Thomas Barker 1722-1809

Thomas Barker was born at Lyndon Hall in 1722, and died on 29th December 1809. He was buried in Lyndon churchyard on 3rd January 1810.

His claim to fame was as a leading meteorologist in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In his own time he made a significant contribution to the data about the weather which were being collected across Europe, and he had a number of papers published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. His journals contain records of the weather for over 60 years at Lyndon Hall, and today researchers into climatic change are finding invaluable the reliable and comprehensive observations made in the eighteenth century by men like him. A full account of them was published by the Rutland Record Society in The Weather Journals of a Rutland Squire, edited by John Kington, from which the quotations below are taken.

The observations recorded in his journals are largely to do with weather conditions: he records barometric pressure (probably using a mercury barometer with a vernier scale), temperature (originally with an alcohol thermometer), clouds, wind and rainfall. His attention to the weather is indefatigable and reflects even at an early stage in his life an interest in long-term weather patterns. Take for example his account of the Great Frost in 1739-1740, when he was only seventeen:

The Frost in the winter 1739-40 was remarkable, being both Long, Severe, & Settled, but was made more remarkable by the very backward, dry, & cold season which followed it, & was more destructive than the Frost itself.

The Autumn 1739 was mostly cold, with frequent Rimy mornings. The wind being mostly Northerly all October, but there was no settled frost till November 7, when there came one for 10 days, which was sharp for the time of year. It froze .9 of an inch in a whole day in this frost, & the greatest thickness of the ice was 3.1 inches...

...at the end of December it grew colder and began to freeze December 25 at night, the wind being ENE ... December 30 in the day time it froze an inch; & in night after 2.5 inches. and December 31 the Thermometer was fallen to [-4 C°], which is far lower than I ever before saw it, though if the Thermometer had been out of doors it would probably have fallen still lower....

Snow began to fall in January and then "it froze most days & every night till February 16 ... February 2 when the Ice was thickest I found it 11.5 In. thick in a pond ... The Effects of this frost were many & destructive...".

Thomas Barker also noted other strange events, for example: "In a wet season, about Christmas 1787, a piece of apparently sound ground on the north side of a moderate hill, a mile and a half south-west from Ketton in Rutland, sunk down into the earth, leaving a great hollow." Thomas Barker went to inspect it and found "an oval hole, five yards over one way, and four another, and about four yards deep in the middle." He concludes that this was like the swallow-pits on the other side of Ketton, so called because "being hollow underneath, no water will lie in them, but runs through holes into the ground." The surface of the ground then sinks in to the hollow beneath it. This information was communicated on Barker's behalf to the Royal Society by Thomas White FRS.

Another more spectacular phenomenon was recorded in September 1749:

A remarkable Meteor was seen in Rutland, which I suspect to have been of the same kind as Spouts at Sea....

It was a calm, warm and cloudy Day, with some Gleams and Showers; the Barometer low and falling, and the Wind South, and small. The Spout came between 5 and 6 in the evening; at 8 came a Thunder-Shower, and Storms of Wind, which did some Mischief in some places; and then it cleared up with a brisk N.W. Wind.

The earliest Account I have was from Seaton. A great Smoke rose over or near Gretton, in Northamptonshire, with the Likeness of Fire, either one single Flash, as the Miller said, or several bright Arrows darting to the Ground, and repeated for some Time, as others say. Yet some who saw it, did not think there was really any Fire in it, but that the bright Breaks in a black Cloud looked like it. However, the Whirling, Breaks, Roar, and Smoke frightened both Man and Beast. Coming down the Hill, it took up Water from the River Welland, and passing over Seaton Field, carried away several Shocks of Stubble; and crossing Glaiston, and Morcot Lordships, at Pilton Town's End tore off two Branches ... I saw it pass from Pilton over Lyndon Lordship, like a black smoky Cloud, with bright Breaks; an odd whirling Motion, and a roaring Noise, like a distant Wind, or a great Flock of Sheep galloping along on hard Ground ... As it went by a Quarter of a Mile East from me, I saw some Straws fall from it, and a Part, like an inverted Cone of Rain, reached down to the Ground. Some who were milking, said it came all round them like a thick Mist, whirling and parting, and, when that was past, a strong Wind for a very little while, though it was calm both before and after. It then passed off between Edithweston and Hambleton, but how much further I do not know.

The account of this extraordinary event, which would today be recognised as a tornado, was again communicated to the Royal Society by Barker.

Like his grandfather William Whiston, Thomas Barker was also something of an astronomer, his major work being An Account of the Discoveries concerning Comets, with the Way to find their Orbits, and some Improvements in constructing and calculating their Places, published in 1757.

Barker had many other interests. His journal is full of observations on the crops and trees, the pastures and the bird life, when the snowdrops begin to flower, when the cuckoo is heard or the swift arrives, when the asparagus comes up, how his bees have fared.

He was obviously concerned too with agricultural matters: in 1748 he recorded an outbreak of cattle disease in his meteorological journal.

The latter end of last summer the murrein again visited this county, and whilst the fields were open and the weather dry, spread like wildfire carrying destruction with it. Since I believe several thousands of beasts must have perished by it in this small county; but the rest of the winter though it has sometimes continued and sometimes spread yet nothing near so many have fallen, and I think fewer died than in autumn; God grant that the people of the land may turn away the wrath of God by true repentance, and that we may sin no more lest a worse thing come unto us.

And maybe on that note we should record that he wrote, like his grandfather William Whiston, a number of theological books: one on Baptism, another on the Messiah, and a third on the Demoniacs in the Gospels.

Thomas Barker came from a distinguished local family. The Barkers had been in Lyndon from the time of Henry VIII. Baldwin Barker lived at Hambleton: his son Abel Barker bought Hambleton Old Hall in 1634. In 1639 Abel's son, also called Abel, inherited the property. During the Civil War he sided with Cromwell but in 1660 at the Restoration he was pardoned for any misdeeds he might have committed: he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Rutland: he bought with his brother Thomas the Manor at Lyndon: and in 1665 was given a baronetcy.

Between 1671 and 1677 Sir Abel Barker built the Lyndon Hall we now see. Sir Abel died in 1679. His son Thomas then died without an heir and in 1708 the Hall passed to Samuel Barker of South Luffenham, another branch of the family.

Samuel Barker had married Sarah, the daughter of the astronomer, mathematician and priest William Whiston. Thomas Barker, born in 1722, was the son of this marriage. Thomas was friendly with the Rector of Whitwell where he met his future wife Anne White. Anne, the niece of Mary Isaac the wife of the Rector of Whitwell, was the sister of Gilbert White of Selborne, famous for his Natural History of Selborne (in which he mentions Lyndon), with whom Thomas Barker and his family were in constant communication. A letter to Gilbert from a friend, John Mulso, of 13th December 1750 before the wedding makes a revealing comment about the bridegroom - and bride - "I heartily wish your Sister much Happiness in her new State: with her cheerful and easy Temper She will be ye best wife in the world to Mr. Barker, and may manage to her own Content and his Advantage that extreme Abstractedness and Speculativeness to which I hear He is naturally prone."

Thomas and Anne had a son Samuel who married Mary Haggitt, and four daughters: the eldest Sarah who married Edward Brown. Thomas Barker died on 29th December 1809, having been a vegetarian from childhood. He was buried in Lyndon churchyard on 3rd January 1810. The inscription on his headstone (it is not now known where this is) is said to have run as follows:

In memory of Thomas Barker Esq.
He concluded a long and most exemplary life
Dec. 1809, Aged 88 years.

He was succeeded by his son Samuel who died in 1835 and in turn was succeeded by his two daughters, Mary who died in 1843 and Ann who died in 1846. The estate was then purchased by their cousin the Revd Edward Brown of Stamford (in accordance with their will). In 1862 he died and the estate passed to Edward Nathaniel Conant, grandson of Sarah, the daughter of John Whiston.

This article is taken from Lyndon, Rutland A Guide by Charles Mayhew
Published by Rutland Local History & Record Society
Copies are available from The Estate Office at £3.50 each.