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Cockermouth Post Article December 2012 – Joseph Adair’s diary 1842

People have always been interested in the weather, particularly so in this part of the world; there is a saying that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and there’ll be something different. There was a Cockermouth grocer and tea dealer who, like many of his friends, was interested in all matters meteorological and kept very detailed readings relating to the weather. Not only that, he also kept a very useful diary, which gives a valuable insight into what was happening in town and further afield. Joseph Adair’s diary for 1847 (which can be seen in Whitehaven Record Office) includes, for example, the opening of Parliament by Victoria, the ongoing distress in Ireland due to the potato famine, the intermittent provision of gas lighting in the town, and the opening of the railway on 27th April. This sounds as if it was a great occasion for a party, with 1,000 people availing themselves of the opportunity to board a train, cannons firing from dawn to dusk, bands playing, public dinners held, and the streets decorated with flags and bunting. A month earlier Joseph records that a slave had delivered a lecture at the Court House on the horrors of slavery, urging people to rise up against the practice. Messrs Aglionby and Horsman were elected as MPs for the borough of Cockermouth in July, and there is an amusing tale of Mr Mackreth’s house being broken into at 2 a.m., when thieves actually lifted up the head of a sleeping Mr Mackreth to search under his pillow for money! His wife, although aware of what was happening, pretended to be sound asleep out of sheer terror.

And what of the weather? As well as detailed barometer readings, rainfall, temperatures and wind speeds, Joseph records an eclipse of the sun at around 7.30 a.m. on 9th October, noting that it was the largest that had happened for 83 years. On the 25th of that month he describes the ‘beautiful’ appearance of the Aurora Borealis. November was ‘stormy, boisterous, blustery, wild, squally and unpleasant’, with a greater quantity of rain falling during the month than during any of the previous months. Cockermouth is, of course, no stranger to floods; these have been a regular feature of life in the town for hundreds of years. Snow and ice have been a regular occurrence too, and our picture (late 19th century) shows a frozen River Derwent, with people walking on the ice. The end of January 1886 saw the streets of Cockermouth ‘bound in ice’, covered with snow, and treacherous.

Gloria Edwards

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