6 discoveries in the Met Office archive

Amongst the many records of National Meteorological Archive we have found many interesting discoveries from a King's proclamation to an intriguing alarm clock design, here we take a look at five of the best.

1. A Royal fast to change the weather

The start to January 1661 was unseasonably warm and dry leading to fears of scarcity and famine throughout England. In response King Charles II issued a Royal Proclamation demanding a nationwide fast for the country in order to stop the unseasonable weather.

We know of at least one person who couldn't resist food that day though. On 22 January 1661, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary: 

'After we had eaten [Mr Berkenshaw] asked whether we had not committed a fault in eating to-day; telling me that it is a fast day ordered by the Parliament, to pray for more seasonable weather; it hitherto having been summer weather, that it is, both as to warmth and every other thing, just as if it were the middle of May or June.'

A proclamation about the rains, 1661 A proclamation about the rains, 1661

2. A Titanic sidenote

Held within the Met Office's archives is a large book from the early 1900s which serves as a scrapbook cataloguing and compiling countless sightings of ice and icebergs across the oceans. Tucked away in the right-hand corner of one page is a small understated snippet of text from the 14 April 1912 with the succinct statement 'The British steamer Titanic collided with an iceberg and went down shortly after.'

Other passing ships also recorded an unseen dimension of the story. In the pages of the SS Minia's Meteorological logbook, short weather descriptions such as 'Light breeze and cloudy', are interspersed with stark entries picking up bodies from the wreck of the ship.

Ship Log reference to Titanic Ship Log reference to Titanic

3. A battle on a barograph chart

At first glance this might appear a relatively standard barograph reading showing the rise and fall of atmospheric pressure out at sea. Look a little closer and this chart shows a fascinating snapshot of one of the most famous battles in the Second World War.

Taken onboard HMS Prince of Wales the barograph charts the ship's departure from the Orkney Islands through the Denmark Strait where it encountered the German battle ship, the Bismarck. The ensuing battle is captured on the chart as rockets and gunfire caused the barograph's needle to jump furiously across the chart.

A ships log recording the sinking of the Bismarck A ships log recording the sinking of the Bismarck

4. The Carusophone    

On the front pages of a logbook from one of Captain Scott's expeditions beneath an entry charting the schedules for a night watch is a sketch of a remarkable invention labelled the 'Carusophone' or 'Grammaphone alarm'.

Alongside the detailed sketch are instructions on how to use the contraption: 'To set aburn; Make fast a piece of cotton to top of bamboo spring, move it through candle at hour you require a call, haul the cotton taut so as to put tension on bamboo spring, then place loop attached to spring over catch on Grammaphone.'

Once the candle was lit, the flame would burn down to the string, burning through it and releasing the catch to drop the needle onto the grammaphone sounding the musical alarm to wake the next watchman, presumably at times to the tunes of the Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso.

A fascinating insight to some of the most famous expeditions in history.

Carusophone Carusophone

5. Message in a bottle

While it might conjure up ideas of castaways lost on faraway islands, a message in a bottle was a crucial tool to track the currents of the oceans and help establish maritime trade routes. By including a return address on the message and the time and location of despatch, the ocean's current could be tracked depending upon where the bottle ended up and how long it took to get there.

One such bottle was clearly cast out to sea by a Captain a little tired of his crew, on the back of the message he scrawled a note describing them as 'the most infernally ordinary old shells that ever trod a plank'.

Message in a a bottle Message in a a bottle

The National Meteorological Archive is home to thousands upon thousands of daily weather reports going back to 1869, ships logs, historical charts, weather diaries and more. 

6. Wind roses 

These may look like drawings of mazes but actually they are an early form of wind rose. The image is from a log containing records of the wind as observed during 632 individual voyages . The wind direction was observed four times per day and marked with a dot on the appropriate compass point. The duration of the voyage is shown by the line joining the dots (therefore the early days of the voyage are at the centre of the chart and the last days are at the end.

The length of the line does not have any significance - if the wind changed from a northerly at noon to a south westerly at 1600 then the line would join these two dots. It shows the order in which they were measured but does not indicate distance. Concentrations of points along the same compass point indicate prevailing winds at that time of year in the area through which the ship was sailing.

This information would have been used to inform charts of the world's oceans to help ships captains decide which route gave them the most favourable winds and tides during any given month in the year.

Early example of a wind rose from Met Office archives Early example of a wind rose from Met Office archives

Last updated: 30 June 2015

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