‘The Stroke of the Sun’: Heatwaves in the Archives

Collections - Posted 19-07-2021

Summer is here and with it comes the promise of finer weather. It could be said that commenting on the weather is one of our favourite pastimes here in Wales, and especially at this time of year when we are perhaps all wondering about the probability of a heatwave.

A look through the archives shows that our preoccupation with the weather is nothing new. One of the earliest mentions of a heatwave in Wales can be found in the medieval Welsh chronicle Brut Y Tywysogion (NLW Peniarth MS 20), which records that the year 720 saw a particularly hot summer (pan vu yr haf tessawc).

Brut Y Tywysogion –  (See p.66)

Gerald of Wales may have disagreed with this description – in the 12th century his Itinerarium Kambriae described the climate of the Welsh mountains as wet, cold, and windy, and remarked on the force of the winds (violenta ventorum) that never ceased to blow, which can be seen in a 14th-century copy, NLW MS 3024C (f. 59r).

Itinerarium Kambriae,  (See f. 59r)

Despite Gerald’s observation, hot weather remained much remarked upon in the centuries that followed, and July 1729 appears to have been a particular scorcher. Mary Davies wrote to her brother Adam Ottley of Pitchford Hall of her concern about the hot summer they were experiencing, and ‘not to hurry much about in town in hot weather for fear of put[t]ing y[ou]rself in a fever’.

This does however seem to be nothing compared to the summer of 1825. In August of that year, the antiquarian Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams) wrote in a letter to his son Taliesin that the weather was ‘so hot that many people have fallen dead in the fields and highways by the Coup de soleil (stroke of the Sun)’.

According to the records of the Llysdinam estate, the summer of 1875 was very different. On June 15th, 1875 came a storm so violent that that it caused Richard Lister Venables of Llysdinam to remark that ’I don’t think I ever saw in June such a tempest of wind and rain as we have had’, and noted that it left their barn ‘flat on the ground’. (Llysdinam B1459, pictured below). Just two months later, on the 16th August, Venables wrote that it was ‘the hottest day of the year, with every appearance of lasting’ (Llysdinam B1462).

A meteorological record for Aberystwyth compiled by the New Club, Cheltenham also confirms that 1875 was a warm summer, recording a temperature high of 76F (24.4C) on the 7th of July. However 1876 appears to have been even hotter, recording a maximum temperature of 91F (32.7C) on the 17th of July in Aberystwyth.

In more recent times, the threat of climate change has increasingly made the weather a hot topic of conversation (pun intended), and it seems that changeable weather patterns will continue to form part of our records and conversations for a long time to come.

Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

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