There have been many famous people who have associations with Tottenham, but Luke Howard is probably one of the least known and yet his contribution to science will come as a surprise to many as his legacy is not only in common use throughout the world, but also surrounds us nearly every day.

Luke Howard was born in London in 1772, the son of Robert Howard, an inventive tinsmith and devout Quaker who introduced the newest technology, Argand oil lamps, to this country.

Luke Howard had a love for nature and the weather, particularly the clouds, from an early age. It has been written that young Luke’s fascination with clouds was kindled by the incredible skies of 1783. Between May and August of that year, the Northern Hemisphere sky was laden with a "Great Fogg", a haze composed of dust and ash from violent volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Japan. This created unusual patterns in the sky and, added to the spectacle of the persistent volcanic ash pall, was a fiery meteor, which flashed across western European skies during the early evening of 18 August, a sight observed by the eleven year-old Luke.

These events appear to have captured Luke’s interest and focused his attention to the skies. He became a devoted observer of the atmosphere for the rest of his life, augmenting his visual observations with readings from barometer and thermometer. For over 30 years of his life, Luke Howard maintained a record of accurate meteorological observations

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Luke Howard

However, Luke was to pursue a different career, as his interests were chemistry in its widest sense. He was apprenticed to a Stockport chemist and druggist, Ollive Sims. Whilst serving his apprenticeship, he also studied chemistry, botany and French. Luke's father encouraged him in his studies, writing: "He was never trained as a meteorologist, making his living as a manufacturer of chemicals, but he made a lasting impression on weather watchers everywhere."

It was in 1795, that Robert Howard provided his son Luke, then aged 23, with the money to set up his own business, as a chemist and druggist on Fleet Street. In 1796, Luke married Mariabella Eliot. Luke then accepted a partnership with William Allen of the Plough Court pharmacy in Lombard Street. Luke developed the manufacturing side of the business, producing chemicals in Plaistow and then Stratford, East London. From 1807, Luke ran his own business. He was to pioneer the supply of quinine, newly isolated by two chemists in France in 1820. The company founded by Luke was later to become ‘Howard & Sons’ of Ilford in Essex. They were a much-respected name in the chemicals industry and the firm continued in the family for five generations before being taken over by the giant Laporte Chemicals Corporation in 1973.

It was Luke Howard who invented the terms for types of clouds, such as cirrus, stratus and cumulus that are in common usage today:.
Cumulus, Latin for 'heap'; Stratus, Latin for 'layer'; Cirrus, Latin for 'wispy curly hair'; and, Nimbus, Latin for 'rain'. The basic forms could be combined, thus for example giving us: Cumulo Nimbus or Cirro Stratus.

Howard's classification was accepted almost intact by the meteorological community in the early 1800's, with a few additional terms, such as 'alto' meaning 'middle, and it likely won worldwide acceptance because he provided his categories with Latin names

He kept a daily record of London's weather from 1806 to 1830, which he published as Climate of London, in three volumes. His "Notes on the Modifications of the Clouds", his observations on cloud formations, illustrated with his own watercolours, were first published in 1803 in the Philosophical Magazine. luke_howard_book.jpg (23467 bytes)

He was not a scientist and never pretended to be one. He trained for, and became, a businessman, developing a firm that manufactured pharmaceutical chemicals. The study of weather, begun as a schoolboy, was close to his heart and continued for a lifetime.

His research on meteorology was at the forefront of that branch of science, and he is known as the "Father of Meteorology". He was elected to the Royal Society in 1821. Luke Howard died, aged 92, in 1864

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Extract from 1861 Census- Luke Howard living in Bruce Grove aged 88 years

In April of 2002, the British Meteorological Office honoured the memory of Luke Howard by posting a plaque at his former home, 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham, where Howard spent his final years.

"We are eternally grateful that Luke Howard came up with such an easy and straightforward way of naming clouds," said Mr Michael Fish of the Met Office at the ceremony.

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Blue Plaque on Luke Howard's former home in Bruce Grove

Added Emily Cole, Blue Plaques Historian at English Heritage: "Luke Howard's work is of key significance to meteorologists worldwide, and deserves to be better known."


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Illustrated plate from 'Barometrographia' (1847) by Luke Howard. Within the graph is a section of notes detailing weather conditions at different points in the year. This notes the seasonal changes, wind direction and anything unusual such as the sighting of Aurora Borealis or the arrival of swallows. Howard published his readings to promote the study and use of the barometer in connection with other meteorological instruments. He classified and named different cloud types between 1803 and 1811, and his terminology and symbols are still largely used to describe clouds today. Howard?s contribution to the developing science of meteorology led to him being made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1821

CLICK HERE to view details of special Memorial Ceremony to Luke & Mariabella Howard - Winchmore Hill Friends Meeting House - May 2011

NEW WEBSITE: Dedicated to Luke Howard- We are pleased to announce that a new website hads been created named 'Tottenham Clouds' that celebrates the achievements of Luke Howard a resident of Tottenham. Here is a link to the website which will be external to our own and consequently you will need to login again once you have viewed this site:


Updated May 2011  Alan Swain

Updated May 2015 Alan Swain- Portrait of Luke Howard & Barometrographic charts

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