Letters in Focus: Sodden Summers

Here in the British Isles, summer is living up to its reputation: that is to say, we’re armed with umbrellas, and battling wind, rain, and flood on a daily basis. Indeed, a seasonal dip into EMLO reveals that heavy rainfall from May to September was not such an unusual occurrence.

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century summers saw floods the length of the Cherwell valley. There were thunderstorms, whirlwinds and panic-stricken haymakers, damaged crops, stormy summer nights, as well as danger and disruption to transport. There were stiff August winds in the Solent and delays with naval manoeuvres on account of storms in the Channel. The summer of 1682 seems to have been especially wet. Magistrate Edmund Warcup laments the effects of rain on his corn and grass, of floods on his fields and livestock – the poor chap lives in fear of cattle rot – and is forced to take action against the deluge. On 9 May of this same year, clergyman William Jenkyn wrote to Philip Wharton to warn him that ‘the floods are out so bad between Uxbridge & London that it is very dangerous to travel so advises his Lordship to postpone his journey’.

Thus, although all was not gloom and doom during these seasonal soaks (James Long informs John Aubrey that lamprey eels are ‘plentiful in flood time’), it’s small wonder that the time-honoured cliché of sodden summers came into being. As we forego sandals and shorts for galoshes and gumboots, it’s worth reflecting that our ancestors may have been thankful for cold, wet summers as, with the heat in cities, came plague (more on that in a future post), and fine weather was not a cure for all ills. On 6 June 1677 Robert Digby wrote to Thomas Smith that he hoped to see him at the next sitting of Parliament ‘if I can get rid of my cough which wears away, God be thanked, very much this kind weather’, yet favourable temperatures did not work magic in this case; the poor young man was dead by the end of the year.

emlo_logo_infrastructureLetters in Focus with Miranda Lewis

Miranda is editing metadata from the Bodleian card catalogue of correspondence for our union catalogue, Early Modern Letters Online. On a regular basis, she brings us hand-picked and contextualised records.

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