Tag Archives: UK

Marking the bicentenary of 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK

By Lucy Veale and Georgina Endfield, University of Nottingham, UK 

Etheridge, Francis; Stonehenge, 2 May 1816

‘Stonehenge, 2 May 1816’ by Francis Etheridge. Collection of Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.

As many people in the UK have been enjoying a brief heat wave, they have also been remembering past summers, as this year marks 40 years since the summer of 1976 – perhaps the ‘UK’s best ever summer’.  Beyond living memory, this summer also marks the bicentenary of the ‘year without summer’. The summer of 1816 is famous for having been cold, wet and generally miserable in the UK (the July of that year being the coldest on record), and much worse in parts of Europe and North America. The bad weather of that summer has been associated with the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, in April 1815, the largest known volcanic eruption in recorded. An estimated 72,000 people in Indonesia lost their lives because of the eruption, either directly or through linked famine and disease. Longer term and further afield, the huge volume of sulphur that was injected into the atmosphere changed global climate over the succeeding years (Oppenheimer, 2003).

Volcano weather

The 200-year anniversary of the eruption has renewed scholarly and popular interest in the climatic consequences of eruptions and so-called super eruptions. Two centuries on, there is still much to learn about Tambora, particularly its effects on global climate and local weather, and associated consequences for human health and wellbeing.

As part of a broader project on the history of extreme weather in the UK, we have been considering what impact the eruption had on the weather of the UK, and in turn, the impact of that weather on the people who lived through it. In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we draw on diaries, correspondence, and other unpublished documents to revisit the weather of the summer of 1816, and the 1810s more broadly. All of our accounts are geographically referenced, and have allowed us to begin to trace the impacts of the cold and wet weather around the country. Our reconstruction demonstrates the importance of studying global phenomena at the local level, and of situating the summer of 1816 within wider weather and cultural contexts. The 1810s were a very cool decade with multiple localised extreme weather events, and the bad weather coincided a particularly challenging time of cultural upheaval following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.

Summer 1816 in the UK

At the end of July 1816, continuous rains set in for 6 to 8 weeks. ‘On 31 July [in Norfolk] the rain descended in such torrents as to prostrate the heavy crops in many places, & by the violent effects of a water spout, acres of turnips were washed away, & in some villages the ditches & lanes were so full of water that boats might have been rowed in them’ (Matchett, 1822: 146). Abbot Upcher in Sheringham, Norfolk, reflected later, ‘During this year there was no summer whatsoever. Incessant rains during June, July & August, and tremendous gales’ (Norfolk Record Office, UPC 155).

Weather observers in 1816 were also clearly aware of human distress across the country. At Tissington, Derbyshire, bailiff James Hardy suggested that if not for the kindness of Sir Henry Fitzherbert, ‘more than two thirds of the Tissington labourers would want relief at this time’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/E/4535), whilst Reverend William Alderson feared the winter would produce ‘disturbances throu’out the country’ (Derbyshire Record Office, D239/M/F/8395). Discussion in the Farmer’s Magazine centred on farmers’ inability to pay rents, and many landlords were unwilling to offer abatement. W. Palethorpe of Kirton in Holland included a postscript to his letter to his landlord that ‘we have had extreme bad weather for the harvest and most shocking complaints of poverty’ (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/1461/212).

Contextualising the ‘year without summer’

It is very difficult to discriminate between weather effects linked to volcanic events, and the natural variability of the climate. Disentangling the event-related socio-economic and ecological implications from ongoing changes in the historical record is no less problematic. Our sources help us to explore the anatomy of general crisis in this period and points to 1816 being a difficult year for many people across the UK. The material suggests that extreme weather recorded in the in the spring, summer and autumn months of 1816 conditions may have been ‘truly exceptional’ and ‘of a degree for which it is reasonable to invoke an external forcing mechanism’ (Sadler and Grattan, 1999: 187).

Although some parts of the UK have enjoyed further sunshine this week, and hope to enjoy more, some it seems can’t wait for autumn! Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season .

About the authors: Lucy is a Research Fellow and Georgina is Professor of Environmental History. They are both working on the AHRC funded project ‘Spaces of experience and horizons of expectation’: Extreme weather in the UK, past, present and future, and are based in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham.

60-world2 BBC Radio 4 High Explosive: The Tambora Story  Fri 3 Arpil 2015.

60-world2 Groskop V 2016 Was the summer of 1976 the best Britain ever had? The Guardian July 2016

60-world2 Hambling D 2016 The outlook:perceptual freezing darkness The Guardian July 2016. 

books_icon Matchett J 1822 The Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer and Vade-Mecus 2nd edition Matchett and Stevenson, Norwich

60-world2 Mitchell T 2016 Good riddance to summer, a thoroughly un-British season The Guardian 2016

books_icon Oppenheimer, C. 2003. Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historical eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. 27: 230-259 doi: 10.1191/0309133303pp379ra

books_icon Sadler J P and Grattan J P 1999 Volcanoes as agents of past environmental change Global and Planetary Change 21 181-96 doi:10.1016/S0921-8181(99)00014-4

books_iconVeale, L. and Endfield, G. 2016. Situating 1816, the ‘year without summer’, in the UK. The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12191

A great north post-capitalist plan?

By Paul Chatterton, University of Leeds


Blueprint for a Great North Plan. IPPR North.

When you write an academic article, it’s always useful to watch out for contemporary events to connect to. On 17th June 2016 I had that opportunity when a Blueprint for the Great North Plan (for the north of England that is) was launched. The idea for a Great North Plan has been building momentum for a number of years, especially on the back of the now-defunct Northern Way . The whole context for this current great North plan is a desire to see economic devolution and elected Metro mayors under the brand of the Northern Powerhouse, a strategy led by the UK Government Treasury that aims to re-balance economic growth between the South East/London and the rest of the UK. The Blueprint for the Great North and was launched by the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR), along with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). While it began largely as a transport strategy, its purpose has grown into laying out a vision for the North and a set of collaborative strategies around the economy, transport, environment population and place.

On one level it could be read as a business-led economic growth and inward investment strategy.But, from the position of the recent article that I wrote in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, this whole process raises a fascinating example of the complexities and contradictions in future transitioning, and the potential of advocating for an embedding more radical options beyond the capitalist present.

The Great North Plan represents a desire from various stakeholders to undertake some kind of socio-technical transition to a more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable future. What kind of plan actually emerges over the next few decades will largely be determined by the extent to which stakeholders are prepared to experiment with novel, and often uncomfortable forms of development, and take leaps into the unknown. If a region like the north of England is genuinely serious about reducing its carbon footprint by 80% and making headway in reducing persistent levels of multiple deprivation, then, this kind of risky innovation and experimentation will be key.

Moreover, this will need to be underpinned by novel meso-level institutional forms (linking bottom-up and top-down processes) that bring together civil society, universities, government and business can come together to co-produce solutions. A Great Plan for the North would also need to avoid lock-in to options that yield weak gains.

To embark upon what I call ‘post-capitalist transitions’, a Great North Plan would need to tackle many difficult and uncomfortable issues such as automobile dependency, critical levels of air pollution, dependency on outdated and centralised energy provision, and climate vulnerability. It would need to have an open, honest debate about some of the real limitations and negative consequences of the contemporary, pro-growth free-market society we live in. A realistic assessment of these challenges would free is up to explore more creative and durable solutions that could deliver brought prosperity and sustainability.

Geographers like myself who are taking part in these debates, have a key role to play in advocating for novel and disruptive policy solutions, reminding stakeholders of the profound level of the challenges we face, as well is process level innovations such as co-production and participatory research. Given our often pragmatic yet critical approach to societal challenges, geographers can help steer the future trajectories of our localities in very positive ways.

About the author: Paul Chatterton is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. 

60-world2 Blueprint for a Great North plan http://www.greatnorthplan.com/ 

books_icon Chatterton P 2016 Building transitions to post-capitalist urban commons. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12139

60-world2 Institute for Public Policy Research North http://www.ippr.org/north

60-world2 Northern Way Transport Compact http://www.northernwaytransportcompact.com/

60-world2 Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) http://www.rtpi.org.uk/ 

60-world2 UK Northern Powerhouse https://www.uk-northern-powerhouse.com/

Housing Refugees: Prejudice and the Potentials of Encounter

By Julian Shaw (King’s College London)

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Refugees at Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

This summer the British media opened its eyes, cleared its collective throat, and eventually gave voice to a global refugee crisis that has been growing for years. Initially the tragedy traversed the narratives of public and political figures, then it made its way into the private discussions of British families (via TV news and online petitions). Now the tragedy’s spatial journey appears to have followed suit – moving from the public spaces of train stations and border checkpoints, it is now poised to enter private space. In The Independent it was revealed that “one in 14 people – the equivalent of almost two million UK households – said they would be prepared to offer a room or space in their home to a refugee” (The Independent, 2015); what an amazing thought.

Concurrently in September’s issue of The Geographical Journal, Valentine et al. published the latest instalment in their investigation of the geography of encounter; looking in this article at “encounters…within the context of family life” (Valentine et al., 2015: 280). Their article specifically turns the significance of everyday intimate encounters with diversity in the home, and how these may have the potential to challenge wider prejudices evident in public life.

Turning to the cities of Leeds and Warsaw, Valentine et al. surveyed over 3,000 social attitudes and made in-depth qualitative explorations with 60 of these respondents. Their findings revealed that indeed “intra-familial diversity does produce more positive attitudes in public life” (ibid.: 291). Should such a result be consistent across the UK, this has made me wonder about the wider positive implications that could occur if British families were to house refugees in their spare rooms, as was suggested in The Independent.

Of course, housing someone does not necessarily make them family – or at least not in the traditional sense. However, Valentine et al. acknowledge in their study that the intimate encounters they explore do not presume the traditional sense of family – in the modern world family structures are much more malleable and changeable than they used to be. Instead they extend their investigation of families to the wider spatial setting of “the home and associated spaces of family life” (Valentine et al., 2005: 281). In this case, I suggest that their findings could be directly relevant to UK families welcoming refugees into their homes.

However, the obvious caveat here is that likely volunteers to house refugees are those already holding positive views towards them. I guess the challenge is – if intimate encounters can break prejudice – enabling intimate encounters with refugees to enter into the homes of those harbouring intolerance? Yet, don’t most of us have some distant or extended family members that we might reluctantly describe as being intolerant, even while we hold broad and accepting views ourselves? If this is the case then the intimate encounters described by Valentine et al. (2015) could indeed happen in the families of those offering to house refugees. Let’s hope the offer becomes reality.


60-world2 The Independent (2015) Online article: “Revealed: the extraordinary response to the Syrian refugee crisis – and how it shames David Cameron”, by Adam Withnall and Matt Dathan on 23rd September 2015, Accessed online at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-crisis-the-true-extent-of-the-british-publics-extraordinary-response-revealed-10514341.html (Accessed on 23rd September 2015)

books_icon Valentine, G., Piekut, A., and Harris, C., (2015) Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal, 181(3): pp.280-294 (open access).

On universities as border sites

by Matt Jenkins

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace (UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/)

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace
Source: UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/

In August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s status as a visa sponsor under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. As a result, over a thousand students found themselves with 60 days to find a new university at which to study or face deportation. The university was faced with the possibility of losing a key source of income and possibly shutting down as a result. Universities across the country took note: the UKBA have the power to seriously impair the ability of universities to carry on operating and their instructions must be followed.

This incident may seem like a little local administrative difficulty, but it illustrates a new role for educational institutions in the UK. We have become border sites, places where individuals are sorted into those permitted to be in the country and those who are not on behalf of the UKBA. This sorting is largely done by teaching staff, who are not paid for it and are often unaware that they are doing it. It forces students to study in approved ways, decided for them not by themselves or their institution but by the state border agency. It forces institutions to maintain systems of surveillance, removing from them their ability to decide what constitutes appropriate student behaviour. The implications of this new role, for students, for staff and for the structure and the ethos of educational establishments, are far-reaching and under-examined. Geographers, with our body of literature on borders and their effects, are well placed to undertake such an examination.

About the author: Matt Jenkins is an ESRC-funded doctoral candidate at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, and is a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG. His commentary, ‘On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education‘ is published in The Geographical Journal.

books_iconJenkins M 2014 On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12066 [open access]

60-world2BBC News 2013 London Met: How many non-EU students had to leave? 2 December

60-world2Grove J 2012 Home Office ‘to strip’ London Met of highly trusted status Times Higher Education 23 August

60-world2Collini S 2013 Sold Out London Review of Books 35 2 3-12

Adapting to coastal change: understanding different points of view in coastal erosion management

by Mark Tebboth

The devastating flooding in central Europe is a powerful example of the destruction that extreme weather can cause. Yet, finding agreement on the best way to protect citizens, infrastructure and nature from the sort of events witnessed in Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic is a difficult, sometimes impossible, balancing act. As an article published in February in The Guardian newspaper put it ‘Floods kill, wreak havoc and cost billions. And we know they’re coming. So why aren’t we doing anything about them?’ Happisburgh, a small village on the East Anglian coast, is typical of some of the issues highlighted in The Guardian article. The village has lost a number of homes and other structures in recent years (compare the pictures from 1996 and 2012) and is suffering from the consequences of coastal erosion. However, despite the urgency of the situation, it has not been possible to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all involved.

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

Happisburgh in 1996, 2006 and 2012 during which time it has lost a number of sea front properties (copyright Mike Page)

The inability of stakeholders to agree a way forward can be explained, in part, by the different ways in which the issue of coastal erosion is framed. For example, the Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), a local pressure group based in Happisburgh, highlights the problems caused by a lack of investment in sea defences. Conversely, the UK Government tends to emphasise the inevitability of coastal erosion, citing causes such as nature or climate change. By highlighting different causes as primarily responsible for coastal erosion these two stakeholders gravitate towards different solutions: increased and more appropriately targeted investment if a lack of investment is the problem and a different management approach if coastal erosion is inevitable. How is it that these two stakeholders, with access to similar information can have such different perspectives?

The different views held by institutions such as CCAG or the UK Government are, in part, determined by their implicit beliefs or how they think the world works. These beliefs help institutions to make sense of the world around them and can act as short cuts when to trying to understand complex issues. In the case of Happisburgh, this might explain why dredging is seen as a critical issue for one party (CCAG) but is barely on the radar of the other (UK Government).

In policy conflicts, revealing some of the more underlying beliefs that stakeholders rely on to support a particular point of view can helpfully inform governance and communication approaches leading to more realistic, acceptable and better designed solutions. For Happisburgh, this could mean a reframing of the issue of coastal erosion to focus on the more recent successes that have been realised through the Pathfinder Programme, rather than past failures. Such an approach offers potential to rebuild trust and understanding between the different stakeholders, increasing the chances of a more positive outcome.

The author: Mark Tebboth is a PhD student at the School of International Development affiliated with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

books_iconTebboth M 2013 Understanding intractable environmental policy conflicts: the case of the village that would not fall quietly into the sea The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12040

60-world2Harvey F 2013 Floods: a disaster waiting to happen The Guardian 2 February

60-world2North Norfolk District Council 2012 Happisburgh North Norfolk Pathfinder

60-world2Weeks J 2013 Floods cause chaos across Europe – in pictures The Guardian 6 June

Towards improved drought awareness

By Daniel Schillereff

The copyright on this image is owned by Peter Bond and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

While recent years have been typified by intensely dry spells interspersed with severe flooding in many parts of the UK, this year (2012) will be remembered by many for the occurrence of both meteorological extremes. This shift was of a ‘magnitude never seen before’, according to experts at the Centre for Ecological and Hydrology (CEH), quoted in a recent Guardian article. The current issue of Area (December 2012, Volume 44, Issue 4) includes a Special Section comprising a number of articles focusing on water management and climate change, which is clearly timely.

While interaction between scientists, local residents and decision makers is commonplace when flood-risk mitigation strategies are being developed, such cooperation and communication is rarer when addressing droughts, despite the severe negative ecological, financial and societal impacts of prolonged dry periods. The media coverage of the spring drought was extensive, however drought generating mechanisms and the historical record of drought frequency and intensity were rarely discussed and public knowledge of these mechanisms appears limited. The Rahiz and New paper in this section deals specifically with meteorological drought in the UK and therefore deserves special attention.

Their paper includes a summary of historical drought literature for the UK which should be a first port of call for all readers. Among the principal findings of their study is confirmation that the North Atlantic Oscillation is an important driver of UK droughts as well indicating that the severity of drought events exhibits significant variability in different regions across the UK. If these points are considered by decision makers at water summits, similar to that which took place in Kent this month as mentioned on the BBC, there is scope for more informed responses to be implemented in the future to address water security. The public also have a vital role in water resource management and the updated drought information on the Environment Agency website and their social media feeds will hopefully lead to greater understanding among citizens when water rationing is instigated in the future.

  M Rahiz, M New, 2012, Spatial coherence of meteorological droughts in the UK since 1914, Area 44 (4) 400-410.

  ‘Water summit’ in drought-hit South East, BBC News Online, 3 November 2012

  UK’s year of drought and flooding unprecedented, experts say, The Guardian, 18 October 2012

Area Content Alert: 44, 2 (June 2012)

Cover image for Vol. 44 Issue 2The latest issue of Area (Volume 44, Issue 2, pages 134–268, June 2012) is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

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