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Grantham Civic Society column: ‘Obsession with weather goes back a long time,’ says Ruth Crook

Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.
Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.

The British are often said to be obsessed by the weather.

We have regular weather bulletins on national and local television and radio stations, and programmes such as BBC Countryfile tell us what the weather will be for the week ahead.


National and local newspapers also report on the weather. Some ask for weather pictures to be sent to them, thus fuelling our collective obsession.

During the recent earthquake felt in Grantham, the social media pages were very active, with people asking others if they had felt the quake. Imagine how frightening it would have been to people a few hundred years ago, who often lived in isolated communities and were uneducated and superstitious. Imagine what it would have been like to be woken up in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, with a loud roar and your house shaking, and you did not know what had caused it.

In 1666, when Isaac Newton was staying with his uncle in Boothby Pagnell and with his mother in Woolsthorpe, it was reported that the worst whirlwind and earthquake in living memory hit Lincolnshire. Out of 80 stone houses in Welbourn only three were left standing, timber was dispersed over a wide distance and three or four people were killed.

In Boothby, part of the church was blown down and many trees were torn up by the roots. At Denton, a fierce hail storm hit the village at about the same time. Hail stones up to three inches long fell, and some were said to be like darts, arrows and other odd shapes.

St Wulfram’s Church was struck by lightning at least twice in the 17th and 18th centuries, which caused the steeple to collapse on at least one occasion.

There was also widespread flooding in the town on occasions. The Mowbeck, which was an open stream running along the site of the present Brook Street and into the Witham at what is now the white bridge, often burst its banks. In July 1855, the Mowbeck was at last partially culverted in the worst parts, as a result of pressure from Little Gonerby ratepayers who worked in Grantham’s industries.

Nevertheless the Grantham Journal reported on July 21, 1855: “It is impossible for the Thames to be in a more filthy state than the Mowbeck at its terminus. Filthy drainage and other impurities are allowed to accumulate within a yard or two of one of the principal promenades of the neighbourhood of Grantham. On a hot Sunday, when the breeze has proceeded from a North-Easterly direction, the existence of the nuisance has been perceived even before reaching the British School.”

There was also, adjoining the Mowbeck, a foul hog-sty underneath the straw of which hundreds of gallons of liquid manure had been exposed to view. In Little Gonerby, the emptying of a cess-pool was allowed between 6am and 10am. The previous year there had been an outbreak of Asiatic Cholera nearby. The Journal’s editor wrote: “Verily, God made the country, but man made the town and the pig-sties. Who are responsible for these things? Are the men in office alive to their duty? When will an Inspector of Nuisances be appointed?”

We should be thankful that we are now better informed and educated and that sanitation is much improved, but the British obsession with the weather remains.


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