Book Review: The James Losh Diaries

The James Losh Diaries 1802-1833. Life and Weather in Early Nineteenth-Century Newcastle-upon-Tyne. By Deborah Smith. Cambridge Scholars publishing. £64.99.

In the mid-1800s one of the interests of the NHSN was the recording of weather, and many pages of our Transactions are devoted to tables of readings. But people who were making accurate weather readings were few and far between in earlier decades, and long series of records are rare anywhere at that time. This book is about the weather diaries of one of those exceptional recorders, James Losh, who very diligently recorded the weather in his Jesmond property between 1802 and 1833, and whose legacy is seven volumes of his weather diaries that survive in Newcastle’s Literary & Philosophical Society.

James Losh is probably not as well known as he might be. Some might know that he was one of the founders of our society. Many of us will be aware of the statue of him that looms over the staircase of the Literary & Philosophical Society, but give little thought to the story of the man behind the statue. An outline of Losh’s busy life was one of Richard Welford’s Men of Mark ‘twixt Tyne and Tweed

Given the early date of his activity there are problems with the terms he used and questions about the accuracy of his readings. Losh recorded temperature and atmospheric pressure but did not use the Beaufort scale to record wind speed (although he did record wind direction), nor did he keep a rain gauge. Even so, his legacy of half a million items of data based on his own observations constitutes a treasure trove that has been awaiting statistical analysis.

Losh’s data were used in his own lifetime: Nathaniel Winch calculated monthly mean temperatures and used them in his discussion of the context of the Flora of Northumberland & Durham. However, since that time they have been a generally underused resource. This book includes summary tables for each month of the period of the weather diaries, which give us a guide to the varying climate of Jesmond over the first third of the 1800s. Although not using the standardised system and instruments of today, it is the best we are going to get.

Over those three decades Losh also made general notes about the general state of the weather. Not only that but he made many notes on the state of agriculture and about the plants that were then in flower or had been affected by frosts or other adverse weather conditions. As such, his diaries are of much wider interest than just to meteorologists: this volume should serve to give his activities the attention that is deserved and much overdue.