oldest piece of evidence for the Anglo-Saxons are deposits of a grey clay containing pottery shards, which has been date to 749 AD. It was found on the site of Dudley Castle.


A few weeks ago I dealt with the growth in the use of electricity until it now underpins our way of life in ways too numerous to reel off. British scientists produced most of the discoveries which enabled it's use, from Michael Faraday's discovery of the electric generator and motor; Wheatstone's electric telegraph; the Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell's telephone; Sir Joseph Swan's electric light bulb 1879 – not as the Americans constantly incorrectly claim, Edison who merely produced a copy of Swann's bulb; Sir Oliver Lodge's radio broadcasting in the 1890s – before Marconi who first patented it; and now the one I missed out – Charles Parsons who patented his design for a steam turbine. Turbines are now used in every thermal power station in the world. – a vast improvement on the reciprocating steam engine.

There were, of course, other Europeans who pioneered the use of electricity. The Italian Alessandra Volta – 1800, first practical battery – gave his name to the volt, and Galvani's experiments with twitching frogs' legs are well known. Frenchman Andre-Marie Ampere gave his name to the electric current.

The Dane, Hans Christian Oersted, discovered the connection between electricity and magnetism, which led to Faraday's discoveries. Leopold Nobili invented the galvanometer to measure electricity, the German, Georg Ohm, gives his name to electrical resistance. Siemens in Germany developed electric motors strong enough to power trains, and Nikola Tesla, a Serb, produced a much more sensible way of sending electricity to consumers – alternating current AC, instead of Edison's direct current DC, which was a failure.

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