In the first week of June 1885, London’s beloved horse-racing festival, the Derby Day meeting, was taking place on Epsom Downs. The era’s greatest jockey, Fred Archer, came home first in the two premier races — both the Derby and the Oaks. In the Derby he rode the favourite Melton and won by a head.
In parks and gardens the laburnum, horse chestnut and hawthorn were at last in flower after a long, cold and late Spring that hung on forever. Summer finally looked like it had arrived. The weather was warm and getting warmer all week. Nothing unusual in that, you might think.
What is surprising, looking back, is another example of how great was the technological advance of 19th Century. Based on telegraphed reports on pressure, wind speed and direction that came from observers from across the country, the British Meteorological Office routinely offered stunningly accurate weather forecasting in 1885.
And, remarkable as it may seem, there was even long range forecasting.
As early as Tuesday of Derby week, right in the middle of this hot spell, the New York Weather Bureau telegraphed a warning to the London office of the New York Herald with a prediction that a cyclone off Nova Scotia moving north east would result in ‘disturbed weather ‘ for France, the UK and Norway ‘between the 6th and 8th’.
That is exactly what happened. Saturday June 6 1885 was a washout. The weather was atrocious; “rain and mist competing with one another” was the way that one observer put it, while another said that the day was “unfavourable and depressing” with the “yellow haze of a November fog”.
So when we collectively pat ourselves on the back about how far we’ve come… no we haven’t.
The nowadays discredited British Meteorological Office (even the BBC will give up on Met Office forecasts from next Spring) has for some time decreed that whenever that phrase “…since records began” is used to frighten what it styles ‘climate change deniers’ (shades of the phrase Holocaust deniers, to show just how despicable these low-lifes must be) and to confirm its perhaps politicised belief that the world is shuffling toward becoming a cinder, its ‘records’ only begin in 1915. As if the Victorians had no thermometers and could not measure accurately. We do our ancestors a disservice.