It only seems like yesterday, but 40 years ago, a team of pupils from Bablake School started taking weather readings in Coventry, and Bablake Weather Station was born.

All these years later, weather data has been collected daily from the school site, archived in Met Office records, and used to build up a picture of the changing climate of Coventry from the late 20th century, through into the second decade of the 21st century. The weather station has researched Coventry weather records dating back into the 19th century, to 1870 for some rainfall records, allowing us to make comparisons with the weather in the city as far back almost as the “Little Ice Age”.

So, by the 19th September 2017, weather data had been collected by Bablake on 14,610 consecutive days, with a description of each day’s weather written up, with the help of volunteer observers, and sent off to the Met Office, where it will be available to future generations for posterity.

40 years ago, Bablake Weather Station was a very different world to the one in which observations are made today! Fourth form geography students, all boys in those days, found some old instruments, and a Stevenson Screen to house thermometers in a store room. Having studied weather and climate in their ‘O’ level lessons (that alone dates us somewhat!), Martin Shakespeare, David Herbert, St John Flynn and Carew Satchwell set up a weather enclosure on the Headmaster’s lawn at Bablake, arrived early for school on the 19th September 1977, and took note of readings in a geography department exercise book.

In those early days, temperatures were recorded from a Six’s maximum and minimum thermometer, bought from a garden centre; we had an old copper 5” rain gauge with a Fairy liquid bottle container to collect the rainfall, measured by a tapered glass rainfall cylinder, and that was about it! Wind direction was worked out with a wetted finger and compass, while wind speeds were measured using observations and the Beaufort Scale. Dare we admit it, but back then, the ‘Coventry Evening Telegraph’ provided us with Coventry sunshine data, though from whence that came we have no idea!

Having set up the weather station on his lawn at the school, the Headmaster of the time, Martin Barker, became the weather station’s first benefactor, donating £5 of his own money for us to buy a barometer from Boots the chemist in Birmingham! Having said that, we didn’t understand pressure calibration in those days, with readings in inches, so sadly they are of little use 40 years on

Those four boys who pioneered the weather station we know today, were so dedicated that they would come into school on a rota at weekends, and in school holidays to ensure continuity of records; such dedication was soon rewarded, with the bursar, Patricia Riding, agreeing to fund further equipment, not quite state of the art in every case, but useable in the short term. Dry and wet bulb thermometers were added in 1978, though no one knew how to use the tables supplied to measure relative humidity, so this data too came from the Coventry Evening Telegraph, though not at weekend or bank holidays because their staff had those days off! Additionally, a simple hand-held anemometer enabled us to measure wind speed in miles per hour, whilst a wind vane, mounted on the tower at the school, allowed us to dispense with the ‘wetted finger’ technique for accurate wind direction data. We must have acquired an extra thermometer quite soon after this, because grass minimum temperature readings appear in the journal by the 21st November 1978, enabling us to record ground frosts! This turned out to be very timely because winter 1978/79 was a particularly cold one, further stimulating interest in our weather station

In 1980, the Headmaster moved out of his flat in the main school building, freeing up space for extra classrooms, ironically later inhabited by the geography department, overlooking the weather enclosure. Not only were bedrooms, the lounge and dining rooms converted into classrooms, unbeknownst to Martin Barker, one of the store rooms was taken over by the weather station as our first office! It was sometime in 1981, before he realised we had our first ‘home’ in the school! This first office was to house our first computers before being abandoned in 1991, when we moved into the old caretaker’s bathroom, now adjacent to the  main geography teaching room.

So with the dawning of the 1980s, Bablake Weather Station was thriving, with new volunteer observers added to the ranks, including the first girls. By now, the daily routine of taking weather observations had evolved, with weather maps being drawn up from the daily shipping forecast, and our first weather forecasts being issued, initially just for the Bablake School community and PE teachers, keen to plan appropriate attire for outdoor activities!

As alluded to previously, the Coventry Evening Telegraph had had their own weather instruments on the roof of their building in Coventry City Centre for many years. By 1980 however, the editor of the local newspaper approached the school, to ask if the weather station would provide weather readings to be printed on the back page of the newspaper each day. Naturally, this gave the weather station greater local exposure, and an excuse to approach the Bursar for further funding for more sophisticated instrumentation.

In the early eighties, Birmingham Airport, then known as Elmdon, was our local official Met Office station, headed by the esteemed Iain MacAskill, erstwhile TV star on BBC television weather forecasts. On a weather station visit to Elmdon, Iain took us round air traffic control, and showed us the full range of recording equipment in use at a Met Office site. Iain was a lovely man, ever keen to support and encourage amateur meteorologists, agreeing readily to visit Bablake, to advise on upgrading instrumentation, and the future re-siting of the school’s instrument enclosure.  Incidentally, it was Iain who came up with the name ‘Bablake Weather Station’ on one of his visits.

Hitherto on the Headmaster’s lawn, bounded by ranging poles and string in an attempt to keep pupils out, the weather station had been subject to violation; on one occasion for example, after a dry day, some dubious liquid had been found in the rain gauge following a school function, with observers next day having the good sense to exclude measurements from our records! Sadly, local vandals also wreaked havoc on occasion, with equipment stolen broken or just interfered with, the Stevenson Screen itself having been flattened more than once.

Our Six’s maximum and minimum thermometers had long ago been replaced with mercury and liquid in glass, Met Office approved thermometers, with Iain MacAskill keen to get us on board as a climatological station reporting directly to Bracknell. However, the cost of much more expensive equipment required approval at Bursar level, so Iain had sherry with Mrs Riding, and they got on famously! So, on the 15th December 1981 we had installed our Campbell Stokes sunshine recorder, and by the 1st October 1982, we had the most amazing barometer, somehow acquired from the Met Office! Note that neither of these thousand pound plus pieces of equipment would be housed outside in the poorly protected enclosure!

Summer 1982 saw the weather station enclosure moved next to the long jump pit, over the hedge from the Headmaster’s garden, with several trees being felled to comply with Met Office regulations about the siting of rain gauges and thermometers. So, with a new fence, for added security, we could splash out on a tilting syphon rain gauge – state of the art at the time, later fitted with a light bulb so that it could record the timing of snowfall; back in those days we still had snow in winter

Conforming to Met Office regulations was not only taking time, it was costing money, so by 1983 we were selling data to local factories, companies, insurance brokers and solicitors, to name but a few of our early clients. Back in the day, there was no free data via the internet, so we were in a seller’s market, that was only to become more lucrative once we had been accepted as a Met Office climatological station by the 1st January 1984.

Having mentioned the internet earlier, this was still ten years away yet, we were the first department at Bablake outside of IT to buy a BBC computer for use as a data base for our records. With just 32k of memory, it was hardly earth shattering by today’s standards, but exciting enough for its day, even if only for weather observers to play ‘Space Invaders’!

Having our own BBC computer, upgraded with 64k of memory, it wasn’t long before we added our own satellite recording station to our weather station, downloading weather satellite photographs from polar orbiting NOAA and geostationary Meteosat satellites. Add to this a weather fax machine, and we were fantastically well equipped for all manner of weather monitoring and forecasting, all supporting the teaching of GCSE and A level geography and GCSE meteorology. That weather fax churned out synoptic charts, forecast charts, thickness charts and all manner of maps, mana from Heaven for geographers with colouring tasks galore for our team of assistant observers. We used to cover the walls with display material, updated daily, even hourly as they poured in. Observers used to have their names taped to coloured felt tip pens, jealously guarding them from team mates!

We still lacked any form of electronic, remote recording potential, though that was about to change with a new generation of weather station assistant observers.  The weather station was now attracting pupils with scientific and technological skills; David Brimble, Peter Warne, Brian Webley and Simon Daniel deserve a special mention here, as they built us a wind direction and speed recorder, using a potentiometer, and our own anemometer, mounted on a 5 metre pole on the tower room, so 19m above ground in total. So, we were now taking 48,000 wind measurements every day! As an aside, there was a day in a gale when the recording equipment failed and needed a nudge; so, someone had to climb up the pole on a ladder, and guess what? The pole broke, so the anemometer and wind vane fell through the school roof and into the Maths department – you won’t be surprised to hear that we weren’t too popular with the bursar this time!

The computer age was well and truly with us early in the 1990s; our BBC computers had been replaced by Archimedes machines, and then by PCs and the arrival of the internet at Bablake. The weather station was not slow to realise the potential for this in our work so by 1995 we had our own dial up website, hosted by Demon; slow it may have been, but the coming of the internet revolutionised Bablake Weather Station!  Credit for setting up our website has to go to Andrew Hodgekins, an inspiration to me, without whose help, BWS might still be in the dark ages!

By now, we were daily bombarded with requests for forecasts and data, so we installed an answer machine, with recordings updated every day to keep members of the public up to date with the weather, though some of the messages left on the machine would have us somewhat perplexed, like the person who phoned up every day to ask if there was going to be any “snow” in a rather eerie accent – we were convinced that it was Jason Pitt, though he never admitted phoning himself!

For a time in the 1990s, the weather station hosted Coventry City Council’s pollution monitoring equipment in the room in the school tower, with daily pollutant monitoring, and regular pollution warnings issued to the public alongside local weather forecasts. This was part of local government’s strategy to encourage more people to use public transport, pioneered by Michael Checkley, a Bablake old boy in the Environmental Health department at the time. We were never quite sure how this enterprise went down with a Labour Council, relying upon rent free accommodation in a private secondary school in the city; needless to say, it was relocated after a few years, closer to kerbside, where it should have been all along!

When BBC local radio came to Coventry, CWR as it was known, was quick to recognise the value of a local source of weather information. We had already contributed regularly to Mercia Sound in its heyday, and with an aborted cable TV project in the city, so we were well used to media work and exposure. Probably the most bizarre media contribution made by Bablake Weather Station over the years, saw us host our own Saturday morning radio show from our office, with 5th formers Sarah Baker and Ben Roberts as presenters, coaxed along by a producer, the name of whom escapes me! It was more comedy than serious journalism, but hey ho, it was fun while it lasted!

When the school built the Modern Languages block, we had to move our enclosure again, albeit by no more than 20 metres or so, all to maintain continuity with Met Office siting regulations. This did give us the chance to erect an even more secure fence, further reducing the risk of theft and vandalism; rain gauges are made of copper, and with soaring metal prices, so with several large tilting syphon recorders and standard rain gauges on site, we became the target metal thieves, so our insurance company insisted upon the security upgrade!

By the late 1990s, the school was looking to build a new English, Music and Drama block, right on top of the Headmaster’s garden and our weather enclosure! Luckily, the Headmaster of the day, Stuart Nuttall, did not want to see the closure of the weather station, instead offering to fund the greatest single transformation and relocation of the weather station in its 40-year history. With no suitable site on the main school campus site, that did not get in the way of games’ practices, and children’s play areas on the school field, it was decided to move our equipment up to the school playing fields, one mile away from school, but still in Coundon. This had to be approved by the Met Office, who insisted on a six month overlap between the two sites to ensure continuity of data recor

So that new fence was further heightened by razor wire, a 10-metre-high mast was erected, and Bablake Weather Station went electronic, with all equipment now automatically recorded via a computer data logger, accessed by modem by computers at school and at home.

For 22 years, pupils and staff had had to man the weather station daily at 0900hr GMT (1000hr BST), with all readings taken manually by a team of up to 12 observers; this was a 365 day a year commitment, only made possible by parents at weekends and in holidays, foregoing a ‘lie in’ to drop their children at school. Lifelong friendships were made in these years, when the weather station became as much a social gathering, rather than a chore! Without the likes of Joseph Heenan, Greg Birchall and Graham Moss, the team of the early 1990s, and those like David Mann, Robin Trewinnard, Matt Tite and his brother David, in the years that followed, the weather station may not have survived into the technological age, nor would it have been so much fun!

You may have noticed that the observation team over its first 20+ years was dominated by boys, with just the occasional ‘token gesture female’ as they were often called by their male colleagues. Perhaps this was because the boys would often be involved in dirty jobs like digging, fence erection, climbing on rooves and electronics, with girls expected to make the coffee and heat up bacon sandwiches in the microwave – of course such demarcation of duties would not be tolerated today, not that Fiona Clancy took kindly to this, even back in 1984! This was about to change, with the arrival of Joie Howesgo as a shell former (year 7) in 1994; the weather station would normally only accept new recruits, following a rigorous training regime, from age 14 onwards, such was the responsible nature of the task, and the trust put in them by the school. But Joie was different, and from the word go, she became the boss and chief organiser of the weather station team! Joie was the mainstay, together with Nic Ilchyshyn, through the transition into the automatic weather station years, without whose help, BWS might not have thrived into the 21st century. So, the ‘times, they were a changing’, and following automation, girls began to dominate numerically, with the work load now non-manual, and data manipulation better suited to the sharp minds of our girls, like Faith Hannon. Just out of interest, Michelle Mosey joined the weather station because she aspirations to become a TV weather presenter, and she did indeed achieve fame, launching a new set of weather stamps for the post office at Bablake, with Nic Ilchyshyn.

Over the 40 years, we have continued researching Coventry’s climate from our archives; thanks to the records office in Coventry, we have copies of diaries detailing the weather of every single day since 1892. In recent years, Jonathan Smith was a great support in helping to digitise this data; where would we be without Excel. This is a task for winter days at home in retirement!

The team was smaller once the automatic weather station was installed, but no less enthusiastic and supportive.

The weather station may have evolved over the years, but still remains in focus in the media in the Midlands, with occasional TV and radio commitments.

In this review of the history of Bablake Weather Station, it hasn’t been possible to mention everyone who has ever served the station; a total of at least 90 pupils have been involved to a greater or lesser degree since 1977. Without them, it would not have prospered nor survived into its fifth decade, something that was recognised by the Royal Meteorological Society in 2008, when we were awarded their Michael Hunt award, made biennially to individuals for excellence in increasing the understanding of meteorology or its allied disciplines among members of the general public, including particular groups such as yachtsmen and schoolchildren, for example.

Here is a list of those Bablake pupils who have made a contribution to the weather Station since 1977:


St John E


David T


Carew J


Martyn P


Andrew P




Nicola J


Ritchie L C


Kim L


Fiona A


Catherine L


Sarah H


Richard J


Christopher A


Mark A


Paul M


Duncan S


David D


Peter J


Brian C


Gregory R


Jennie A


Stephanie C V


Samantha K


Simon W E


Lara K (Was Payne)


Sophia C




James W D




Jason N


Lorna (Jones)


Nina L


Steven J


Emma L


David N


John G


Benjamin A




Stephen P




Gregory I


Martin J


Paul R


Andrew P


Rachael Claire


Helen M


Joseph J


Graham J


Jennifer M




Grainne F




Rachel M


Mark J


Derek A


David M


Matthew James


Robin M


Thomas J


Andrew M


James W C


David J


Russell T A


Clark F J


Olivia W-Y


Robert E


Victoria J


Thomas S


Mark C




Adam John


Ruth Elizabeth


Paula-Jane I


Joie Louvain


Matthew Peter


Nicholas Paul


Michelle Louise


Simon Robert


Jonathan Paul




Lisa Claire


Richard John


Luke Alexander






Faith Remony


Jonathan George


Chris James


Elizabeth Adele

Honoured by the Royal Meteorology Society in 2009 with life membership as a fellow, for services to the community and education in  Coventry & the UK