Stephen Burt and Tim Burt launch new book on 250 years of Oxford weather records
Stephen (Department of Meteorology, University of Reading) and Tim (Emeritus Professor, Department of Geography, Durham University) collaborated on Oxford Weather and Climate Since 1767, which explores Oxford and the Radcliffe Meteorological Station‘s role in producing 250 years of weather records.
The Radcliffe Meteorological Station is situated within Green Templeton’s gardens adjacent to the Radcliffe Observatory. It is maintained by the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford,
Tim, who ran the Radcliffe Meteorological Station from 1986 to 1996, said they chose 1767 as the starting point for their book as they believe that’s when astronomer and mathematician Thomas Hornsby, who later became the first Radcliffe Observer, began taking measurements more regularly, perhaps as he wanted to get his observations together before going to the Radcliffe Trustees to request an observatory was built.
Building work on the Radcliffe Observatory began in 1772, and it functioned as a working observatory until 1934, when the Radcliffe Trustees decided to erect a new observatory in Pretoria, South Africa, where the less polluted atmosphere would be suitable for the study of the southern hemisphere.
Joined by a group of guests including Green Templeton Principal Professor Denise Lievesley, Stephen and Tim gave an informative and fascinating tour of the Radcliffe Meteorological Station, explaining how the instruments are used to measure daily rainfall, sunshine and air temperature.
Stephen said: “We are certainly grateful to Green Templeton College for continuing to host us here.” He joked: “I know it’s a nuisance having us on your lovely lawn! But it’s really, really important to keep taking these measurements.”
Readings are taken at the station every morning on every day of the year at exactly the same time without fail.
Observations for daily air temperature have been unbroken since November 1813, while daily rainfall has been recorded continuously since January 1827, and daily sunshine from February 1880, making the Radcliffe Meteorological Station home to the longest continuous series of single-site weather records in the British Isles.
Stephen said: “It is quite interesting to think you are standing here reading, in some cases, the same instruments people were reading 150 years ago. The thermometers have changed, the screen has changed, the rain gauge has changed, but the readings are still made the same way. Increasingly many stations are going automatic and there isn’t an Observer, but it would be a shame to lose that manual link to history here.”
The tour continued with a visit to the Grzeslo Room within the Observatory to view the beautiful Newman’s barometer still in daily use, before ascending to the top of the Tower of the Winds for breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
Green Templeton College Emeritus Fellow Professor Jeffery Burley also spoke, giving some background on the Observatory’s construction and architecture.
- History of the Radcliffe Observatory
- Radcliffe Meteorological Station
- The Eight Winds at the Radcliffe Observatory
- Signs of the Zodiac at the Radcliffe Observatory
- John Radcliffe Statue
Stephen and Tim’s book explores the 250 years of weather records that began with Hornsby and continue to this day, delving into how records are made and maintained, weather patterns, and the context of long-term climate change.
Oxford Weather and Climate Since 1767 by Stephen Burt and Tim Burt is available via Oxford University Press.
Find out more about the Radcliffe Meteorological Station.