The 1890-1909 Long Drought: 1893

A sentence in the article LAUNDRESSES & WASHERWOMEN: A SHORT HISTORY, by Adèle Emm in the March issue of Family Tree Magazine attracted my attention.

Water acquisition was particularly problematic during the UK’s Long Drought, 1890-1910, especially in London’s East End where water was often rationed to two hours a day.

How did that impact my two grandfathers and families living in London at the time?

The article An historical analysis of drought in England and Wales, Table 2, lists major droughts in England and Wales and comments on this Long Drought.

Major drought. Long duration (with some very wet interludes). Initiated by an extremely dry autumn and winter (driest Sept–April period on record). Exceptional cluster of relatively dry winters. Major and sustained groundwater impact, with significant water supply problems. Most severe phases: 1893, 1899, 1902, 1905.

The normalized relative frequency of the word drought in the British Newspaper Archive collection shows 1893 was a standout drought year. Newspaper mention reflects the social impact.

Treating the British Islands as a whole, the drought may be considered as embracing by much the greater part of the country for the fifteen weeks beginning with March 5.  www.nature.com/articles/048295b0

The chart shows the relative frequency of the word drought in the British Newspaper Archive in 1893, consistent with contemporary rainfall reports.

The drought was most severely felt in the south of England, east London had 73 consecutive days without rain. The British Meteorological Office Monthly Weather Report stated March rainfall was less than a quarter of the average, less than one-tenth normal for Southern England in April, less than half average for May in Eastern and Southern England, as was the case for Central and Southern England in June. https://digital.nmla.metoffice.gov.uk/IO_088ec0d8-f23f-4f7f-bc31-85c047073a98/

The Registrar General’s report for 1893, as summarized in The Lancet, Vol 1, 1895, commented on an elevated death rate for children and young adults from diarrhea, diphtheria, smallpox and enteric diseases attributed to high temperature and deficient rainfall, especially in the south-eastern counties of England.

Obviously, my grandfathers survived! There may even have been an upside in the short term as farmers, unable to find grazing and fodder for livestock sent large numbers to market depressing prices.

Mentions of drought in newspaper articles for the first two months of 1893 were largely for places overseas, notably Australia. A summary of the year was that drought “extended over nearly the whole of Europe, large portions of Canada, the United States, and other parts of the globe.”

2 Replies to “The 1890-1909 Long Drought: 1893”

  1. John,
    My Great Great Grandfather ran a laundry business in Southwark employing 90 people according to the 1881 census. After his death my grandfather acquired his mother’s share of the business and was running it until joining up when WWI began. The business closed up before the War ended. Do you think that the drought may of been the beginning of the end, or was the business another war casualty?

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