William Lonsdale Hetherington

Mr Hetherington in 1877.

Sherborne School’s weather station was set up in June 1871.  That month the School magazine, The Shirburnian, reported that ‘Several meteorological instruments have arrived here, including a rain gauge, barometer, several thermometers, &c.’   The instruments were installed on the Fifth Form Green, a sheltered area on the south side of the School chapel.

Daily readings (barometer, thermometer, hygrometer, ozone and rainfall) were taken by Mr Hetherington and his weather station monitors.  The earliest surviving readings date from June 1874, with a continuous run of weather charts surviving from that date until the end of October 1880.  Occasional charts also survive for October 1883, February, March and October 1885, and March, May and June 1886.  There are also separate rainfall readings for 1876, 1877, 1878 and 1879.

The School weather station was set up by William Lonsdale Hetherington (1845-1912).  Hetherington was born in Carlisle on 5 March 1845 and had attended Durham Grammar School.  In March 1868, he was appointed assistant master at Sherborne, coming straight from Trinity College, Cambridge where he was awarded a double first and had been captain of the Second Trinity Boat Club.  Hetherington remained at Sherborne School until Easter 1880.  In 1872, he founded a new boarding house, Abbeylands, where he was housemaster until 1880.  Later, he was Examiner to the Admiralty (1884-1896) and Classical lecturer at King’s College, London (1886-1894).  He died in London on 18 February 1912, aged 66.

Many of the early weather station monitors were boys from Hetherington’s own house, Abbeylands.   Robert George Webb (Abbeylands 1872-1875) was weather monitor from 1874 to 1875, and was succeeded by Henry Henn (Abbeylands 1872-1877) who was weather monitor from 1875 to 1877.  Henry would go on to become Bishop of Burnley.  The weather station monitor from 1877 to 1879 was Arthur John Galpin (Abbeylands 1872-1879), who later became Headmaster of King’s School, Canterbury.  After Hetherington left Sherborne in 1880, responsibility for the weather station appears to have been taken over by the School’s Field Society and the weather station monitors were appointed from other houses, including Clement Francis Venn (Harper House & School House 1876-1883) who was weather monitor from 1882 to 1883, and Samuel Thomas Chadwick (Abbey House 1884-1888) who was weather monitor in 1886.

In October 1871, Mr Hetherington wrote a letter to The Shirburnian explaining how the weather could be forecast using the readings obtained from his weather station:

‘Dear Mr Editor,
Perhaps a few words in explanation of the use of the meteorological instruments in the new quadrangle may serve to make them more intelligible and interesting.

The only means as yet available for forecasting the weather are a careful observation of the fluctuations of the barometer, hygrometer, and wind.  It is by reference to these sources that the Fitzroy and other coast signals are worked, and about each of the three I will make a few remarks in turn.

To begin with the barometer.  The pressure of the air in this country at sea level suffices to support a column of mercury whose length on the average is about 29.9 inches.  The length varies as a rule between the limits of 29.0 and 30.5 inches, though on extraordinary occasions it may fall as low as 28, or rise as high as 31 inches.  There are two points with regard to the length of the column to be noted.  First, as you pass upwards from sea level you leave more and more air below you, and the pressure of that still remaining above you can only support a somewhat shorter column of mercury.  As our barometer is 200 feet above the sea (the Abbey tower is 292 feet above ordnance datum or mean sea level. The tower itself is 100 feet 3 inches in height, and the barometer cistern about 8 feet above the foot of the tower), it is necessary to add something like two-tenths of an inch to its readings to reduce them to what they would have been at sea level.

Second, heat expands mercury, like everything else, adding something like one-tenth of an inch to the length of the column for every 30 degrees above freezing point.  It is necessary therefore to note the heat of the mercury by means of an attached thermometer, and subtract a certain amount from the length of the column to reduce the reading to what it would have been at 32⁰ (in addition to these two reductions .005 is subtracted from the readings of our barometer, that being the certified excess of its readings over the standard barometer at the Kew Observatory.  This correction includes that for the capillary action of the tube).  When the reading has been thus corrected, and reduced to what it would have been had the instrument been at sea level and the mercury at freezing point, it is ready for comparison with those taken at various stations of the Board of Trade, and published daily in the Times.

It is usual to add the letters r, f, or s to these readings when reported, to indicate that the mercury has been rising, falling, or steady, during the preceding fourteen hours.  The doubling of a letter shews the change has been very considerable.

The barometer shews at once when the pressure of the air is changing in amount.  If owing to any cause the pressure at one place be greater than at another, the air has a tendency to move from the place where the pressure is greater towards that where it is less, in order to restore the equilibrium, and so wind is caused.  Hence we see the barometer tells us more about wind than rain.  It is true a change of weather comes with a change of wind, but the nature of that change depends on the fact of the new wind being warmer or colder, damper or drier, than the old one.  Landsmen, however, care more about rain or snow than wind, and so have fallen into the error of looking at the changes in the barometer to see whether it is going to be fine or wet without considering from what point the wind is blowing.  Used in this way it will be likely to mislead.  It has but two motions, rising and falling, by which to indicate all changes of weather, and its indications must be checked by reference to the heat and moisture of the air, and the state of the wind and sky, before any judgment can be formed.

The barometer enables us to feel the pulse of the wind in advance, but the interval between the prophecy and its fulfilment varies.  For instance, it is longer when the change is from N.E. to S.W., than vice versa.  The words appended to all the so-called Fitzroy Barometers are taken from the rules arrived at by Professor Dove, of Berlin, from a long series of observations.  They are,

RISE          FALL
for              for
North        South
Dry            Wet
or               or
Less           More
Wind         Wind

Except       Except
Wet from  Wet from
North         North

If the barometer then rises steadily above its mean height while the weather gets colder and the air becomes drier, North-westerly, Northerly, North-easterly winds, or less wind, less rain or snow may generally be expected.  On the contrary, if the barometer falls while the weather gets warmer and the air becomes damper, wind and rain may be looked for from the South-east, South, or South-west.

The chief deviations from these rules are given in the Board of Trade instructions as follows: If the weather gets warmer while the barometer is high and the wind North-easterly, we may look for a shift of wind to the South.  On the other hand, the weather sometimes becomes colder while the wind is South-westerly and the barometer low, and then we may look for a sudden squall, or perhaps a storm from the North-west, with a fall of snow if it be winter time.  North-east winds sometimes bring rain, sleet, or snow, especially during gales, though the barometer may be high and rising.  On the other hand, when the wind is North-easterly and light, and the barometer begins to fall, rain may set in before the wind changes to East or East South-east.

This letter, if such it can be called, has long since given traces of being written on the desk of blear-eyed Crispinus; and I will not pursue the question further at present, but, with your permission, leave any further remarks I may have to make on the weather and its indications, to another opportunity.

I should be glad, however, if you could print a monthly weather report, drawn up from the daily observations, in future numbers of the Shirburnian.  As this month’s observations are not complete, I will not trouble you with them further than by observing that 3.19 inches of rain fell in the last eight days of the month.

Believe me, my dear Mr Editor,
Yours sincerely,

William Hetherington left Sherborne School at Easter 1880, but his contribution to Sherborne School is honoured by a memorial plaque in the School chapel.

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