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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 06, 2014

  • A nineteenth century Frost Fair on the frozen Thames

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Birthplace of Industrial Revolution

Weather in DUDLEY

21st - 31st January 2014


The month ended the way it had begun with a mild stormy period. Rain fell every day accompanied by strong winds at times. However, the last two days saw a temporary incursion of cold easterly winds with light snow on high ground.

1. Mean maximum 6.6, 44F

2. Anomaly +1.7

3. Mean minimum 1.9, 35.5F

4. Anomaly +1.2

5. Average of max. & min. 4.2, 39.8F

6. Anomaly +1.4

7. Highest/date 9.9, 50F 25th

8. Lowest/date 0.3, 32.5F 29th, 30th

9. Number air frosts 0

10. Number grass frosts 5

11. Lowest grass/date -2.5, 27.5F 26th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 4.9, 40.5F


13. Days with rain/snow 11

14. Total fall 133.3mm

15. Wettest day 10.7mm 24th

16. Days with snow falling 2 29th, 30th


17. Mean relative humidity 9h 91%


18. Mean at 9h 1000mb

19. Highest/date 1012mb 24th

20. Lowest/date 979mb 28th


21. N 0, NE 0, E 2, SE 1, S 11, SW 12, W 3, NW 0, CALM 2


"Two great nations divided by a common language". Thus spake Sir Winston Churchill, referring to Great Britain and the USA.

As with so many of his aphorisms, it contains at least a kernel of truth. The United States is a scion of the British Nation. Like awkward teenagers they were very naughty and rebelled against us when we tried to get them to pay their fair share of the cost of defending them against the French, who were bent on grabbing our colonies.

On the pretext of freedom, personified by the slogan, "No taxation without representation", a group of wealthy business men declared their independence by tipping a cargo of tea into the harbour at Boston.

We can only estimate how many of the British colonists were in favour of independence, but we do know that scores of thousands were not, and had to flee to what was to become Canada. In 1812 the USA declared war on Great Britain with the prime purpose of conquering Canada. To this end they crossed Lake Ontario and burnt Fort York – late Toronto – to the ground. We retaliated by burning the White House in Washington. They lost this unnecessary war.

I have recently come across some more information about US hostility to Canada. The United States supported several Fenian raids across the Canadian border in the 19th century. During their Civil War, the politician William Seward set up several cells in various cities such as Toronto and Halifax to foster rebellion. Seward was responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia with the purpose of annexing Canada.

In the 1930s the USA had War Plan Red, to be put into operation if Canada remained neutral. It involved an invasion of Canada and the bombing of Quebec City, Montreal and Halifax – and they weren't even in the war until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour two years later! In fact from 1812 to 1940 Canada remained a target for an American invasion.


During this period of hostility, which really kicked off after the Yalta Conference when it was plain that the ill US President F.D. Roosevelt trusted Stalin more than Churchill, Eastern Europe was allowed to come under the control of the USSR. even though we had gone to war to defend Poland – not the Americans, they stood on the side lines. The Cold War saw American bases established in the British Isles. I wonder if people realize that most of them are still here. Is it not time they went home?


That's the $64,000 question! I have a theory that it may be linked to climate. The climate of eastern North America ranges from subtropical in Florida to cold temperate in the New England States. From about Baltimore and northwards, winters are bitter and much colder than ours, with many severe snowstorms.

However, their summers are tropical – the sort we can only dream about. According to ideas of Geographical Determinism, the environment – particularly climate – controls the sort of society which develops. Such extremes between winter and summer is alternately stimulating and then enervating. Could this be a reason for their reputation for violence, and their love affair with guns?


My generation was born into a world which was dominated by the largest empire ever seen – the British Empire. The Second World War ruined us and led to the Empire's demise. With six times our population and half a continent, the USA developed into by far the most powerful nation as we declined. Pax Britannica changed to Pax Americana. They will always be our closest allies, but unless we assert ourselves the relationship will be very unequal. If we are not careful they will take over – especially as there is so much hostility to the European Union.

American soft power is their cultural influence, and is so all pervading now, especially amongst our youngsters who seem to be influenced by every new word, spelling, music, way of speaking and pronunciation through American television and pop culture – and they don't realise it!

Some of this is inevitable, but we should teach our young people to be proud of our British culture. No nation can boast of our level of achievements – in science and technology and extending Anglo Saxon culture across the face of the globe. We have a fantastic history – second to none, but we should look to the future and not be bogged down in the glory of past achievements in some sort of jingoistic fantasy.


1st 1740 This is such a good story I can't resist repeating it. In the middle of a great freeze in Edinburgh, a boy, carrying a 20 pint cask of beer stumbled and dropped it. It was so cold that the beer froze rapidly enough to enable the lad to rope it together and drag it along to its destination! Well, they weren't so keen on hygiene in those days, and alcohol kills germs.

1814 The last Frost Fair held on the frozen river Thames took place from the 1st to the 4th. They were quite frequent in the preceding few centuries, as much due to a wider river and the slower flow of the water held up by the numerous arches of London Bridge, as to severe frosts. There have probably been a handful of winters in my life time ( 1940, 1947, 1962, and 1979),when the Thames would have frozen in years gone by, but warm water entering the river, constraints due to the Victorian Embankments causing faster water flow and a narrower stream, have prevented freezing in central London. Although upstream it has frozen at Kew.


2nd Today is the midpoint between the winter solstice, and the vernal or spring equinox. Christians know it as Candlemas, when candles are blessed. Prior to this religion reaching our shores, Pagans called it the Festival of Lights.

"If Candlemas Day be sunny and bright, winter will have another flight; if Candlemas Day be cloudy with rain, winter is gone and won't come again."

British colonists on the East Coast of North America may have taken with them the tradition of watching hedgehogs to see if they are emerging from their part-hibernation. This was transferred to a native rodent the groundhog, which is now watched to see if it is emerging from hibernation. Neither animal can be relied on as prognosticators of coming weather.


1901 A state funeral was held for Queen Victoria in bitter gloomy weather. A great age in the history of the country passed on this day. Great Britain was the dominant power on earth, but for poor people, life was very hard. There was no welfare state, no National Health Service – long may they continue – and no old age pension for another decade. Our lives nowadays are infinitely more comfortable than the drudgery experienced by our great grandparents.

3rd1666 The famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, records, "a most furious storm." The gales blew down houses in London, which of course, was vastly smaller than London today.

4th 1814 As the ice on the River Thames started to melt, large chunks broke free, and one of them bore a temporary ale house containing the publican and nine drinkers.

To cap it all, the pub was on fire! It was heading for Black Friars Bridge, and unfortunately, I don't know what happened to it.

1884 Professor John Ruskin was by any standards an unusual man – to say the least. He was bound for the London Institution to deliver a lecture hoping to convince the audience that his theory of a "plague cloud," hanging over the world, accompanied by a steadily declining sun and darker skies, based on his weather observations, was correct.

He claimed that it was all due to blasphemy, greed, general godlessness and pollution. It's amazing what religious people have claimed and, no doubt, will continue to claim!

5th 1941 One of my favourite stories is based on the events on the Island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, which took place on this day. The author Sir Compton Mackenzie, who lived for a while on the Isle of Barra, embroidered a story around these legendary events, and called it Whisky Galore.

A gale drove the SS Politician, bound for North America with a cargo of 25,000 cases of whisky, and £290,000 in ten bob notes, onto the rocks.

Rather than see the priceless liquid cargo washed into the depths of the ocean, the islanders "rescued" much of the whisky, before the customs and excise men belatedly arrived. Mackenzie renamed the ship SS Cabinet Minister, and Eriskay became Great Toddy.

The hilarious high jinks of the islanders and the customs and excise search for the water of life (whisky), was then made into a highly amusing film with the same name. Ten years later a sequel was made by the J. Arthur Rank organisation – this time based on the actual establishment of a rocket tracking station in the Outer Hebrides, called Rockets Galore.

It was shot on the isle of Barra in 1957, during a spell of Mediterranean-like weather, and the Rank organisation used the RAF Station, Scarinish, Isle of Tiree, as a staging post. I know this because I arranged it! The film did not repeat the success of Whisky Galore.

6th 1963 The worst blizzard of this dreadful winter started today, and lasted for a day and a half. Large areas in the West Country, Wales and Ireland were buried underneath 5 feet of snow. This came after five weeks of freezing conditions and repeated heavy snowfalls, especially in the south. In the Black Country, the snow was not as deep as in the notorious 1947 winter, when between 5 and 6 feet of snow fell.


According to the Gardeners Question Time panel, on BBC Radio 4, there is an old Anglo Saxon saying, thus, "God save us from a mild January." In other words, the coldest weather often comes after the sort of January we have just experienced, just as plants have started into growth. So you have been warned. Gardeners know what this means.

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