The mining engineer Richard Inwards (1840–1937) was a widely travelled man. We have reissued two of his books: The Temple of the Andes (1884) and the second edition (1893) of Weather Lore. The former work records a visit made almost twenty years before to the site of Tiwanaku, in Bolivia. Although the ruins of this once great city were first described by the Conquistadores, it was not until the nineteenth century, with the development of more rigorous archaeological methods, that the site began to be more fully studied. Pre-dating many of the earliest archaeological reports, the book describes the structures that Inwards observed, provides the then current thinking as to their possible purpose, and also offers remarks on the local people and culture.
But as the longest night slips past, it is Inwards’s remarkable collection of anecdotes, proverbs, poetry and observations about the weather that we offer today. Take careful note of all this, and at the end of 2015, see if any of it was correct – though as Inwards points out in his preface, ‘Meteorology itself, especially as regards English weather, is very far from having reached the phase of an exact science.’
January: ‘Froze Janiveer,/ Leader of the year;/ Minced pies in van,/ Calf’s head in rear.’ ‘In January if the sun appear,/ March and April pay full dear.’ And, even more worrying: ‘January warm, the Lord have mercy.’
February: ‘If February gives much snow,/ a fine summer it doth foreshow’, but be warned, ‘Fogs in February means frosts in May.’ And, rather unkindly, ‘All the months in the year/ Curse a fair Februeer.’
March: ‘When gnats dance in March, it brings death to sheep.’ More cheerfully (I think): ‘March comes in with adders’ heads and goes out with peacocks’ tails.’ (You might guess from its obscurity that this is a Scotch saying.)
April: ‘If it thunders on All-Fools’ Day/ it brings good crops of corn and hay.’ For the sake of your health, stay in your winter clothes: ‘Till April’s dead/ Change not a thread.’ Swallows should appear on 15 April, while on the 23rd, ‘At St George the meadow turns to hay.’
May: bafflingly, ‘The haddocks are good/ When dipped in May flood.’ And be warned: They who bathe in May/ Will soon be laid in clay’, so wait for your yearly bath until June.
June: ‘Calm weather in June/ Sets corn in tune.’ But ‘If it rains on midsummer eve, the filberts will be spoiled.’ And other crops are at risk: ‘If St Vitus’s day [15 June] be rainy weather,/ It will rain for thirty days together.’ (See St Swithin below.)
July: ‘When the sun enters Leo, the greatest heat will then arise.’ But of course, on 15 July, ‘If St Swithin weep, that year the proverb says,/ The weather will be foul for forty days.’ (As it will be if it rains on 1, 2 or 10 July too.) To put a poetic twist on July rain, ‘St Swithin is christening the apples.’
August: An understatement: ‘Dry August and warm/ Doth harvest no harm.’ And if you can remember to check, ‘If the first week in August is unusually warm, the winter will be white and long.’
September: ‘Fair on September 1st, fair for the month.’ And another baffling one: If dry be the buck’s horn/ on Holyrood morn,/ ‘Tis worth a kist of gold;/ But if wet it be seen/ E’er Holyrood e’en,/ Bad harvest is foretold’ – Holyrood Day being 14 September. And on Michaelmas Day (29 September), ‘the devil puts his foot on the blackberries’.
October: ‘There are always nineteen fine days in October.’ And make sure you ‘Dry your barley in October,/ Or you’ll always be sober’ – i.e. no malt = no ale. ‘In October dung your field,/ And your land its wealth shall yield’, but after that ‘On St Jude’s day [28 October]/ The oxen may play.’ Alternatively (as in 2013), there may be torrents of rain followed by floods.
November: ‘If the geese at Martin’s Day [11 November] stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.’ Another way of looking at it: ‘If there’s ice in November that will bear a duck,/ There’ll be nothing after but sludge and muck.’ Look out for 25 November, St Catherine of Alexandria’s Day: ‘As at Catherine foul or fair, so will be the next February.’
December: uncheerfully enough, ‘A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.’ But ‘If the sun shine through the apple tree on Christmas Day, there will be an abundant crop in the following year.’ And ‘If at Christmas ice hangs on the willow, clover may be cut at Easter’, while ‘If on Christmas night the wine ferments heavily in the barrels, a good wine year is to follow.’
And to round off the year: ‘If New Year’s Eve night wind blow south,/ It betokeneth warmth and growth;/ If west, much milk and fish in the sea;/ If north, much cold and storms there will be;/ If east, the trees will bear much fruit;/ If north-east, flee it man and brute.’ Here’s hoping for south winds on the 31st!