Met Office, Exeter, England

Panorama of the new UKMO building in Exeter, taken 8 February 2005

Panorama of the new UKMO building in Exeter, taken 8 February 2005, by William M. Connolley. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The British Meteorological Office was originally set up under Robert Fitzroy, ex-captain of HMS Beagle, as a service to mariners. After a disastrous storm in 1859 he established a network of fifteen coastal stations which gave warnings of approaching storms, and this eventually led to the daily shipping forecast. Developments in electric telegraphy and the expansion of the observational network meant that regular weather forecasts could be provided for the general public. Their most crucial forecast was that for D-Day. Weather forecasts still play a vital role in the success of military operations and provide essential information for the RAF and so the Met Office is an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence. More recently it has started to give warnings about weather conditions which may affect people’s health and uses Doppler radar to warn of the likelihood of floods. In 2003 the Met Office moved from Bracknell to Exeter, where the Hadley Centre is devoted to climate prediction and research. A network of official climate stations 40km apart continues to provide daily observations.

The Met Office headquarters contain a library, open to everyone, and a display of meteorological equipment. Half a mile away, the National Meteorological Archive shares premises with the Devon Record Office. It holds a number of rare books on meteorology on behalf of the Royal Meteorological Society. These include a 1282 manuscript of Albert Magnus’ book De Negotio Naturali, a sixteenth century copy of Aristotle’s Meteorologica, some of Robert Boyle’s published work and Daniel Defoe’s description of the Great Storm of 1703. Their archive includes many private weather diaries made by enthusiastic amateurs, dating back to 1730 as well as descriptions and illustrations of extreme weather conditions, including ball lightning.

The main entrance to the Exeter Met Office

The main entrance to the Exeter Met Office, by Richard Knights. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The Met Office has been a harbinger of economic expansion to Exeter and many parts of Devon.

They have numerous weather logs made by both merchant and naval ships all over the world. These include Beaufort’s first use of the wind scale now bearing his name, and some from historic voyages to the Antarctic. They hold a great many climate returns and registers of meteorological observations as well as autographic records for approximately 1,000 sites dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. They also have a selection of historic images featuring old equipment, observers and observation sites. The archive can be used by academics and members of the public but it is advisable to book in advance and read fact sheet 12 on their website (see below).

Directions: Their headquarters are close to Junction 29 of the M5 as it passes Exeter. Come off the motorway and drive in the direction of the City Centre. Almost immediately you will soon see directions to turn right at a set of traffic lights. To visit the archives turn left at the same traffic lights in the direction of Sowton Industrial Estate. Take the first turning right into Kestrel Way and keep turning right until you reach Great Moor House. Exeter St David’s mainline train station is on the opposite side of the city and although the journey can be done by taking two buses, it will take more than half an hour.

Further information

Website: Met Office – National Meteorological Archive

Met Office Factsheet: 12. National Meteorological Archive [pdf, 3Mb].
Description: In April 1914, at a meeting of the Meteorological Committee, the Met Office, then called The Meteorological Office, accepted responsibility of custodian of appropriate Public Records. To this day the archive remains part of the Met Office.

Address: FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

Archive address: Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Exeter EX2 7NL, UK

Devon Record Office, England

Front of Great Moor House, home of the Devon Record Office

Front of Great Moor House, home of the Devon Record Office

Bringing History to Life at the Devon Record Office

Whether you want to uncover your family’s history, find information about a place or institution or you are researching a particular historical subject related to Devon, the Devon Record Office (DRO) will provide you with relevant paper documents and electronic guides. The DRO also holds a considerable number of documents related to the sciences of health and weather.

Searchroom of the DRO

Searchroom of the DRO

The Devon Record Office, as the record-keeping department of Devon County Council, was founded in 1952 and incorporates the Exeter City Record Office, which had been collecting records from all areas of Devon since 1946, when it took over from the Exeter City Library, where records had been collected from the early 20th century. The Devon Record Office now collects and preserves all types of historical records relating to the county of Devon, the city of Exeter, and East, Mid and South Devon, including Torbay. These include the records of the parishes, and of innumerable individuals, families, estates, businesses, societies, chapels and schools. It is also the diocesan record office for the Diocese of Exeter. Public records including those of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (from 1743), the West of England Eye Infirmary (from 1808), and the County Gaol (from 1821) are also available to searchers. All documents are kept in specially constructed strongrooms, and public access is provided in the main searchroom.

The DRO provides a wide range of electronic search facilities, including 29 microfiche readers and eight microfilm readers. Additional searchroom computer facilities provide access to specific online archives and library catalogues, including the office’s own online catalogue. The searchroom is open to the public five days a week from 10:00 am to 06:00 pm, and parking is available.

Strongroom of the DRO

Strongroom of the DRO

Have you ever wondered what weather reporters mean when they say it has been the wettest, or driest, or warmest month since records began? Those records are also housed in a separate part of the DRO: the National Meteorological Archive (NMA). The NMA holds the official British daily weather reports from when they began in 1869, although earlier, personal and local records – from land and sea-voyages – are also included in the collection. In conjunction with the Royal Meteorological Society, the NMA also contains historic writings on the weather including those of Aristotle and the early-modern century natural philosophers Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle.

The NMA is open to all but you must make an appointment first.

Further information

Address: Devon Record Office, Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, Devon EX2 7NL
Tel: +44 (0)1392 384253
Fax: +44 (0)1392 384256
Website: www.devon.gov.uk/record_office
Email: devrec@devon.gov.uk

National Meteorological Archive website: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library/archive