Header - The Fitzroy Barometer on Watchet Esplanade
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The West Somerset Hotel - Past and Present


Watchet's Heritage - The Fitzroy Barometer

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The exact date when the barometer was placed here on the Esplanade is not known for certain, but it seems likely that it was in the late 1870s and it has remained here ever since. It was a gift to the town by Sir Antony Acland Hood, a local benefactor, and this is acknowledged with an engraved plaque on the door.

Admiral Robert Fitzroy, after whom the barometer is named, gained fame as the captain of the 'Beagle' which took Charles Darwin on one of the most significant and epic sea voyages of all time. As constant, cramped companions, Fitzroy and Darwin made an interesting coupling. Fitzroy, a devout Christian, and Darwin, the father of evolutionary understanding, were eventually to find themselves in direct opposition, a situation which may well have contributed to Fitzroy's tragic suicide in 1865.

Fitzroy has justifiably been called the 'father' of the Meteorological Society and had a lifelong passion for science. On his retirement from the navy, he devoted his remaining years to its pursuit. In 1859 during a horrific storm, the 'Royal Charter', returning from the Australian goldfields, floundered and was dashed onto the rocks at Anglesey with the accompanying loss of both passengers and crew. The event affected Fitzroy deeply and it became his inspiration for charts to be produced allowing weather predictions to be calculated. Fitzroy called this 'predicting the weather', thus coining the term with which we are all familiar today, the 'weather forecast', almost a national obsession!

In 1860, at his instigation, the Times published the first weather forecast. At that time, the Crown was encouraged to distribute 'storm glasses', known as Fitzroy Storm Barometers, throughout the British Isles in coastal towns and villages. It is at this point that we make the Watchet connection! It seems likely that Watchet's barometer was installed around 1870, sometime after Fitzroy's death.

This very specific type of barometer spawned many domestic examples which continued to be made long after this and some are not as accurate as they should be. These are often accompanied by Fitzroy's remarks in a very attractive script, making them aesthetically very pleasing.

The brass plaque on the door of the barometer states 'The Gift of Sir A A Hood', whose country seat was at St Audries. He was a generous local benefactor, donating funds to various causes in West Somerset. A second brass plaque was introduced some thirty-odd years ago, inscribed '9am Daily' which is self-explanatory. This later addition was a donation of Mary Rawle who holds personal, affectionate memories of this very tangible link with the past.

This page is provided by Watchet Conservation Society with the help of Watchet Chamber of Trade
and with funding from Somerset West & Taunton Council's High Street Emergency Fund.
Text and history provided by Nick Cotton