Nostalgia: Nothing new about Havering heatwaves

...or mad men step out in the midday sun

...or mad men step out in the midday sun - Credit: PA WIRE

Our climate may be changing, but Havering has endured heatwaves before.

Prof Ged Martin

Prof Ged Martin - Credit: Archant

In the summer of 1707, the heat was not only “excessive” but a total absence of wind created a “suffocating” atmosphere.

July 8, 1707 was long remembered locally as “hot Tuesday”.

At Upminster, horses dropped dead on the roads.

But there was no respite for farm workers as the harvest had to be gathered.

Labourers were “in great danger of death in their harvest work” and several lives were lost.


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The Rector, Dr William Derham, noted that a former servant, “a healthy, lusty young man, was killed by the heat”.

Britain was using a calendar that had got out of kilter with the solar year.

In 1752, we jumped 11 days and introduced leap years to get back on track.

So July 8 in 1707 would be today (July 19) now.

In those days, annual business contracts often ran, not from January 1, but from Lady Day, March 25.

When the calendar was adjusted, the 11 lost days were covered by making annual deals for 1752 run until April 5.

That’s why the UK’s tax year still hinges on that inconvenient date.

1714 was another tough summer, with drought the main challenge.

Pleurisy and measles were common at Upminster and “malignant fevers were very prevalent in the summer”.

“There was also great contagion among the black cattle.”

Another famous heatwave hit Britain in 1911, with temperatures steadily above 30 degrees Celsius from mid-July until late September.

On Friday July 14, 1911, an odd episode was observed on the road between Romford and Brentwood.

In those days, men dressed more formally. Only labourers would venture out without a jacket and tie.

So it seemed unusual when a man was observed walking along the Colchester Road not only without a hat but also shoeless.

The A12 was still a rural highway and, as he passed the small railway suburb of Harold Wood, the man threw his coat and waistcoat over a hedge – even though the discarded garments contained money and valuables.

Trudging on towards Brentwood, he disrobed completely “and went on his way naked”.

Of course, he was arrested and taken to Brentwood police station, where a medical doctor certified him as mentally ill.

He had been living in a hostel, Rowton House in Hammersmith, a philanthropic project with cubicle bedrooms for 800 homeless men.

His “extraordinary conduct” was charitably attributed to the heatwave.