Did you know that the Latin names given to clouds used around the world were invented by a Tottenham local?
Luke Howard was born on November 28, 1772 in London. He spent much of his life at Tottenham, recording the weather from the houses of Tottenham Green and Bruce Grove Numbers 4 and 7, where he spent his final years. It is in his last house that there is the only blue plaque of English heritage in Tottenham: “Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds”.
His cloud identification and classification system named three main categories using Latin – Cumulus (heap), Stratus (layer), Cirrus (hair curl), as well as the rain cloud, Nimbus (rain). The quest to explain and understand clouds goes back centuries. Clouds were considered “essences” floating in the sky and considered impossible to categorize and name. Luke Howard recognized the need for a universal language for this global phenomenon and chose Latin, the language used by Carl Linnaeus for his classification of plants and animals.
The great German philosopher, diplomat and poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, recognized the importance of Luke Howard’s scheme for naming clouds. This matched his own interest in observing and recording cloud shapes, and provided the key to understanding the nature he was looking for. He wrote a poem in honor of Mr. Howard and noted:
To find oneself in infinity,
You must distinguish and then combine;
So my winged song thank you
The man who distinguished cloud from cloud.
John Constable used the terminology of Luke Howard to describe his cloud studies. Incidentally, JMW Turner, known for his spectacular sky views, visited his patron BG Windus opposite Luke Howard’s house in Tottenham Green.
Under the Five Mile Act (1665), Quakers, who opposed state interference in religion, were forced to pray outside the City of London. Tottenham, with its clean air, water and good educational facilities, but close to the City, was particularly attractive to these mavericks. Quakers, like other Dissenters, were barred from English universities and most professions, so business was a natural outlet for their talents.
Luke Howard, a Quaker himself, became a manufacturing chemist but was fascinated with clouds and weather from childhood. For more than 30 years, he made and recorded precise meteorological observations: pressure, temperature, humidity, precipitation and evaporation. However, there was no way to record the wind speed except by direct observation. He identified a phenomenon now known as the urban heat island effect; that urban areas were warmer than rural areas due to human activity. Data from his meteorological measurements are used by urban climatologists to this day.
Luke Howard was a deeply religious man with a strong sense of duty to those less fortunate than himself. He was involved in the anti-slavery movement, and he was a prominent member of the Society Against Capital Punishment, the Society Against Cruelty to Animals, and a founding member of the African Institution. He led Quaker relief efforts in the German states after the Napoleonic Wars. At Tottenham he was a member of the Lancaster School Committee as well as Overseer of the Poor in 1820 (an elected official who administered relief such as money, food and clothing to those in need).
That the last home of this inspirational figure, 7 Bruce Grove, could have fallen into decline is a shame.
Anniversary weekend activities
Lordship Rec Eco-Hub N17 6NU
Saturday November 26: Looking up – celebration of clouds, art and science
10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: Exciting activities for young people with cloud wheels, kites and performances
Sunday November 27: Clouds – past, present and future!
10.30 a.m. Energy and climate change workshop
1:00 p.m.: Lectures by the biographer of Luke Howard and speakers from the Met Office and the Cloud Appreciation Society
Launch of Lordship Rec as the first official Cloud Appreciation Park
Lordship Rec with its view provides the perfect place to study the sky. Luke Howard’s weather station will record the weather, as it did all those years ago, and new interpretive cloud panels will let us learn more about the clouds that form, float and disappear above our heads.
Call to Create a Legacy of Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds
Money raised will go towards the costs of interpretive cloud panels, resources and activities throughout the year and the costs of the Lordship Rec event. Funding for the Luke Howard weather station and public digital signage has already been secured.
Donate at: gofund.me/093f7fef
Other events including lectures, exhibitions and poetry are organized by Bruce Castle Museum and The Room, Holcombe Road N17.
To find out more about Luke Howard, all the events and the call, go to: tottenhamclouds.org.uk