The Buxton Meteorological Station – located on The Slopes in Buxton, in the Borough of High Peak, Derbyshire, UK.
A Brief History, by Michael Hilton
Back to buxtonweather.co.uk CLICK HERE
I think I need to start by explaining who I am, to save any confusion between two completely separate, and different, weather stations! - I play the part I describe below, within the Met Office, Slopes Weather Team, but in addition, for the last 15+ years, I have run an independent weather site, based about a mile from the Slopes site, displaying the weather past present and future, and lots more, at www.buxtonweather.co.uk
The Buxton Slopes Met Office site, is a Climatological Weather Station (a Climatological Weather station takes daily readings to create a long term climate record, whereas a Synoptic Weather station records more frequent, often real-time, readings with the primary function of forecasting). The Met Office operates the Voluntary Climate Network alongside the automatic Synoptic Network. The Buxton site is some 100 metres to the North of Buxton Town Hall, at map reference SK 058 733 (Latitude 53 25796’ Longitude -1 91389’). The site is at an altitude of 307 Metres above sea level
This site is managed by The British Meteorological Office, and manned by a group of local volunteers, who attend the station each morning, 365 days a year, at 09.00 GMT, to take readings. Some 22 readings and observations are taken on every visit, and these are entered by the volunteer team, each morning, through an online Met Office portal, for use in real time forecasting – and for inclusion in Long Term Climate Records for the UK. Like to see today's readings? CLICK HERE!
We also maintain a written book of
all the daily observations – in much the same way readings have been noted since the
mid 1800’s – of course these will be preserved, and passed on to future generations.
All approved Met Office sites, comply with global standards, set by the World Meteorological Organisation. Our Volunteers have received Met Office training in order to meet those standards. This ensures the quality and reliability of readings generated by the Buxton Station. Maintained high standards, ensure Buxton readings are included in the Met Office Climate Records for the UK. This national database is accessed by many researchers and others, for a myriad of purposes. The Buxton site continues to provide information to local people and visitors to the town, and to commerce, industry, schools and universities.
Buxton Climatological Station is one of the longest, continuously recording weather stations in the UK. The station has unbroken records going back over 150 years, to 1865. The site is the 3rd oldest weather site in the United Kingdom.
In the middle of the 1800’s, there were many serious outbreaks of diseases like the cholera, typhus, etc. outbreaks which happened particularly in London resulted in many deaths, particularly of young children. Doctors before this time did not realise that these diseases were spread by contaminated water. They thought the diseases came from airborne sources, the famous “miasmas” (The miasma theory (also called the miasmatic theory) is an obsolete medical theory that held that diseases—such as cholera, chlamydia, or the Black Death—were caused by a miasma – in ancient Greek: "pollution" - a noxious form of "bad air", also known as “night air”). That would explain a growing interest in climate data. When sinks were first installed in bedrooms to replace the old jug and washbasin arrangement, people were very suspicious of this new-fangled idea. They were afraid that the “miasma” would come up through the plughole and contaminate the bedroom with deadly diseases and the solution was to keep the plug firmly in the basin to stop the “miasma” spreading into the room!
Also, in the mid-nineteenth century, doctors considered that a change of climate and exposure to pure, fresh, bracing air had a stimulating effect on an invalid’s system. As a result, mountain health resorts became very popular and, in order to justify promoting the benefits of Buxton’s climate, it was essential to have accurate data.
Another piece of "trivia", my colleague Meg came across, when researching the history of spas, was a wonderful sounding society known as the British Balneological and Climatological Society founded in 1895 by Samuel Hyde (1849-1899) who established the Peak Hydropathic Hotel (now the Buxton Museum). In 1900, the society became a section of the Royal Society of Medicine. The members of the society were interested in the treatment of rheumatism and another similar conditions using hydropathy and were also interested in the effect of climate on these illnesses. The early reports from this society discuss, in detail, the meteorological data at various spa towns. One report stated (a little unfairly, we think! )– (although taking the readings on the Slopes on some winter mornings can be a little "testing"!) "Buxton, while possessing a pleasantly low temperature in summer, rightly enjoys the reputation of being the coldest place in England during the winter."
So a major factor in the founding of the Buxton Station was in response to the realisation that the weather did have an influence on health and diseases. Scientists knew by this time that there was a link between outbreaks of these kinds of disease and current weather conditions, but there was no local weather station making regular readings. Without this data, doctors couldn’t predict or prepare for the outbreaks when they occurred.
In 1865, the people of Buxton, subscribed to the setting up of a weather station, to record temperatures, rainfall, and other details. This was initially placed in the grounds of the Devonshire Royal Hospital. Readings in the late 1860’s to 1870’s were taken by Edwin J Sykes, FRAS, FMS. Edwin J Sykes was a Dispensing Chemist. He was the resident dispenser to the Devonshire Hospital from about 1868 to 1873, and in 1873 bought the business of Mr Acton at No 5 The Quadrant and succeeded him as a Family and Dispensing Chemist. He continued to act an honorary meteorologist at the hospital.
The Devonshire Hospital and Buxton Bath Charity Annual Report for 1874, Records the following “Mr. Sykes, who had acted as Honorary Meteorologist to the Hospital during the five years of his residence in the Hospital, kindly continues to perform these duties without payment.”
In 1874, the Meteorological Office took on Buxton Weather Station as one of their official climatological stations:
The meteorological report which is annexed to the 1874 Devonshire Hospital annual report states “The year 1874 was one of great importance in a meteorological point of view. Several new and necessary systems have been suggested, and to a considerable extent carried out, under the superintendence of many distinguished naturalists- and meteorologists, who have established a method of co-operation for the investigation of such periodical phenomena of nature as depend on the progress of the seasons. To this end, several observatories have been recognised by the Meteorological Society, for the purpose of simultaneous observations twice daily: it has pleased the Council to distinguish the observatory at Buxton with that honour. The chief physical conditions to be observed are : The highest and lowest temperatures of the air daily; the intensity of solar radiation; the humidity of the air; rainfall and snow; frost; occurrence of storms; direction of the wind; the movements and aspects of the clouds; and the general state of the sky.” (We still take most of these same readings today, together with many other readings such as “wet bulb” temperature to calculate dew point & humidity, grass tip temperature - and temperature readings down into the earth at 10cm depth, 30 cm depth and one metre depth).
Mr Sykes continued taking readings into the
late 1880’s. By 1889, the readings and reports were done by Mr Ft Keildsen
and later Mr W Pilkington and - Mr Pilkington was local pharmaceutical chemist. He had a shop at No 1 and 1A Market Street
which also sold photographic supplies (now the Christian Bookshop) .
In 1925, the Station moved to The Slopes in Buxton - just before it moved, on 21st June 1924, The Buxton Advertiser reported "A report on the Speech Day at the Cavendish High School for Girls lists the activities of the school during the year. The school excursions that year included a visit by some of the senior girls, at the invitation of Mr Pilkington, “to see the meteorological instruments at the Devonshire Hospital.”
When Mr Pilkington retired in 1925, after 26 years as Borough Meteorologist, his daughter, Miss Edith Winifred Pilkington, another pharmacist, of 11 Market Place, Buxton, took over the readings - she became Borough Meteorologist on 26th September 1925 with Mr J A Robinson from the Town Library, assisting. Miss Pilkington was the first female Borough Meteorologist in the UK. The fact that she was the first female Meteorologist, together with the style of her weather reports, made her quite a celebrity - even making foreign press reports - my colleague Meg, found the picture below of Miss Pilkington, in an American publication!
Incredibly, the Met Office archives in Exeter, contain thousands of pages of details of the Buxton site going back into the 1870's - below are three of Miss Pilkington's reports to the Met Office (which also appeared in the Buxton Library window on Terrace Road) from the 1920's and 1930's
In August 1925, the equipment, together with the gated and railed enclosure, was moved to the present site, on The Slopes.
My colleague on the weather team Meg, has
two elderly neighbours in their nineties, life-long Buxtonians, who say then can
“remember seeing Miss Pilkington carrying out the readings, on her own, every
day for many years”.
And after posting this website, I heard from Ann Palmer who wrote to say "I was very interested and pleased to hear that you and the team of volunteers continue to preserve such a piece of history. I was brought up on Belmont Terrace near Buxton Slopes, and as a little girl, my friend and I used to watch for Miss Pilkington coming to record the weather - she allowed us to go in to the station and help her which we thought was wonderful! Although we were too young to know the technical terms, our helping did involve lifting up a round metal lid and pulling out of a tube of some sort and passing it to Miss Pilkington. We then replaced it after recordings had been taken. In school holidays we were quite often up on the slopes twice a day "assisting" Miss Pilkington. She recorded on a chart all the readings and spent time explaining what she was doing. This is a lovely memory for me and I am happy to share with you and the team."
Miss Pilkington retired in 1962 and died in 1986 - after she died, her friends and relatives subscribed to an inscribed teak seat in her memory - this was placed on the Pavilion Gardens Promenade for many years - after being damaged in 2018, the seat was restored by Dave Carlisle and his colleagues on the "Friends on Buxton Station" volunteer team. In September 2019 it was re-sited just below the Slopes Weather Station, just a few yards from the same station Miss Pilkington visited every day for nearly 40 years!
After Miss Pilkington retired, Ivor Burton, curator of the Buxton Museum on Terrace Road, took over the readings and maintained the records – I have heard from Jeremy Parker, a weather enthusiast, who now lives in Invergordon “In the 60s I lived in Buxton and used to go to the Museum on Terrace Road daily during school holidays and was given access to the weather records, by the curator, Ivor Burton, father of a school friend, and I copied monthly data going back to the mid 1800s.”
Around 1990, High Peak Borough Council took over the readings. At first, the readings were recorded by John Fletcher, the Market Inspector. Around 1995, a member of the Environmental Health Team took over - he became well known as “Borough Meteorologist” – His name was Stephen Green – he took daily readings, and maintained the records, as well as transposing many long term records into "e-form". Stephen tells me "as well as the morning readings, we also used to be part of the "Health Resort Scheme". This meant taking a second set of readings at 17.00 pm, and phoning them through to the Met Office. This was when Buxton readings (amongst others) appeared in the National newspapers. Stephen maintained his role for more than 20 years, until he retired in 2015.
After Mr Green retired in 2015, the Environmental Health Team continued to maintain the readings, but pressure on local government resources, meant that this daily duty was causing difficulties for the Council team.
Because of these manning difficulties, in May 2015, the Meteorological Office, Area Manager, Gill Allbones, advertised for volunteers to take over the readings, and maintenance of records.
With 150+ years of unbroken records, it
would have been a great loss to stop the recordings – these long unbroken
records, are a valuable resource for researchers – and the long history, is a
matter of some prestige for the town of Buxton, and the Borough of High Peak!
(Michael comments) “The good response to the advert for volunteers, is so typical of how supportive local people are to their town – there is a great spirit, of wanting to help make Buxton a better place for everyone, and of playing your part in the fabric of Buxton life – just look at the Opera House, the Well Dressings, The Buxton Town Team, The Railway Station Friends and many other local organisations – none of them would be so successful, without local volunteers”
Our Slopes Team formed in June 2015, received initial training and support from the Met Office and support from the Environmental Health Team – and we have been in place since then – and we are proud to have never missed a day! We currently have around 12, wonderful and committed volunteers, which seems about the right number to maintain regular attendance, whilst keeping the duties not too onerous.
I co-ordinate the activities of the team,
and carry out day to day repairs and maintenance of the equipment. Our Met Office Manager
ensures that replacement and consumable equipment is made available when
required. In addition, the Met Office inspects and calibrates every aspect of
the equipment, and the site, regularly – this to maintain accuracy – and to
ensure our compliance with global standards.
Our weather station even had a mention in
an early guide book to Buxton "A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to Buxton, The
Peak, Dovedale, Etc. Ward, Lock & Co.'s Illustrated Guide Books -Series 1939-40"
: On the topic of "Climate", the book has this to say "The greater part of
Buxton is more than a thousand feet above sea-level. This high altitude makes it
colder than it would be if its temperature depended upon latitude alone. In
summer, when heat oppresses the residents in busy towns, Buxton is refreshing
its visitors with a cool and pure atmosphere which for most people is bracing
and stimulating. It will readily be agreed that the cooler atmosphere is a
favourable feature in summer. Equally true, though less obvious, the lower
temperature does not detract from the merits of Buxton as a winter health
resort. The coldness of the air is more than compensated for by its dryness and
tonic properties. People do not complain of the cold at Buxton during the
winter, because the air, though keen, is perfectly dry. Buxton, indeed, can
boast of having the driest atmosphere in the country, as is amply demonstrated
by records for a long series of years. By reason of the altitude of the town,
the air is so rarefied that it cannot hold much moisture. Other factors in the
production of the phenomenal dryness are the conformation of the district, the
rapidity of drainage, the absence of marshy land, and the constant interchange
of moorland breezes.
Paradoxical as it may seem, with so dry an atmosphere, Buxton has an average rainfall of 46.5 inches. It is so large because the surrounding hills are among the first that receive the sea and ocean clouds of the west. Yet, owing to the hilly character of the district, and its greatly increased area, which allows of very rapid drainage, and the dry limestone soil, none of the usual discomforts of a damp subsoil are experienced. The heavy rainfall, on the contrary, is one of the most important and beneficial factors of the climate, the air being washed, purified and freed from bacterial and other impurities; while, experimentally, it has been proved that bacteria and putrefactive process are retarded. The salubrity (The quality of being salubrious or invigorating) of Buxton is attested by the low death-rate, which in a recent year was well below the average for England and Wales.
On the Slopes there is a Meteorological Station in connection with the Meteorological Office of the Air Ministry. Daily readings and forecasts issued by the Borough Meteorologist are exhibited at the Library and elsewhere. Local time is 7½ minutes later than Greenwich."
Note from Michael - The Met Office was part of the Air Ministry from the 1st World War right up to 1990, then becoming part or the Ministry of Defence - later it became a quasi-independent part of the Dept. of Business & Skills. The Met Office does still maintain strong links with the military, through its front line offices at RAF and Army bases both in the UK and overseas, and its involvement in the Joint Operations Meteorology and Oceanography Centre (JOMOC) with the Royal Navy.
We do know that, during the 2nd World War, data from
weather stations like the Buxton one, was used by the Military, and the data
classified, to prevent its use by the enemy! - BUT - By 1942 the government
accepted that despite the potential security risks some kind of forecast needed
to be provided to farmers to ensure they were able to safely harvest the grain
crops. A code system was
introduced to give a broad indication of the expected conditions the next day
and the further outlook. For example ‘dog’ meant no rain before sunset the next
day with reasonably dry air and some sunshine and ‘buy’ meant the weather would
probably continue fair or good for some time. These harvest forecasts were
issued from 10 August to 30 September 1942 and in 1943 and 1944 they ran from 1
June to 30 September each year.
I can personally remember in the 1950’s, daily forecasts and statistics being displayed, in the Museum window on Terrace Road – that daily information sheet continued beyond 2010. After a gap of a few years, it is now back in its traditional place, in the same window, with forecasts from www.buxtonweather.co.uk .
We do hold long term records, covering the entire period right back to the 1860’s (including all the records through every day of two World Wars!) – detailed records are stored in the Met Office database – and we do hold ourselves, long term records, in “e-form” and written, – may I say a thank you to two people – both weather enthusiasts, who have assisted in the past, in preserving Buxton Site records, and placing them with us now, so that we have a complete record covering more than 150 years! – Thank you to:
Gerard Walsh, Head of Geography at St Thomas More School in Buxton.
And Dave Evans of Middleton by Wirksworth.
We would love to build on this history, about the Slopes weather site – and would like to hear about anything you have, which may assist in that - please let me know if you can add anything at all to this tale!
If you would like to know more about the Met Office Buxton site, access records, or even enquire about joining the volunteer team, please contact me via www.buxtonweather.co.uk
May I finish by giving credit to Meg
Fowler, a colleague volunteer – she describes her main interests as “history and
sleuthing” so as you may imagine, she has been invaluable in compiling this
And To Gill Allbones, our Met Office, Area Manager, for her support and guidance, in our work, maintaining the Buxton Climatalogical Weather Station.
And to High Peak Borough Council & The Environmental Health Team for their support.
Back to buxtonweather.co.uk CLICK HERE