The past month has been busy. Sadly it’s meant I haven’t got very far into the second draft, though I have begun it.
At the moment I’m having to jiggle around with the years that the main episodes of the back story occur- as they influence the plot later.
So I’m going to have to make a few decisions about what potentially gets changed; the age of my couple, or move the date the story from 1802 to 1804- which would create other issues regarding international events at the time the story is set.
The latter will mean I’ll have to provide another reason for my hero’s ability to return, while the former would work in favour of both my heroine’s age, and my hero’s personal circumstances…
My dating issues have resulted from consulting one of my reference books: J.M. Stratton’s Agricultural Records AD 220 -1977.
If you’ve ever studied microfiche or film of 18th and 19th century newspapers you will certainly have seen prices for Wheat, Barley and Oats as a regular feature. Reports of severe weather elsewhere would likely be mentioned too, even if they happened weeks before.
When harvests were good, prices would fall; sadly when the crop was poor due to inclement weather, prices rose and starvation would become all too real for the poorest.
With international trade we are no longer solely dependent upon the harvest our nation’s farmers produce.
Nowadays, courtesy of satellites, we can check the expected weather for a few days ahead, so crops can be harvested at the best time. Centuries ago farmers local knowledge, and perhaps an occasional written record were the main method of prediction- alongside looking at the sky and sensing the atmosphere.
The original book was published in 1883 by a man farming in south-west Wiltshire, Thomas H. Baker. His book had the much longer title, Records of the Seasons, Prices of Agricultural Produce, and Phenomena Observed in the British Isles. In 1912 he did a revised edition (while in retirement).
It was Stratton, who farmed land near Baker, who worked on broadening the information from local to national. His nephew Jack Houghton Brown instigated and helped Ralph Whitlock update the book to 1977.
The 1978 version added the agricultural prices tables, though the further back you go the more approximate the prices of the commodities become. Weather in different parts of the country could effect crops and therefore local prices.
The details of weather mentioned in this book is the important element. I needed to know generally what the weather was doing in my preferred years.
Somewhere I have an old notebook with an interesting item noted down in passing- I was researching something completely unconnected at the time- about nine years ago.
As I was looking through a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, one of these snips drew my interest. It was about a woman in the early 19th century who had lived in the same house, and kept a diary- for decades. As a young woman she had witnessed a water spout- a mini tornado.
I carried on with my other research, but that snippet stuck in my memory and many years later whilst I was travelling one Christmas, a news report on a local radio station, combined together with that diary entry to provide the inspirations for my current work in progress.
Even though the water spout doesn’t appear in my story, bad weather does play an important part- both in the back story and when part of the main plot takes place. So it’s no good choosing years when the weather was mild and as stable as you could wish for…
Another visit to the local studies section will be needed to check through film of old papers, to see if they can enlighten me further.
The entries for 1966 onward are much more detailed as they include weather articles reproduced with permission from The Times.Including the annual rainfall tables in Appendix A at the back of the book.
It’s likely that Baker’s information came from diaries, records and conversations within his family, community, and perhaps from visitors to his locality in Wiltshire.
After a hard day’s work wouldn’t it be likely that farmers and labourers visited the local inn for ale, the latest news and then passed knowledge on- which may have eventually ended up in Baker’s book?
Unfortunately there are no formal references as to the sources of the original information- though in 1784 a name for a quote is shown, otherwise it’s not until you get to the pieces from The Times. But some of those articles do refer to earlier years within that writer’s lifetime.
Though the book is out of print, copies can still be found second-hand.
As a starting point for further research it’s useful…
Reference: Agricultural Records: A.D. 220 – 1977. J.M. Stratton and Jack Houghton Brown. Edited by Ralph Whitlock. Publisher: John Baker (Publishers) Limited, 35 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4JH. First published 1969.