Thinking about last week’s seasonal weather brought to mind a letter in the Bute Estate Records. On 10 January 1830, R. F. Rickards of Llantrisant wrote to Lord Bute, including:
“The weather here has been extremely severe, almost continued frost & snow for the last month, the thermometer at 15 & likely to continue, the poor suffer a good deal from it, our poor rates have not increas’d much as yet, but I fear from the very deplorable state of the iron trade, that rioting & pauperism will follow, the former is very threatening, which must keep me at my post, tho’ in utter solitude for all my family are at Clifton. I wish I could give you a better account of them; in addition to their former maladies, they have very severe colds & coughs, which has attack’d the whole family including servants, excepting myself, who seem to have weather’d this pityless season, like a piece of bar iron, which tho’ the surface may rust, is inwardly sound; not so my house, which is empty alike with my surrounding neighbours.”
The thermometer would have been in degrees Fahrenheit. For those too young to remember “proper” measurements, water freezes at 32˚F, so 15˚F degrees is 17 degrees of frost, or about -9.5˚C. If that was the temperature of Rickards’s study, that’s cold. Other letters in the same file detail the distress in agriculture and industry, including from another correspondent that, excepting 1812-13, this was the worst winter for twenty three years.
Rickards was a J.P. at Llantrisant, and already or soon to become the senior magistrate for the hundred of Miskin. Part of his duty would have been to keep a lid on any unrest. It’s difficult to know what to make of Rickards comparing himself to a piece of bar iron. It’s tempting to see him as a member of the 1% who saw the 99% in a time of extremis as potential burdens on the poor rate and potential rioters. And clearly not a man to entertain the idea of “man-flu”.
Incidentally, likely search terms looking for this letter in the catalogue? How about snow, frost and storm? Most of the hits in the Bute correspondence are on Joseph Snow, editor of the Merthyr Guardian, John Frost the Chartist, and David Storm, bankrupt contractor for building the Bute Docks. Three possibly more likeable characters.