Weather in the archives

Rain and Floods

There are plenty of references to rain and thunderstorms in the archive collections. Depending on people’s perspectives and needs at the time, rain was either good or bad: good when required to bring on crops and other vegetation and bad if there was too much of it. It could delay haymaking, the harvest and other agricultural work, or it could ruin an event, as at Blithfield in August 1881.

Heavy rain affected school attendances and children, who had to walk long distances to school, were easily deterred by wet weather. Those who succeeded ended up with footwear and clothing so wet that they had to be sent home again because they had no other shoes or clothing to change into. Link to 13 June 1919
The earliest reference to ‘great floods of rainwater’ occurs in 1330. From the range of archive sources available, we can see that floods have occurred regularly in parts of the county over the centuries. Given that Staffordshire has large rivers, notably the Trent, Tame and Dove with wide flood plains, this is hardly surprising. Even the smaller rivers, such as the Sow and the Penk, have caused major problems from flooding in the past. The geographical situation of some of the County’s major towns, on slightly higher ground on in the middle of flood plains, has caused immense difficulties for people from flooding but flood damage to agricultural activity has been equally significant to those affected by it.
In the past when snowfalls were much heavier and frosts more prolonged, floods in February and March were often caused by thawing snow or a combination of a thaw and accompanying rain. The years 1737 and 1795 saw significant flooding and damage to bridges as a result of the thaw setting in during the month of February. In 1820 the level of the River Trent was recorded as rising by 22 inches following the thaw of very deep lying snow.
Floods caused by heavy rainfall were frequent. In September 1708, flooding proved to be very costly for the townspeople of Rugeley. In 1858, continuous rainfall between 7th and 8th of April caused a flood of 27 inches to be recorded at Trentham. Severe storms in May 1908 caused the Penk, Sow, Trent, Dove and Tame all to burst their banks, causing significant problems in adjacent towns and villages and on agricultural land. Other notably bad years for flooding were 1852, 1875, 1947. Of all Stafford’s towns, Burton-upon-Trent was perhaps the most regular victim of flooding over the centuries.

 The impact of thunderstorms, particularly in earlier centuries, has often been noted in archive sources. Lightning could be very damaging in earlier centuries when buildings were not as well constructed and had no lightning conductors. Accounts also survive of loss of life during such storms and equally of miraculous escapes.