the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Travels in Europe-Part 1

Posted by Jeff Id on February 6, 2010

Guest post by Tony Brown


This is the view from the hill above my house circa 1890. It overlooks the town of Teignmouth on England’s South West coast, where a fascinating parade of characters have lived over the centuries.

Devon, Teignmouth, view from Torquay Road

Figure 1 View of Teignmouth, Devon

The question today is which of them should we follow in our next excursion into historic climate change, as evidenced by instrumental temperature records?

From my window I can see the landing place of the last invasion of England by a foreign power which destroyed the town in 1690 -a cannonball from the bombardment was found just a few months ago. Its location in French Street tells us who the culprits were. Central England Temperature (CET) during that year was a distinctly chilly 8.92C (although the South West would be markedly warmer due to the influence of the Gulf Stream and prevailing South Westerly winds).

From the harbour opposite, where fishermen still land their catches-EU regulations permitting- the town’s Newfoundland whalers urged the Royal Society in the early 1800’s to send a fleet to find out why the Arctic ice was melting. But their story has already been described by me here;

Close by, the Babbage family moved into the old Rowdens house in 1808, Benjamin Babbage who became a warden of St. Michael’s Church was a banking partner of the Praeds who owned the local Bitton Estate. His son Charles Babbage, (26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, who originated the concept of a programmable computer. Parts of his uncompleted mechanisms are on display in the London Science Museum. In 1991, a perfectly functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage’s original plans.

Figure 2; fully operational difference engine at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA

But this story is not his. Looking at the town sheltering under St Michael’s church -situated right on the beach under the cliffs beyond the pier-serves as a reminder of the funds raised by churchgoers throughout England to recover white slaves seized from their homes in villages all around the South West-including Teignmouth- by Barbary corsairs from around 1620.

Giles Miltons book ‘White Gold’ provbides an intriguing account of the North African white slave trade during this period. It includes a description of an attack on a Cornish fishing village by a fleet of Islamic corsairs. The warriors, wielding scimitars, stream into the cobbled streets and force their way into cottages, taverns and churches to seize the villagers and carry them off to the Moroccan port of Salé to be sold as slaves. This abiding folk memory was so deeply ingrained that even my mother’s generation (born 1920) still feared the white slavers that were a byword for terrible cruelty.

Fine Art Print of The Bitter Draught of Slavery, 1885 by Ernest Normand

Figure 3 ‘The Bitter draught of slavery’ by Ernest Normand shows a slave trader offering his captive to a Mid East potentate).

Centre of the white slave trade was North Africa, particularly Morocco and present day Algeria. It is reckoned that some 1.5 million white slaves were taken from towns, villages and vessels throughout Europe. To the left of the port in the first panoramic photo is Bitton House-formerly the home of Admiral Lord Pellew- who in a stroke of delicious irony avenged the capture of his own ancestor who had been seized 100 years earlier from a Cornish village and kept as a slave by the Barbary pirates for decades. Admiral Pellew comprehensively destroyed the pirates in Algiers in August 1816 and liberated up to 20,000 Christian slaves taken from all over Europe, from Iceland in the North, to Spain in the south, with many of Pellew’s countrymen amongst them. It was a close run thing with the outcome of the battle in the balance until superior cannon eventually destroyed Algiers-to this day reproductions of the cannon used can be seen in the grounds of Bitton House.

1816 was known as the year without a summer-the third coldest in the entire 350 year CET record- and was thought to have been caused by a combination of low solar activity and the eruption of Mt Tambora

Interesting as he is, this is not Pellew’s story either. Two hundred yards away from Bitton House lay the home of Thomas Luny-one of Britain’s greatest marine artists who took a commission from Pellew to paint a depiction of the Algiers battle in 1820

Bombardment of Algiers, August 1816, 1820 by Thomas Luny - print

Figure 4: Bombardment of Algiers by Thomas Luny

But this is not Luny’s story either, as we hasten past his house and stand outside the dwelling where, in spring 1818, the poet John Keats stayed and completed his epic poem Endymion. Something of the climate of this town-influenced by the Gulf Stream and its location in the lee of Upland Dartmoor-can be seen in this account.

Keats’ arrival in Teignmouth on Wednesday 11th March 1818 coincided with an appalling squall of bad weather, in which rain and heavy sea mists rolled into the port town and must have dampened the spirits of both the poet and his ailing brother. The inclement conditions certainly drew from Keats an exasperated and ironic tenor in a letter to his friend Benjamin Bailey of 13th March 1818:

I have used it [his wet jacket] these three last days to keep out the abominable Devonshire Weather–by the by you may say what you will of Devonshire: the truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod county. The hills arevery beautiful, when you get a sight of ’em; the primroses are out,–but then you are in; the cliffs are of a fine deep colour,but then the clouds are continually vieing with them (Forman 1984: 241).’+Teignmouth+poems.-a0167977588

The weather was what locals call “mixie,” mind you Keats must eventually have thought well of the town as he also composed a charming poem-the first verse here;


For there’s Bishop’s teign
And King’s teign
And Coomb at the clear Teign head –
Where close by the stream
You may have your cream
All spread upon barley bread.

(The first literary mention of the famous Devonshire cream tea?)

Despite the rain the 1818 CET was perfectly respectable at 9.84C virtually identical to the similarly wet summer of 2008 at 9.96C

However, it is not Keats story we shall tell, for a few doors further on was the home of a prodigy who became an internationally renowned harpist

Figure 5: Elias Parish Alvars born February 28 1808 died January 25 1849

The baptismal record found at St James’s Church, West Teignmouth-the church I can see from my window-, reports: “Eli, son of Joseph and Mary Ann Parish”. His father, an organist, voice teacher and book dealer in Teignmouth, gave him his first musical instruction and he became one of the worlds greatest harpists.

It is his story we shall tell in climate terms as he travelled widely to cities in Europe that have extended instrumental temperature records and this enables us to follow the evolution of the European climate through -and beyond- his short life.

Whilst reading, why not click on the link below and enjoy short samples of harp music from various composers including Alvars?

His birth in 1808 saw a distinctly Little Ice age CET mean temperature of only 8.84C with a decadal 1800-1809 CET of 9.17C a prelude to what remains as the coldest decade from that day to this during 1810-1819 at 8.798C. This era was recounted in my account of the early life of Charles Dickens here;

However, Elias’s remaining time in England-before he left for numerous concert tours in Europe in 1828- was one of a steadily warming climate-albeit in fits and starts.

1822 at 10.05C (CET) 1826 at 10.07C and 1828 at 10.30C all bear very close comparison with the 2000-2009 decade just finished which concluded with 2008 at 9.96c and 2009 at 10.11c. Parish finished his studies and left for Florence in 1828, where he remained for a year, studying singing with the Guglielmo family and composition with Maximilian Leidesdorf. He started using the pseudonym “Albert Alvars.”

Figure 6: Florence

We have records from 1814 onwards from Bologna-close by Florence but situated on the other side of the Apennine mountains.

Temperature Graph for Bologna, Italy

Figure 7 Bologna from 1814 to current )

The warm and cold periods with a trend up to today, then a fall, can be clearly seen.

At this stage readers will divide into one of four groups. Warmists will immediately point to recent decades as proof positive of global warming, the historian will shake their head at the absurdity of trying to infer trends from such a short record, the excitable sceptic will murmur darkly about the urban heat island effect not being properly accounted for, whilst the objective sceptic will ask whether something else could account for the recent upturn?

So is this clear evidence of climate change, or are there other factors at work?

The link below explains something of the history of this temperature record-much examined because of its longevity-which enables us to ask the basic question; Are the figures accurate?

Abstract from above

“The Bologna meteorological record is one of the oldest and most complete among the series already collected for Europe. Data from the regions south of the Alps being extremely sparse, this station is of great importance for all climatic reconstructions dating as far back as the beginning of the 18th century. The focus here is on the temperature series, because it presents some a priori problems with respect to the series analysis itself. These problems relate to the homogeneity of the temperature record, which is affected by the use of different thermometers within the record, the statistical reconstruction of the thermometric scales, and the drift in calibration of one of these instruments. After correcting for these heterogeneities, the temperature series indicate a thermal behaviour in agreement with other historical European sources. The Bologna series is characterised by a warm period during the first decades of the 18th century, with large decreases in temperature in 1740 and 1742, and a positive trend from 1742 to the end of the record. The behaviour of the Bologna temperature series is in good agreement with the series for Central England, De Bilt (Netherlands) and Padua (Italy).”

The warming referred to in the early 1700s in De Bilt and CET is captured here

So the record has been ‘corrected’ and is now considered accurate, and then has been compared to other longer ‘corrected’ records. It demonstrates a gradual and natural temperature rise through the centuries since the depths of the LIA. It is interrupted periodically by the peaks and troughs also seen in other instrumental records. So the historians’ caution of the relatively short temperature record in Bologna can be partially vindicated, as one of the peaks in the early 1700s seen in the other records was very similar to that of the current era. The difference is a fraction of one degree Centigrade.

This study though doesn’t really answer definitively the question as to whether Bologna has experienced an extra sharp twist to temperatures by man in the modern era, so we must look for other avenues of evidence to confirm the reasons for the recent up-tick, tiny as it is when examined against the broader sweep of history. We shall attempt to do this in Part 2 and come up with some unexpected results. Also in the next instalment of this account we follow Parish’s glittering career as he visits Stockholm and Russia, meets a Sultan in Constatinople and consorts with the crowned heads of Europe. He then suffers a setback by getting into serious financial difficulties as violent riots engulf Vienna.

22 Responses to “Travels in Europe-Part 1”

  1. curious said

    Thanks Tony – for comparison and interest please can you get a current shot of Teignmouth from the same spot as in fig1?

  2. boreades said

    Thanks to Tony Brown for that lovely article, not least because I went to school in Teignmouth. 🙂

  3. boreades said

    BBC Devon has a gallery of pictures of present-day Teignmouth. This one is the closest match I can find

    or this

  4. Carrick said

    At this stage readers will divide into one of four groups. Warmists will immediately point to recent decades as proof positive of global warming, the historian will shake their head at the absurdity of trying to infer trends from such a short record, the excitable sceptic will murmur darkly about the urban heat island effect not being properly accounted for, whilst the objective sceptic will ask whether something else could account for the recent upturn?

    It is important to bear in mind that the recent upturn is the only one that is important with respect to anthropogenic CO2 (prior to that CO2 emissions were mostly balanced by anthropogenic sulfates, which tended to cool the environment).

    Secondly, in the site you link, there is a curious notion of how one goes about testing for UHI and correcting for it (in St Petersburg, they simply removed the entire trend and called that a UHI correct, that was a bit of a WTF moment for me).

    Thirdly it’s inarguable that prior to 1850 Europe was in a Little Ice Age, which believed to have been the coldest period in Europe since the end of the last major ice age. [As an aside, the LIA started circa 1450, during which glaciers advanced in the Alps. suggesting could you see the Alps in 1450, they would have looked similar to their condition in e.g., 1980.] Whatever conclusions you make about the temperature record, they need to respect historical fact on this matter.

    Finally, even with the LIA there were periods in the middle of it which saw large amounts of warming, it wasn’t 4 centuries of just unbearable cold. It’s kind of the opposite of the 1990s and 2000s… with the recent warming, we still see cold weather, just less of it, and for less protracted periods. The “dice are loaded” for warmer weather, but there is still normal weather with long-term climate superimposed. The period circa 1775-1790 was a period of harsh extended cold, as was the period 1810-1825.

    Anyway, since we are talking Europe in particular, there are existing records that can be applied to reconstruct the climate during the period prior to wide-spread instrumentation. I would start with , this book, “The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 (Paperback)” by Brian M. Fagan. Not only does it discuss temperature, it also discusses the record for glacial advance, influence of climate change on technology and a lot of other very pertinent issues. (Like the fact that Napoleon sure picked a bad year, 1812, to try and invade Russia.)

    One should also think of climate as more than just warming or cooling. In the case of the LIA, there were periods with mild weather but prolonged bouts of rains that together led to massive crop failures…”cold and rainy summers” is not exactly the image that Peter Bruegel’s images bring to mind.

  5. Tonyb said


    Thank you. Yes I have read Fagans very good book.I think Hubert Lambs are better though as they give a broader view of the context! Books from both authors are in my bookcase

    I have also included Peter Bruegels images in some of my articles in the past and have written of the LIA at various times.

    You say;

    “Finally, even with the LIA there were periods in the middle of it which saw large amounts of warming, it wasn’t 4 centuries of just unbearable cold.”

    Again I agree-this is something I am constantly pointing out-that there was huge variability in our climate during this time with some notably warm periods interspered with some extremely cold ones.

    There was in general a recovery of temperatures from around 1700 which continues to this day (or perhaps to 1998!)which doesn’t mean to say that there still weren’t extreme cold periods during it.

    We certainly see less cold weather now and it is less protracted-perhps we are reverting to the general conditions of the MWP and Roman optimum.


  6. Adam Gallon said

    Let’s hope that our contribution to the warmth of the world, is sufficient to prevent a plunge to 1860’s levels!

  7. Wansbeck said

    “It overlooks the town of Teignmouth on England’s South West coast”

    Coincidently I live not far from Tynemouth on England’s North East coast.

    It is overlooked by a statue of Admiral Collingwood who was responsible for the British victory at Trafalgar following Nelson’s death.

  8. alf said

    Tony; What a captivating story. Thanks!

  9. Atomic Hairdryer said

    Thank you for another rich slice of climate history 🙂

  10. Ed Moran said


    thank you. A fine piece of work.

    Let me give you lunch. Blog etiquette doesn’t allow phone numbers etc. so if you want, phone Brixham Rugby Club, ask for “Ed’s phone number” and I’ll book a table at The Ness.


    Ed “The Scouse” Moran.

  11. looking for/at pt2………………

  12. stumpy said

    I lived in Exeter, Devon for over 20 years so I enjoyed a little teignmouth history! I was amazed in the old picture of the town how little it has changed, it was immediately recognisable.

    Having lived in several different countries and having experianced climates from high alpine to arid to tropical, I can describe the Devonshire climate as: moist, rainy and unpredictable with fiarly mild winters followed by fairly mild summers! Over my time their I can recount initially cold winters with snow and hot dry summers which over time became more like wet mild winters followed by wet mild summers, this was the period 1980 – 2000 and the change likely due to the decal oscillation. Seems recently its been cold winters with snow combined with rainy mild summers!

    Thanks for the interesting post, knowing the areas history well (thanks to chips barber!) and knowing teignmouth well made the post more the interesting.

  13. curious said

    3 Boreades – thanks for the photo links, I checked them out. Also had a look on Google Earth etc (unfortunately street view doesn’t seem to be available here) and it looks like the town has grown up the side of the hill east of the railway line. I was interested to see how the lie of the coast and sea level has/hasn’t changed since 1890. From the shots I’ve seen it looks like things remain largely the same although there is some sand movement. I’d guess the people who know the pier and have been responsible for it’s maintenance and up keep would have some good local info.

  14. Geoff said

    Hi Tony,

    Great story and detective work.

    Speaking of Bologna, the new study comparing solar influences at Bologna and two other long record European stations is interesting. See the paper by Le Mouël ( here). (free download)

  15. Geoff said

    link didn’t come through, try

  16. Geoff said

    It’s the January issue, all papers are free in that issue.

  17. Alex Cull said

    Excellent and thoughtful post, Tony. History has its part to play too in this fascinating detective story, and is something that a non-statistician like myself can appreciate. Great work.

  18. Tonyb said

    Ed-If you’d like to send me an email via my web site (below) I will be delighted to take you up on your offer

    Curious; You ask about the coast/sea levels. I have written several posts on sea levels-though not collected together as an article.

    The sea wall you can see in the very far distance on the left- hugging the cliffs- protects Brunels Great Western Railway.

    It dates back to around 1850. From day 1 it has been beset by closure due to winter storms, although as you can guess that is attributed to climate change these days rather than the mundane fact he got the alignment wrong for which he was censured in 1856. The sea wall and the harbour he built to facilitate the construction of the line show no evidence at all of sea level rise since that date. There looks to have been a few inches of rise in the first few decades of the 1800’s prior to the construction of the railway but litle since.

    We sit on an area whereby there is no real isostatic depression or rise of the land, so it is an interesting area to examine for sea level changes. If you want to find out more about the sand structure and currents google ‘spratt sands’.

    Those who enjoy nostalgia will like the Francis Frith collection of old postcards of Teignmouth.

    The first picture here is also from 1890 and shows a similar view to the one heading the article.

    Clicking to page 2 ref 76375 will show the same view in 1924. There is a sea wall appearing on the right of the sands at the bottom. This was partly to try and hold back the shifting sands that Curious talked off. They are internationally famous and much examined by Universities.

    That wall gets regularly covered then uncovered again as the sands move-again these days it is attributed to climate change.

    I have written a few other artcles on the historic aspect of the ever changing climate which are collected on my web site here.

    In addition Jeff published one of mine recently about Charles Dickens life related to the changing climate in the UK

    In the next few days I will update my site with this ‘Travels’ and the Dickens article, plus one or two more historic instrumental records.

    Geoff: Thanks for that link


  19. OT, but…Phil Jones has given an interview to the Times of London…he thought of killing himself…not because of his deeds, but because of the all the vitriolic comments that came his way after Climategate…acknowledging that there are certain parallels with David Kelley’s death!?!?…except Kelley was a source for a BBC story about England sexing up evidence to justify going to war in Iraq…so Jones now thinks of himself as the exposer of a cover-up???!!…Jones says he decided to stay alive because he wants to see his granddaughter grow up….but he’s just a simple scientist who knows nothing about PR, he claims…wow….playing the sympathy card like that, but he knows nothing about PR….right…his work is pure, his only mistake, he states, was failing to handle FOIA correctly….are we now entering the tabloid phase of Climategate, where the beleaguered scientists begin talking to the press about the strain of bearing up under enornous pressure, and so on?….

  20. curious said

    20 – Thanks for the extra info. Tony – I really enjoyed your article and I like the wide range of topics you weave in. It was nice to see the Babbage engine – I’ll go and see it now you have reminded me!

    As far as sea level goes from the wiki account of the Douglas paper:

    it seems that Newlyn Cornwall tide guage is one of an ensemble showing approx. 8in rise over the last 100yrs. I’m surprised that with so little distance between Teignmouth and Newlyn this is not refelcted at Teignmouth. Caveat this with I’ve not read Douglas – just wiki and the abstract.

  21. Tonyb said


    Newlyn is experiencing isostatic depression of around 1 to 1.5mm a year. So is land falling or sea rising? Is a distinction made?

    This movement of the land is a major component of sea level change. In this part of Devon we are pretty constant which makes it a good area to examine. I have a very jaundiced view of Chapter 5 of AR4 and believe it to be even more nonsensical than the hockey stick-I am very much inclined to Prof Morners views that sea levels have been pretty constant over the last century or two (dependent on location)

    In my estimation current levels are slightly lower than during the MWP and the Roman optimum.

    Sea levels are a little like sea temperatures and land based temperatures- historic ‘global’ data tends to be very sparse and is consequently interpolated, but the results are treated as being scientific enough to be parsed to fractions (see Chapter 5) . Also the parameters change frequently so may be comparing an apple with an orange rather than another apple. We also tend to place too much reliance on Satellites (short time scale and potentially inaccurate) or tide gauges (susceptible to changes in the local environment and not always well maintained)

    This is is a recent abstract
    M Ablain, A Cazenave, G Valladeau, S (2009)

    “A new error budget assessment of the global
    Mean Sea Level (MSL) determined by TOPEX/Poseidon and
    Jason-1 altimeter satellites between January 1993 and June
    2008 is presented using last altimeter standards. We discuss
    all potential errors affecting the calculation of the global
    MSL rate. We also compare altimetry-based sea level with
    tide gauge measurements over the altimetric period. Applying
    a statistical approach, this allows us to provide a realistic
    error budget of the MSL rise measured by satellite altimetry.
    These new calculations highlight a reduction in the rate of sea
    level rise since 2005, by 2 mm/yr. This represents a 60%
    reduction compared to the 3.3 mm/yr sea level rise (glacial
    isostatic adjustment correction applied) measured between
    1993 and 2005. Since November 2005, MSL is accurately
    measured by a single satellite, Jason-1. However the error
    analysis performed here indicates that the recent reduction in
    MSL rate is real.”

    This abstract comes from “Continental Shelf Research” and emanates from a well respected UK University-it is strictly a ‘local’ study but matches information from Proudman plus observations.

    “Mean sea-level trends around the english channel over the 20th century and their wider context.
    Ivan Haigha, , , Robert Nichollsa, and Neil Wellsb,
    a School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, Highfield Campus,Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
    b School of Ocean and Earth Sciences National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Waterfront Campus, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
    Received 1 May 2009; revised 23 July 2009; accepted 24 July 2009. Available online 8 August 2009.

    This paper provides estimates of rates of change in mean sea level around the English Channel, based on an extensive new hourly sea level data set for the south coast of the UK, derived from data archaeology. Mean sea level trends are found to vary by between 0.8 and 2.3 mm/yr around the Channel. The rates of mean sea level change are calculated by removing the coherent part of the sea level variability from the time series of annual mean sea level before fitting linear trends. The improvement in accuracy gained by using this approach is assessed by comparing trends with those calculated using the more traditional method, in which linear trends are fitted directly to the original records. Removal of the coherent part of the sea level variability allows more precise trends to be calculated from records spanning 30 years. With the traditional approach 50 years is required to obtain the same level of accuracy. Rates of vertical land movement are approximated by subtracting the mean sea level trends from the most recent regional estimate of change in sea level due to oceanographic processes only. These estimated rates are compared to measurements from geological data and advanced geodetic techniques. There is good agreement around most of the UK. However, the rates estimated from the sea level records imply that the geological data suggests too much submergence along the western and central parts of the UK south coast. Lastly, the paper evaluates whether the high rates of mean sea-level rise of the last decade are unusual compared to trends observed at other periods in the historical record and finds that they are not.”

    This is written by many of our old friends including Phil Jones and Mike Hulme-page 19 gives the sea level data. The information was ‘extended’ from a paper by one of the scientists at Proudman

    This page provides access to the actual individual station records

    Various UK (cherry picked)stations such as Bournemouth and Devonport confirm the Uni’s observations whilst Fishguard extends it up the Welsh coast.
    above is reconstruction from 1700 which is the grand daddy of all sea level charts
    Amsterdam from 1700 (van Veen 1945)
    Liverpool since 1768 (woodworth 1999)
    Stockholm since 1774 (Ekman 1988)

    These three are taken to represent global figures since 1700 although much data is missing and has been subsequently imaginatively interpolated. It comments on the differences even in the same ocean basin between tide gauges of up to plus or minus 6cm

    This is the pdf from 1700 link

    There is much juggling and adjustment of figures on sea levels that are of a dubious provenance to begin with. Sea levels seem to rise and fall in cycles-just like temperatures and there is nothing to show that what is currently happening is out of the ordinary if looked at in a historic context


  22. I’m very happy to find this great site. I wanted to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every little bit of it and I have you book-marked to see new things on your website.

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