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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 01, 2014

  • The Battle of the Solent, with the stricken Mary Rose, blown over by a sudden change in the weather, in the centre of the image

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The Black Country

Birthplace of Industrial Revolution


The following statistics reveal continued global warming. The temperature anomalies (departures from average) are calculated with respect to the 1981 to 2010 averages.

Global Land-Ocean Temperature Anomalies for the last 12 months:

Jul. 2013 +0.15 Aug.13 +0.24

Sep. 13 +0.34 Oct.13 +0.23

Nov. 13 +0.37 Dec.13 +0.22

Jan. 2014 +0.26 Feb.14 -0.01

Mar. 14 +0.22 Ap.14 +0.31

May. 14 +0.38 Jun.14 +0.24

Only February 2014 had temperatures below normal – almost entirely due to the some of the coldest winter weather on record in the Great Lakes region of North America.

In the British Isles, only last September and November had temperatures below average. And of course, you remember the remarkably mild winter of 2013-2014 with practically no snow and hardly any air frosts.


27th Please forgive me if I indulge in a boast! I claim to be the first in the Black Country this year to harvest grapes – from the greenhouse of course. Well, this actually means that I was able to taste a couple of ripe grapes from one cluster last weekend. The variety was Black Hamburg.

There are so many vineyards in the country now that there is bound to be another grape vine that has produced ripe grapes before mine. Please let me know if this is the case.


There are indications that the Romans first introduced grapes to these islands, but there is little to indicate what became of them until the Middle Ages, when the evidence shows there was a slight amelioration in the climate – the so-called Medieval Warm Period. It coincided with the establishment of many Christian monasteries where the grape vine was an important source of communion wine.

The Domesday Book of 1085 reveals that there were 42 vineyards in England. We don't know much about its quality but no doubt it was quaffable if there was no alternative.

In 2006 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines were planted in Malton, Yorkshire – about 80 miles north of the northernmost Roman vineyard.

Our local vineyard is at Halfpenny Green and I would think that they will be having a splendid harvest later on this year. Perhaps they might like to comment on the state of their vines.

28th 2005 It only seems like yesterday that I last referred to the Birmingham tornado. It was one of the most destructive – if not the most destructive British tornado, mainly because it hit a heavily built up area. £39 million pounds worth of damage was caused, with hundreds homeless, and thousands of trees uprooted.

1948 I think I am correct in reporting that this night was the warmest on record with a minimum of 23.3, 74F, at Westminster. Day temperatures were around 32, 90F.

29th 1545 The French fleet was attempting to invade the British Isles watched by Henry VIII, in the Solent. An offshore breeze sprang up, and the pride of the English fleet, the Mary Rose, heeled over without warning. The inexperienced crew had forgotten to close the lower gun ports, through which she had been firing all morning. All 400 crew and more, drowned.

In 1982 she was raised, and proved to be a time capsule from the Tudor period.

1588 The Spanish Armada entered the English Channel, after a storm-tossed voyage across the Bay of Biscay.

31st 1956 In the middle of a very bad summer, the fourth Test between England and Australia, played on a rain-soaked pitch, was heading for a draw on the final day. At 122 for 2, the Australians were at lunch, when there was a glimpse of the sun. A sun drying pitch is notoriously difficult to play. The English bowler – Jim Laker, I believe, took 7 wickets for 8 runs in 35 minutes. England won by an innings and 170 runs.


2nd Tehran, Iran, suffered a severe dust storm that killed at least four people, blew numerous trees over and left many without power.

5th Very heavy rains in southern China, in Guizhou Province, damaged over 3,000 homes, killing at least 8 people.

6th For the first time in 7 months, the Great Lakes were officially free of ice. The water had been frozen to the second greatest extent on record, reaching 92.19% surface cover on 6th March, following a winter when the temperatures were seven degrees below normal.

9th-10th Almost 1,000 hectares of vines were damaged by hail in the Bordeaux region after two nights of storms.

12th Severe floods hit Brazil across the southern state of Parana.

16th-17th Tornadoes hit the Plains and Midwest of USA causing the usual devastation.

19th Bulgaria suffered torrential rains which killed at least 10 people. Several Black Sea towns had a month's rainfall in 24 hours.

23rd Australia's first snow of the winter fell on high ground in Victoria. Some of the higher resorts had up to 90cms of snow.

27th Some flooding was caused by heavy rains along the upper Mississippi in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and upper Mississippi.


A friend recently told me that his relatives, residing in London, thought that the Black Country got its name from the fact that everyone was black. Well yes, are you surprised? Londoners seem to know little outside the South-East of England. They are a little like the average blue collar American, whom – I was informed by some American academics – know a little about what is going on inside their county, a little less about State business, very little about the rest of the USA and nothing outside its frontiers. Be that as it may, the point is that we can all be a little parochial in our knowledge of affairs outside our immediate environment.

I suppose that one of the most important purposes of education is to open the doors wide to the rest of the world. And one of the ways to achieve this is to develop a chronology of what preceded our short existence.

Most place names develop from some aspect of a location, or from a character who once lived there. Take Dudley – Anglo-Saxon Duda's lee, or clearing in the forest, belonging to Duda. Tempus fugit – time flies. Talking recently to some younger locals, it was suddenly brought home to me how little they knew of the past in the Black Country. What I took for granted about knowledge of this region was largely lacking – but then it could be that I was simply stranded – washed up like so much flotsam and jetsam on the beach of time!


From one point of view the title Black Country is a relic of the past, and looking around you could be forgiven for thinking that Green Country would be more appropriate. Certainly the millions of trees and bushes planted over the last 30 years have transformed the bleak industrial landscape to a more rural scene.

OUR GEOLOGY – Coal, Iron ores, Limestone, Clays, Sands

This region was blessed with an abundance of the minerals needed for the development of the world's first modern industrial region. The first reference to coal goes back to the 13th century, at Coombes Wood in Hales Owen. The thickest seam of coal in the country outcropped all around the interior of the Black Country especially in the Dudley/Netherton areas – the ten yard, or 30 feet thick coal.

At first, it was a simple matter of removing the cover of soil and digging it out. Later on the classic deep mining was necessary, and at one time there were hundreds of collieries. The last one to close was Baggeridge Colliery in the 1960s.

At first, charcoal supplied by the one-time abundance of woodland was the fuel to smelt the local iron ore, but records show that by 1620 Dud Dudley was producing good quality pig iron using coal – which must have been coked beforehand. Later an Abraham Darby – born on the Wrens Nest Hill (then strictly speaking in Sedgley) perfected this at Ironbridge, 100 years later.



By the mid 18th century the real exploitation of the local resources had developed into the iron industry together with all the associated trades. The population increased greatly in the 19th century and every home – no matter how humble, was heated by burning coal in open grates.

The region became covered by a pall of smoke and associated choking fogs – and this lasted all through the 19th century until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Together with a landscape devastated by spoil heaps from coal mines, ash tips from blast furnaces and foundries, numerous holes where clay had been dug out, and limestone quarries, the region was black by day and black by night. By the mid 19th century it was becoming known as the Black Country.

Older readers will remember the air pollution, and how every quiet winter night developed its own smog which rotted nylon curtains and windscreen wiper blades and produced endemic bronchitis. Anyone younger than about 50 years of age will have no knowledge of how we suffered – without knowing (put your hankies away now – sorry, I was forgetting that no-one seems to use the excellent handkerchief nowadays).

Look around, the once blackened stone and brickwork on most buildings has all been cleaned, the soot removed. The only pollution nowadays is from internal combustion engines – in other words road vehicles, especially diesel engines


According to the historian Max Hastings, dreadful though it was, it wasn't the worst in European history. He reckons that anyone living through the 30 years war in the 17th century, or who had followed Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, had it worse. What do you think?

Did any good come out of

the First World War?

Long time readers may well be a little tired of my use of well worn clichés. Every cloud has a silver lining, for example, which seems very apt for the following.

Some surprisingly good things did result from this slaughter.

1. Aviation developed enormously, with greatly improved engine designs such as the rotary air-cooled cylinders. At the Theoretical Physics Department of the University of Gottingen, Netherlands, Ludwig Prandt did pioneering work on aerofoils, as well as the drag and lift properties of wings.

2. The need for mass production of armaments gave a big push to the eventual aim of the Suffragettes in gaining universal suffrage, as so many women were given the opportunity of earning their own living.

3. Blood transfusions. The first blood transfusion of stored blood was performed in 1914 by the Belgian physician Albert Hustin. In 1901 the Austrian Karl Landsteiner had discovered blood groups, and in 1907 the Czech Jan Jansky identified four distinct groups.

4. The Royal College of Anaesthetists inform me that there were tremendous advances in the science of anaesthetics. This was for fairly obvious reasons. This is also true of surgery where it was of some urgency for better techniques to be developed to treat the enormous numbers of wounded.

5. Not often spoken about, but essential to women are sanitary towels. French nurses on the frontline were the first to use the newly invented cellulose material that was used for bandages. It soon spread to British, and eventually, American nurses.

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