It looks as though July 2015 is going to bring something of a heatwave, with temperatures recorded on Wimbledon’s Centre Court reaching 40 degrees, while someone on the BBC labelled it ‘scorchio’. There were similar high temperatures in July, 1868, including at Wimbledon, although the sport was a rifle shooting tournament rather than tennis. The Birmingham Daily Post stated that the weather, according to the thermometer, is something astounding’. The formality of uniform had been abandoned, the clothing is something astonishing – a pair of trousers, a flannel shirt and a straw hat constitute the luxuries of the day.
At a weekly meeting of Birmingham’s ironmasters, the tropical heat of the weather was blamed for a shortage of iron arriving from the Staffordshire iron works, having made labour at the mills and furnaces for the time almost impossible.[Birmingham Daily Gazette, July 24th 1868] In London the cheese trade was also revealed to have suffered, and on July 31st an advert in the Coventry Herald declared that as soon as the temperature moderates we look for a fair enquiry for really prime cheese.
The 1868 heatwave had tragic consequences for some. On July 24th, Lutterworth labourer George Lilliey, aged 65, was found dead in a field of peas that he had been gathering. The local coroner returned a verdict of died from apoplexy, caused by the excessive heat of the weather. The same article reported that two days earlier, 26 year old labourer Joseph Webb collapsed with the effects of sun stroke while pitching a load of oats in Cotesbach field, about a mile from Lutterworth. His colleagues had to carry him home. [Coventry Standard, July 31st 1868]
The following is taken from an article in Aris’s dated July 18th, 1868
The article goes on to say that the heatwave had already lasted seven weeks, during which time it had only rained on four days, and that only a total of 0.68 inches. Statistics were also used in the same item to dispel the St. Swithin’s day myth
Thank goodness that we now have access to cold beer and ice lollies! Keep cool and enjoy the sunshine!
Birmingham’s nineteenth-century newspapers are available to read online by subscription to British Newspaper Archives, and FREE OF CHARGE at Library of Birmingham, Local Studies Centre, located on the fourth floor. Public libraries and archives are currently at risk as because of local government cuts; please support our local libraries and archives; lobby your MP, sign petitions, look out for protests. Once they’re gone, they’re gone!