Thursday, 26 May 2016

1816 .... the year without a summer

1816 should have been a good year, it was after all the first year of peace since Waterloo, the battle that had ended the long wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France which had run with only a short break since 1792.

But it was according to one writer, “the year without a summer, when weeks passed into months and the sun did not appear to ripen the produce [and] there was just torrential rain and thunderstorms.”*

Leading to harvest failures, distress and unrest across Europe and the US.

The terrible weather was connected to the “biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history, which had taken place on the other side of the world.”

According to the agricultural records ** for 1816 it was a wet summer with a very poor harvest with snow lying on the ground into mid April.

 The temperature for July and August was 4-8⁰ below average and the heavy rains were accompanied by strong winds, which meant that the harvests began late with the result that in the Midlands and the North corn was still in the fields in November. Sheep rot was prevalent, hay scarce and much livestock sold for lack of keep.

All of which is easy to gloss over until you try to fix this to people’s lives. The cost of wheat rose to 78s 6d a quarter which would have a real impact on the cost of bread which remained a staple part of the diet of most families.

Here in the township we were dependant on agriculture. Of the 119 families, 96 were directly engaged in farming and another 16 engaged in trade, manufacture and crafts. So a poor harvest impacted not only on those who harvested the crops, but the blacksmith, wheelwright and countless others.

Only the people of plenty might escape hardship and for them the lack of food in the community raised the spectre of unrest and trouble.

There are accounts of people walking from Wales into England begging for food, along with demobbed soldiers wandering the country looking for work.

The unrest is reflected in the resumption of Luddite activity in the North, food riots and protests in London where some carried the French revolutionary flag.

Little in the way of evidence for the township has survived although the records for Stretford show the demand for poor relief. The death rate that year was not exceptional and generally reflected what we might expect with younger people dying than any other age group and these were concentrated mostly in the summer months.

I doubt that we escaped lightly from that year without a summer but as yet the township has not revealed its secrets.

 We would have seen high levels of ash in the atmosphere which would have led to the spectacular sunsets seen in the paintings of Turner but more will be revealed through more diligent research.

Picture; Chichester Canal, circa 1828, J.M.Turner


*Jad Adams, 1816 The Year Without A Summer, BBC Who Do you Think You Are Magazine, Issue 60 May 2012
**Agricultural Records J.M.Stratton 1969

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