THE BLACK COUNTRY
Birthplace of The Industrial Revolution
Weather in Dudley 1st- 10th April 2014
A very pleasant mild beginning to April, as high pressure made its presence felt by fending off fronts from the North Atlantic. The high pressure also reduced the frequency of rain, so that the total was a little below average, and winds were generally lighter than for some time. Spring growth is now well advanced – but it is still not too late for damaging frosts – Cast ne'er a clout 'till May be out!
1. Mean maximum 13.1, 55.5F
2. Anomaly +2.2
3. Mean minimum 7, 45F
4. Anomaly +3.3
5. Average of max. & min. 10, 50F
6. Anomaly +2.7
7. Highest/date 13.8, 57F 6th
8. Lowest/date 3.0, 37.5F 8th
9. Number grass frosts 0
10. Mean 30cm soil 9.8, 49.5F
11. Days with rain/snow 4
12. Total fall 17.1mm
13. Wettest day 6.3mm 3rd
14. Relative humidity 9h 84%
15. Average at 9h 1012mb
16. Highest/date 1025mb 9th
17. Lowest/date 1003mb 3rd
18. N 0, NE 0, E 0, SE 0, S 3, SW 0, W 3, NW 2, CALM 2
APRIL IN THE PAST
11th 1626A recent television programme was devoted to the English Renaissance in the 16th/17th centuries. One of the leading lights and, unfortunately, relatively little known, was Sir Francis Bacon. He published his "Experiments on the Preservation of Bodies by Cold", which described the use of cold to preserve food. On a journey from Grays Inn to Highgate on a snowy April day, he stopped to buy a chicken. After killing it, he stuffed it with snow, and in the process apparently caught a cold. Within a few days he died.
There is one story that in actual fact he went to Germany, being sick and tired of the politics of the day, where he lived for another 25 years.
King Charles I, as we all know, was executed in Whitehall a little later, convinced of his divine right.
12th, 1725. Rain fell in Wells, Somerset after a 3 months drought – what a contrast with last winter!
13th, 18th century. "The house swallow ... appears in general on, or about the thirteenth of April, as I have remarked from many years' observation." Gilbert White of Selbourne. b.1720 d. 1783
I haven't seen one this year so far. As far as I know, we are still not certain how the swallow manages to navigate between Western Europe, where it breeds, in the Northern Hemisphere summer, and Southern Africa where it spends our winter – their summer. Perhaps a reader may be able to shine some light on this phenomenon. I don't suppose Bill Oddie, who attended Halesowen Grammar school for a few years when I was there, will read this, and therefore will not be able to advise us.
14th, 1921 Snow fell for the next four days over much of the country.
1912 Who hasn't heard of the dreadful sinking of the Titanic? I suppose it was really a case of over confidence on the part of the owners, over reliance in untried technology, and commercial pressure for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic. This is why the Captain chose a shorter than usual route, closer to the coast of Newfoundland, taking the vessel into notoriously foggy water infested with icebergs in spring.
He may well have not decided this if he had known that the previous summer of 1911 was unusually warm around the shores of Baffin Bay and Greenland, leading to the calving of more icebergs from glaciers than usual, which floated down into the North Atlantic just in time to make the iceberg hazard worse than usual the following spring. Well, we all know what happened.
15th, 1802 Here's another thing you all know about, but it is so iconic that I cannot miss it out. William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy walked through the woods in the Lake District and came across the wonderful sight of countless daffodils nodding in the blustery breeze – William was inspired to write:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
There are another three verses, and I am sure many of you know them by heart.
16th, 1668 I wonder if Samuel Pepys was a bit miffed when he lent his cloak to the Duke of York. "This day in the afternoon, stepping with the Duke of York into St James' Park, it rained, and I was forced to lend the Duke my cloak, which he wore throughout the park." It sounds as though Sam got wet!
This time last year the buds on the trees and bushes had scarcely started to swell, with the last traces of snow disappearing. This year the camellias are in full bloom, the magnolias look magnificent, the tulips are replacing the daffodils, the flower buds on my wisteria are rapidly swelling and I have already cut my lawn three times. For the benefit of expatriates down under and in North America, we have just had one of the most remarkably mild, frost- and snow-free winters. Unfortunately, it was marred by excessively stormy, wet and windy weather with extensive flooding in southern England particularly and damage to coasts – but yo cor 'ave it all!
UBIQUITOUS BLACK COUNTRY
I was fascinated to see the recent TV programme on the USS Squalus – an American submarine which sank off Portsmouth (off the coast of New Hampshire), in over 200 ft of water, in 1939.
The efforts made to save the crew resulted in the construction of a special diving bell, which was able to be placed over the hatch and secured, as men entered it and were drawn to the surface. It was a major breakthrough in rescue work for submarines.
However, I was delighted to see that the pressure gauge in the diving bell was inscribed with the name of the manufacturer – Griffiths, Smethwick, Birmingham.
The Bugle has published readers' accounts of seeing objects such as manhole covers in places all over the world, clearly marked with the Black Country manufacturers. I remember seeing a lavatory cistern in a palace hotel in Rajasthan, India, clearly marked with the manufacturers name in West Bromwich. Yo cor goo enyweer we ay bin afower!
It was mild but exceptionally stormy, with low pressure dominating the three months. A storm surge was generated by the first depression moving southwards along the east coast, and then at least a dozen other powerful depressions followed from the middle of December until the middle of February.
Very heavy rains caused flooding in the River Thames valley, and the Somerset levels were inundated for many weeks.
Gales battered the south and west, causing damage and more flooding. The main line railway track was undermined and cut at Dawlish, isolating Cornwall and Devon from the rest of the country. High winds generally caused a great deal of damage across the country with fallen trees, power lines cut and, unfortunately, several deaths.
Temperatures were well above average throughout the winter, with remarkably few frosts. The UK average temperature was 5.2, 41.5F, which was 1.5 degrees above average. It was the fifth mildest winter in the 1981 to 2010 average.
The lowest temperature was at Altnaharra, Sutherland, with -7.7, 18F, on 18th February. This happens to be the highest minimum temperature for at least 50 years.
Snow was virtually absent from lowland areas across the British Isles, but there were extensive and very deep snow falls across the Scottish Mountains. Some snow fell on the Pennines and other areas of high ground, but it was transitory.
Rainfall was 161% above average. In England and Wales it was the wettest winter since 1766.
Oddly enough much of central, eastern and southern England was sunnier than average.
THIS MARVELLOUS REGION
At the height of the 19th century iron production in the Black Country, there were 283 blast furnaces operating. An unusual feature was that it was the traditional to have a woman to light them.
Did you know that the largest Sweet Chestnut tree in England is reputedly to be on the edge of Highgate Farm, on the edge of Highgate Common, with a girth of 26 feet?
Did you know that the only pub in England not allowed to open on Sunday was the Cat Inn, Enville? This was enforced for 300 years until October 2004.
One of the earliest books to be printed in England has a single page kept at Brierley Hill Library. It is 'The Golden Legend', a reprint from William Caxton's foreman, about 1491. It has the title, 'The Lyfe of Saint Kenelme'. Halesowen folks should know all about the marvellous legend of St Kenelm, originating in Medieval times.
The last working urban farm within the Black Country was Merry Hill. It gave its name to the vast Merry Hill Shopping Centre. The first phase of the Merry Hill shopping centre was built on this farm with the site of the Round Oak (Earl's) Steel Works developed last of all.
The dome of the Great Hall at Birmingham University was constructed using the steel produced by the Architectural metal work company Hill & Smith, Bridge and Roof Contactors of Brierley Hill.
Do you know the legend of Eleanor, or Elaine, of Hayseech Mill? She had a love affair with a young monk of Hales Owen Abbey.
The Abbot was informed and sent out a party to find them. They are said to have hidden in one of the secret passages between the Abbey and Haden Old Hall, and there they were bricked up. Ever since, the monk's ghost is often seen walking and praying, whilst Eleanor's ghost is seen crying and wringing her hands. If any reader has seen them, please inform us at the Bugle.
Until recently, I understood that the steel pen originated in Birmingham, it was certainly made there by the million. I wonder if it means anything to younger readers who certainly never had to use them and experience the delights of ink pots and blots, blotting paper, and inky fingers?
But it seems I may have been wrong. It was invented by Daniel Fellows, a journeyman blacksmith of Sedgley – or so it was claimed in a pamphlet issued in 1805.
However, the first record of a steel pen being made is credited to Samuel Harrison who made one for the famous Dr. Priestley, (1733 to 1804) who invented aerated drinks – pop – and discovered and isolated the gas oxygen. So there you are!