Category Archives: Weather

Custom survived: St Swithin’s Day Weather predictions


‘In this month is St. Swithin’s Day,

On which, if that it rain, they say,

Full forty days after it will,

Or more or less, some rain distil.

This Swithin was a saint, I trow,

And Winchester’s bishop also,

Who in his time did many a feat,

As popish legends do repeat:

A woman having broke her eggs,

By stumbling at another’s legs,

For which she made a woful cry.

St. Swithin chanced for to come by,

Who made them all as sound or more,

Than ever that they were before.

But whether this were so or no,

‘Tis more than you or I do know.

Better it is to rise betime,

And to make hay while sun doth shine,

Than to believe in tales and lies,

Which idle monks and friars devise.’

In the next century, Gay remarks in his Trivia

‘Now if on Swithin’s feast the welkin lours,

And every penthouse streams with hasty showers,

Twice twenty days shall clouds their fleeces drain,

And wash the pavement with incessant rain.

Let not such vulgar tales debase thy mind;

Nor Paul nor Swithin rule the clouds and wind!’

Poor Robin’s Almanac for 1697

It is one of the best known of British pieces of folk tradition; one that everyone knows, everyone says and indeed everyone dreads – the association of rain with St Swithun’s Day.

It is perhaps as held strongly by some as William Hone, records in his 1780-1842 Everyday Book:

“An old lady who so far observed this festival, on one occasion when it was fair and sunshiny till the afternoon, predicted fair weather; but tea-time came, and—

“there follow’d some droppings of rain.”

This was quite enough. “Ah!” said she, “now we shall have rain every day for forty days;” nor would she be persuaded of the contrary. Forty days of our humid climate passed, and many, by their having been perfectly dry, falsified her prediction. “Nay, nay,” said she, “but there was wet in the night, depend upon it.” According to such persons St. Swithin cannot err.”

Right as rain?

The earliest mention appears to be from a 14th century manuscript held in Emmanuel college Cambridge which reads:

“In the daye of Seynte Swithone rane ginneth rinigge Forti daws mid ywone,”

(On St Swithin’s day it begins raining and usually continues for 40 days.)

Such a viewpoint seemed fairly entrenched for in 1336 a Robert de Graystane:

“In 1315…on the day after the anniversary of the moving of St Swithin’s body namely the 15th July, such was the deluge of rain, that rivers overflow their banks to an awesome degree, submerging crops,,and rushing through houses, drowning women and children.”

By Poor Robin’s almanac it appears to be well established, crystalised in the 1813 copy of Brand’s popular antiquities of Great Britain states:

“The common adage regarding St. Swithin, as every one knows, is to the effect that, as it rains or is fair on St. Swithin’s Day, the 15th of July, there will be a continuous track of wet or dry weather for the forty days ensuing.

St Swithin’s Day, if thou dost rain,

For forty days it will remain:

St. Swithin’s Day, if thou be fair,

For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

Rain fire and brimestone

But why? Robert Chambers in his 1864 Book of Days informs us that:

“St. Swithin, bishop of Winchester, was a man equally noted for his uprightness and humility. So far did he carry the latter quality, that, on his death-bed, he requested to be buried, not within the church, but outside in the churchyard, on the north of the sacred building, where his corpse might receive the eaves-droppings from the roof, and his grave be trodden by the feet of the passers-by. His lowly request was complied with, and in this neglected spot his remains reposed till about a hundred years afterwards, when a fit of indignation seized the clergy at the body of so pious a member of their order being allowed to occupy such a position; and on an appointed day they all assembled to convey it with great pomp into the adjoining cathedral of Winchester. When they were about to commence the ceremony, a heavy rain burst forth, and continued without intermission for the forty succeeding days. The monks interpreted this tempest as a warning from Heaven of the blasphemous nature of their attempt to contravene the directions of St. Swithin, and, instead of disturbing his remains, they erected a chapel over his grave, at which many astounding miracles were performed. From this circumstance, it is stated, arose the popular belief of the anniversary of the attempted translation of St. Swithin being invested with a prophetic character in reference to the condition of the weather for the ensuing six weeks.”

How true this is unclear, we know that Swithin, or Swithun, was born in Winchester, probably around 800A.D., and became a monk of the abbey there gaining favour Egbert, king of Wessex, who intrusted him with the education of his son and successor, Ethelwulf.  Nothing that is known of him suggests he would be associated with raining! What is more likely is that it records some longer pagan belief regarding the meteorologically prophetic character of day around St. Swithin’s. This is certainly supported by the fact that in France, St. Médard’s Day (June 8), and the day of Saints Gervais and Protais (June 19), not too far off from July have the following ascribed to them:

‘S’il pleut le jour de Saint Médard,

Il pleut quarante jours plus tard;

S’il pleut le jour de Saint Gervais et de Saint Protais,

Il pleut quarante jours apres.’

Rain on one’s parade

Robert Chambers in his 1864 Book of Days appears curious to discover more and states:

“The question now remains to be answered, whether the popular belief we have been considering has any foundation in fact, and here the observations at Greenwich for the 20 years preceding 1861, must be adduced to demonstrate its fallacy. From these we learn that St. Swithin’s Day was wet in 1841, and there were 23 rainy days up to the 24th of August; 1845, 26 rainy days; 1851, 13 rainy days;- 1853, 18 rainy days; 1854, 16 rainy days; and, in 1856, 14 rainy days. In 1842, and following years, St. Swithin’s Day was dry, and the result was in 1842, 12 rainy days; 1843, 22 rainy days; 1844, 20 rainy days; 1846, 21 rainy days; 1847, 17 rainy days; 1848, 31 rainy days; 1849, 20 rainy days; 1850, 17 rainy days; 1852, 19 rainy days; 1855, 18 rainy days; 1857, 14 rainy days; 1858, 14 rainy days; 1859, 13 rainy days; and, in 1860, 29 rainy days. It will thus be seen, by the average of the fore-going 20 years, that the greatest number of rainy days, after St. Swithin’s Day, had taken place when the 15th of July was dry. It is, indeed, likely enough that a track of wet weather, or the opposite, may occur at this period of the year, as a change generally takes place soon after midsummer, the character of which will depend much on the state of the previous spring. If this has been for the greater part dry, it is very probable that the weather may change to wet about the middle of July, and vice versa”. But that any critical meteorological influence resides in the 15th, seems wholly erroneous.”

Despite this debuttle of the custom, it continues to be referred to in 1832 A Henderson’s Scottish Proverbs states:

“if St Swithin greats (weeps), the weather will be foul for forty days.”

In 1882 People’s Friend states in a November edition of 1882 stated:

“People not ordinarily superstitious are still found who cling to the old belief ‘if on St Swithin’s it does rain, for Forty days it will remain.”

1892 C.M. Yonge Old Womans Outlook

“If Swithin’s day be fair and clear, it betides a happy year; if Swithin’s day be dark with rain, Then will be dear all sorts of grain.”

In 1986 a man c 50s in Richmond Yorkshire when asked stated

‘If it rains on St. Swithin’s Day, it will rain for forty days and forty nights -I’ve known since childhood.”

But a folklorist does not need to find written examples this is one of the few pieces of folklore which is known by everyone it seems and so I looked up to the sky on the said day…it was clear and so far 16 days later its kept dry…and there has been a heatwave..but does the adage work that way as well?

Custom demised: St Benedict Day weather predictions


In Collectanea is recorded the following:

“If the wind is in the east at noon on St. Benedict’s Day (March 21st), it will neither chop nor change till the end of May”

Another view stated that:

“As the wind is on St Benedict’s day. So it will stay for three months.”

Days in March were often seen as good indicators of the transition from the harshness of the winter into the calm of spring. It was also thought to be the day when time was created as noted by the Anglo Saxons:

“the earth shows by the shoots which are then quickened again that this is the time which should most rightly be the year’s beginning”

Ælfric was one who admired St Benedict and gave an opinion that  St Benedict’s day in March ought to be the first day of the year because it was when the plants begun to grow.  Clearly Farmers naturally too heed of the weather on St. Benedict’s Day and it was also said that:

“On Benedict sow thy peas or keep them in the rick.”

There is certainly a cold wind from the east across much of the UK until the 21st March in most years and so there appears to be some fact to the folk belief.


Custom demised: Leap Year Agricultural and garden lore


Today is the 29th of February – a date which as you know only comes around every 4 years- intercalary year or bissextile year. Readers may be familiar with the belief regarding “Ladies Day” or “Ladies’ Privilege,” but there were other beliefs and customs associated with the day due to its rarity.

With a day made up of .25 of a day, there would be bound to be issues and the most wary of this change as always was country folk.  Weather governs agriculture and it according in a year leap the weather always changes on the friday and considering the awful windy and rainy weather of 2020 so far, I did notice that it did change accordingly…but lets see how that changes over the year.

Leaping lambs

Often the presence of an extra day appeared to knock the whole calendar both literally and folklorically out of kilter. One Scottish countryside view was regarding sheep and it was said that:

Leap year was ne’er a good sheep year”

This is reported in an 1816 edition of the Farmer’s Magazine:

“It has long been proverbial here that ‘leap year never was a good sheep year,’ an observation which this winter has been fully realized.”

Interesting in 1816 there was a considerable drop in temperature which meant that the snow quickly turned to ice and many lambs died. Whether it happened on a Friday though is unknown!

Not bean a good year

Planting crops were particular affected by Leap Day and the whole year. New plant fruits should not have been planted on the day as they only bore fruit once every four years. But the most reported was that broad beans and peas grew the wrong way in that their seed would be set in the pods in a different way to other years i.e back to frint. The reason for this appears to be that as this was the Ladies Privilege year when the idea of proposing was upside down the bean would lie the wrong way but why broad beans (and often peas) should be associated with this is unclear.

The custom even got to the ears of the great scientist Charles Darwin who in his autobiography stated who discussion of his scepticism:

“In illustration, I will give the oddest case which I have known. A gentleman (who, as I afterwards heard, is a good local botanist) wrote to me from the Eastern counties that the seed or beans of the common field-bean had this year everywhere grown on the wrong side of the pod. I wrote back, asking for further information, as I did not understand what was meant; but I did not receive any answer for a very long time. I then saw in two newspapers, one published in Kent and the other in Yorkshire, paragraphs stating that it was a most remarkable fact that “the beans this year had all grown on the wrong side.” So I thought there must be some foundation for so general a statement. Accordingly, I went to my gardener, an old Kentish man, and asked him whether he had heard anything about it, and he answered, “Oh, no, sir, it must be a mistake, for the beans grow on the wrong side only on leap-year, and this is not leap-year.” I then asked him how they grew in common years and how on leap-years, but soon found that he knew absolutely nothing of how they grew at any time, but he stuck to his belief.

After a time I heard from my first informant, who, with many apologies, said that he should not have written to me had he not heard the statement from several intelligent farmers; but that he had since spoken again to every one of them, and not one knew in the least what he had himself meant. So that here a belief—if indeed a statement with no definite idea attached to it can be called a belief—had spread over almost the whole of England without any vestige of evidence.”

With all this in mind I thought I might go ahead and plant some beans and see what happens! I’ll report back in 2024 – hopefully – at the latest.

A.C. Smith in their 1875 article from Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine on Wiltshire Weather Proverbs and Weather Fallacies they note:

“I must also call attention to the remarkable prejudice against Leap-year, a prejudice as common and as widely spread as it misunfounded. It is popularly supposed that neither children nor  domestic animals born in that year will thrive and that neither ” Leap year never was a good sheep year.”

Perhaps the last word though should be for A.C Smith’s who states:

“I need scarcely say that these are all popular delusions, founded on no reliable basis, though doubtless they do occasionally, however unfrequently, by accident, come true ; and then they attract unmerited attention, and are held up to admiring disciples as infallible weather-guides.

One thing however seems quite certain, and that is that if our observations are recorded through a long period of time, there will be found to be a balance of averages, both as regards heat and cold, and wet and dry weather: and in short the general average through the whole period will be found to be maintained.”

And with such cynicism and logic the custom must have died out!