Reverend Thomas Beale was Vicar of Bengeworth from 1771 until 1793 and some of his diary entries, concerning the local weather, have survived. With concern nowadays about a possible changing climate and the occasional extreme weather event, it is worth looking back over two hundred years to see what was then happening. The excerpts below are taken from ‘Bengeworth’, an account of the history of the Parish and Church, published in 1907, written by J.P. Shawcross, assisted by E.A.B. Barnard. As the Parish of Bengeworth adjoins Wickhamford, Badsey and Aldington, the general weather conditions described there would have applied to neighbouring parishes as well.
In the entries below, from 1784 to 1799, the original diary entries are presented in italics, with additional script reworded or paraphrased. For the same period, comments on the weather in other parts of the country are also included. These have been obtained from another source (see footnote). A volcanic eruption in Iceland in June 1783 was probably the cause of the weather conditions described locally in 1784.
January 3 – “Great flood.”
February 12 – “Ye 8th week of hard weather; workmen frozen out of work by ye winter (like that of 1739).” This continued until February 21st. On the 14th of February there was “no coal in ye yards;” and some was “fetcht from two barges frozen in ye River Avon near Pershore.” On the 23rd at 9 p.m. “an extraordinary phenomenon appeared in ye sky; a rainbow or belt of ye colour of the Aurora Borealis, but perfectly clear, distinct and fixed, extending from a point over Bengeworth steeple to Hampton Tower.”
March 19 – Not from the diary of Rev’d Beale, but recorded by John Wesley, on a visit to preach – “as we rode back to Bengeworth the cold was so intense that it had an effect I never felt before – it made me downright sick.” He was coming from Pebworth, where he had preached and he went on to Worcester the same evening.
[The Thames was also frozen in February and traffic crossed the river on the ice.]
18th October - From this day onwards, for a period of 183 days, only on 26 did the temperature rise above freezing. It ranged from one to eighteen and a half degrees below the freezing point of 32F., “more cold than ever was known in ye climate.”
[Generally, heavy snow fell during 26th – 29th October 1785.]
November 7 – “One of ye longest and finest summers and most splendid autumn for fruit, and the best season for gathering ever known. No rain for many weeks, and fine travelling.”
[Nationally it was a dry year with only two-thirds of the average rainfall.]
June 26 – “Ye first fine day after a long series of rains. There were flooded meadows all around Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Pershore and Evesham.” Roads were flooded and the water level was above Tewkesbury Bridge and stretched towards Bredon Hill. “May had only 3 days without rain, June only 6 and July little better.” It was one of the longest summer seasons of wet weather known at that time. It had begun on May 1st and continued with little intermission until three dry weeks occurred in August.
[It was a wet summer in London, especially May to June when 350mm fell – 180% of the historic mean rainfall at that time.]
April 5 – “One of ye mildest winters ever remembered; ye weather dry and public roads dusty for a month or two past.”
[It was a very mild winter in Scotland. Also, there were several frosts as late as April.]
June 7 – “Remarkably hot; some thermometers 84 degs at 3 o’clock p.m.”
June 12 – “Cold; snow in some places.”
[There were above-average temperatures nationally. However, snow fell in London and S.E. England on 12th June.]
April 19 – “Flood ye largest since 1770.” The waters were so high that pupils could not get to Deacle’s School [which was some yards up Port Street].
August 30 – “Ye earliest yet heaviest harvest ever known in ye compass of the present century after ye longest and driest summer.”
[It was a wet summer in London.]
February 10 – “A most extraordinary flood, within about 14” as high as that of November 1770, and more injurious. It was in ye parlours of ye Unicorn.” [see also 6 November 1799, below]
[There was a severe snowstorm in Scotland from 23rd January onwards, with many sheep killed.]
November 18 – "Shock of an earthquake, felt by all in ye house but myself."
February 18 – “Snow at Overbury 8 ft deep.”
August 15 – “Floods general throughout ye Kingdom; ye roads almost impracticable.”
October 3 – “The 4th great flood this season.”
[A report in the Chester Courant of 8th October 1799, said the heavy rains had led to flooding of the Avon and the road to Evesham being impassable at Bengeworth. At Pershore and Hampton the waters were many feet above the usual height. “The country for miles looks (but for the tops of the trees) like a sea”.]
November 6 – “A flood at Bengeworth; the 5th and greatest from ye Red Lion to ye Unicorn.” (The Red Lion was on the site of the present Northwich Arms hotel on Waterside. The Unicorn was located at the present-day 27 Port Street, only a little further up the road from where Deacle’s School was located).
[March to May was persistently cold. June had only eight days without rain. At that time, 1799 was recorded as one of the top twenty known coldest years.]
Badsey and Wickhamford Burials in 1784 and 1785/86
The severely cold weather, referred to by Rev’d Beale, in the period 1784 to 1786 resulted in death rates considerably above the normal in Badsey and Wickhamford. In 1783, there had been 12 burials in Badsey and three in Wickhamford. The figures for Badsey in the following two years were 17 in 1784 and 32 in 1785, before dropping to just six in 1786 and two in 1787. In the smaller Parish of Wickhamford, the three burials in 1783, rose to eight in 1784 and eight in 1785, before reducing to three in 1786 and only two in 1787.
Thomas Beale’s life
He was born in 1733, the son of Thomas Beale, and attended Queen’s College, Oxford. By 1766 he was curate at Pershore and instituted as Vicar of Bengeworth in 1771. During his time in the parish he had frequent visits from John Wesley. He resigned as Vicar, due to ill-health, in 1793. He remained at the Mansion House, Bengeworth, until his death on 14th June 1805, aged 72. A tablet in his memory was in the old Bengeworth Church and, on its demolition, it was removed to the present Church. The Mansion House is what was The Evesham Hotel (closed in 2022), Coopers Lane, Bengeworth.
The additional comments on weather in other parts of the country were to be found at weatherweb.net. The photographs can be found in Peter Stewart's book - Bengeworth, Evesham - A survey of the Old and New Parish Churches and a Brief History of the Cemetery.
Tom Locke – March 2023