Founded in 1772. Over two hundred years of Oxford weather records!
The Radcliffe Meteorological Station is situated in Woodstock Road in the garden of Green Templeton College beside the old observatory building, adjacent to the old Radcliffe Infirmary site. It possesses the longest series of temperature and rainfall records for one site in Britain. These records are continuous from January, 1815. Irregular observations of rainfall, cloud and temperature exist from 1767.
In 1768, Dr Thomas Hornsby, then Savilian Professor of Astronomy, approached the Radcliffe Trustees with a request for funds for the erection and equipping of an astronomical observatory. The Trustees responded quickly and generously and building began in 1772. The central feature of the building is the octagonal tower, 108 feet high, which is an adaptation of the Tower of the Winds at Athens. Hornsby was appointed Radcliffe Observer, in effect Director of the Observatory.
Observations of air temperature were taken at observatories to determine astronomical refraction, but other meteorological observations were often made. Hornsby might have had some personal interest in weather for he made numerous but irregular observations from 1767 until his death in 1810. His own manuscripts are preserved at the School of Geography and the Environment. Hornsby's immediate successors clearly took no great interest in the meteorological observations and no observations were published until 1849, prefaced by a rather condescending note by the then Observer, M.J. Johnson. However, under Johnson's editorship, the annual volumes of Radcliffe observations contained more and more meteorological results from 1853 onwards, when the daily readings were first published. In 1849, the thermometers previously mounted on the north wall of the Observatory, were placed in a screened stand similar to that invented by James Glaisher, then Superintendent of Meteorological Observations at Kew. Many of the improvements in observational technique initiated by Glaisher were soon followed at Oxford. Over the next 30 years there were many changes in the instruments, in their siting and in the frequency of observation. Autographic and photographic instruments were brought into use to give continuous records of temperature, wind and rainfall. Since 1881 reliable records exist of all observations made today, except for soil temperatures which have only been recorded since 1925, and temperatures of the concrete surface which have been recorded since 1987. All observations are made to the standards laid down by the Meteorological Office. In May 1994, a Campbell automatic weather station was added to the conventional equipment. The station records 15-minute, 1-hour and daily averages of air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, irradiance and rainfall.
Until 1935, when the Radcliffe Observatory was moved to Pretoria, meteorological observations were a subsidiary task of the Radcliffe Observer and his staff. Thanks largely to the generosity and co-operation of the next two occupiers of the site and buildings, from 1934 the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research, and from 1978 the authorities of Green College, and thanks also to a University decree requiring it, meteorological work has continued unbroken at the Radcliffe site in Oxford. From 1935 the meteorological work has been under the direction of the University of Oxford, delegated for administrative purposes to the School of Geography and the Environment. From 1 July 1935 the station has borne the name 'The Radcliffe Meteorological Station, Oxford'.
At the Radcliffe Observatory three observations were made each day until the end of 1924. Since 1925 eye-observations have been reduced to one per day, at 09.00 GMT (the automatic weather station provides continuous observations). Because of their limited nature and frequency, the observations of stations such as Radcliffe Meteorological Station are of little value in short-range forecasting. Their work is of climatological rather that meteorological interest. Only long established stations can provide a link between the abundant weather records of the late twentieth century and those of nineteenth century. For this reason it is of great scientific value to maintain such long period records at one site. Research into the secular variations of climate makes use of the records of the Radcliffe Meteorological Station remain among the most important in the world. It is, however, appropriate to note that the Station does also provide a modest meteorological service to local organisations such as Southern Gas, local television and newspapers, and insurance companies. Daily readings and monthly reports posted outside the School attract a regular clientele too.
As concern about climatic change increases, the daily observations of Oxford weather made at the Radcliffe Meteorological Station continue to lengthen this almost unparalleled record, unbroken since 1815. The School attaches great importance to this continuing effort and there seems to be no reason why the Station should not continue to provide valuable data for at least the next two hundred years!