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Watching Hampstead’s Weather
The climatological station at Hampstead in north London is run by the Hampstead Scientific Society. It was established in 1909 by its first honorary meteorologist, Eric Hawke, whose passion for all aspects of the weather lasted throughout his life. He was born into a middle-class family in Hampstead and went to Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, and from his boyhood he had but two chief interests -- music and meteorology. While still a scholar at Westminster he became a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society (which he subsequently served as secretary and council member for over two decades) and he joined the Hampstead Scientific Society in 1909.

When an observatory and meteorological station were set up for the Society on the highest point in the then administrative county of London, a famous meteorologist of the time, Hugh Robert Mill, at whose suggestion the station had been established, spoke at the official opening about the need for meteorological records that “could reasonably expected to be permanent”. Eric Hawke, 17 years old, took the responsibility for ensuring that this was so, and from 1909 to 1965 he acted as honorary meteorologist, and only one day’s readings were missed during those 55 years -- in 1940 owing to an air-raid.

His collation of the readings made by staff of the Metropolitan Water Board continued when he left Hampstead in 1929 after his marriage, for which he composed his own wedding march. He rarely took a holiday and when he did it was in England and he kept watch on the meteorological observations all the time. His subsequent homes -- in Rickmansworth, Dagnall, and Wilstone -- were themselves selected in part for the meteorological interest resulting from their topographic locations. He lived on his meteorological writings (two books and regular articles for several national and London newspapers) together with a modest private income. He also contributed regularly to the Hampstead and Highgate Express. From 1910 onwards his account of the year’s weather formed part of the Society’s annual reports.

He made original contributions to the Royal Meteorological Society’s Quarterly Journal, to the Meteorological Magazine, and to Weather. At his home in Rickmansworth he discovered by observation and unflagging attention to instruments a remarkable “frost hollow” and read a paper about it before the RMS in 1944, and partly in recognition of this he was awarded the Society’s Buchan Prize the following year. He supplied Hampstead’s Medical Officer of Health with regular reports for the annual review; he contributed sunshine data to the Medical Research Council for research on the effects of ultra-violet light; he was involved in the reporting of data for the Eagle Star insurance company’s pluvius policies; and he was subpoenaed to appear as an expert witness in a legal fight that involved the state of the weather at the time of the events leading to the action.

For many years twice-daily readings were telephoned to the Meteorological Office and these formed part of the Office’s service of information. There have been minor problems of vandalism and theft, and there was a major crisis in 1961-62 when the Metropolitan Water Board decided to repair the covered reservoir where the station is located alongside the astronomical observatory. It looked as if the 52-year record would be broken. Hawke was in action at once. The instruments were moved -- twice -- but only be a few metres.

© Philip Eden

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