A brief history

On 3 April 1850, ten gentlemen assembled in the library of Hartwell House, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. According to the minutes of the meeting, they gathered "to form a society the objects of which should be the advancement and extension of meteorological science by determining the laws of climate and of meteorological phenomena in general". They called the society the British Meteorological Society and appointed as its president Samuel Charles Whitbread, a grandson of the founder of the famous brewing firm. The society they formed still exists and flourishes. It became The Meteorological Society in 1866, when it was incorporated by Royal Charter, and the Royal Meteorological Society in 1883, when Her Majesty Queen Victoria granted the privilege of adding 'Royal' to the title.

Besides Whitbread, those present at the meeting on 3 April 1850 were Dr John Lee, the owner of Hartwell House, the Reverend Samuel King of Latimer, near Chesham, the Reverend Joseph Bancroft Reade of Stone Vicarage, near Aylesbury, the Reverend Charles Lowndes of Hartwell Rectory, James Glaisher, Superintendent of the Magnetic and Meteorological Department of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, Edward Joseph Lowe of Highfield House, near Nottingham, Vincent Fasel of Stone, near Aylesbury, John Drew of Southampton and William Rutter of Haverstock Hill, north-west London. Mr Glaisher was appointed Honorary Secretary and Dr Lee Honorary Treasurer.

Hartwell House, 7 June 2000. The President for 1998-2000, Professor Brian Hoskins, unveils a framed notice about the Royal Meteorological Society and its foundation in the Library of Hartwell House on 3 April 1850.


The "advancement of meteorological science" remains the primary aim of the Royal Meteorological Society today, with "meteorological science" including climatology, physical oceanography and other related disciplines. Among its 3,500 members, the Society numbers not only professional meteorologists and other scientists but also people whose work is affected by the weather or climate and many who take an interest in the weather as a hobby. The Society advances and promotes meteorology through its journals and other publications, meetings and conferences, educational activities, professional accreditation and the award of grants, medals and prizes.

The British Meteorological Society was not the first meteorological society to be formed in the United Kingdom. On 15 October 1823, at the London Coffee House, a group of distinguished scientists founded the Meteorological Society of London. This society flourished for seven months and then, despite the initial enthusiasm and activity, languished until 1836, when it was revived, only to fail again in 1843. Five years later, another Meteorological Society of London was founded, but this, too, was shortlived, for, in the summer of 1850, its Council dissolved the Society and recommended the members to join the British Meteorological Society. Many of the books and papers of the Meteorological Societies of London were handed over to the British Meteorological Society in 1851 and have survived. They are now cared for in the National Meteorological Archive, along with papers and books of the Royal Meteorological Society from 1850 onwards. The Scottish Meteorological Society, founded in 1855, amalgamated with the Royal Meteorological Society in 1921.

Without the dedication and leadership of many distinguished meteorologists and other scientists, the Royal Meteorological Society would not have survived for a century and a half. The following is a list of those who have served the society as President. Pen portraits of many of them have been published in the journal Weather. The list gives the years these people served as President, along with the month and year the pen portrait was published. An asterisk indicates that the person is still alive.

 
Samuel Charles Whitbread FRS    1850-53; 1864       December 1997 
George Leach                    1853-55             March 2001
Dr John Lee FRS                 1855-57             July 1996 
Robert Stephenson MP FRS        1857-58             February 1995 
Thomas Sopwith FRS              1859-60             - 
Nathaniel Beardmore MInstCE     1861-62             September 2000
Robert Dundas Thomson MD        1863-64             August 1998 
Charles Brooke FRS              1865-66             January 1998 
James Glaisher FRS              1867-68             November 1995 
Charles Vincent Walker FRS      1869-70             May 1998 
John William Tripe MD           1871-72             March 1996 
Robert James Mann MD            1873-75             January 2001
Henry Storks Eaton MA           1876-77             May 1997 
Charles Greaves                 1878-79             September 2001
George James Symons FRS         1880-81; 1900       March 1993 
Sir John Knox Laughton MA       1882-83             January 1999 
Robert Henry Scott DSc FRS      1884-85             September 1994 
William Ellis FRS               1886-87             - 
William Marcet MD FRS           1888-89             March 1997 
Baldwin Latham MInstCE          1890-91             April 1997 
C Theodore Williams MD FRCP     1892-93; 1900       December 1992 
Richard Inwards                 1894-95             August 1995 
Edward Mawley VMH               1896-97             April 1998 
Francis Campbell Bayard LLM     1898-99             October 1999 
William Henry Dines FRS         1901-02             - 
Captain David W Barker Kt RNR   1903-04             December 1999 
Richard Bentley                 1905-06             - 
Hugh Robert Mill DSc LLD FRSE   1907-08             April 1994 
Henry Mellish CB DL             1909-10             November 1996 
Henry Newton Dickson DSc FRSE   1911-12             May 1995 
Charles John Philip Cave JP     1913-14; 1924-25    October 1993 
Sir Henry George Lyons FRS      1915-17             March 1998 
Sir Napier Shaw ScD FRS         1918-19             March 1995 
Reginald Hawthorn Hooker        1920-21             January 1995 
Charles Chree ScD FRS           1922-23             June 1994 
Sir Gilbert Walker CSI ScD FRS  1926-27             July 1997 
Sir Richard Gregory DSc LLD     1928-29             July 1994 
R G K Lempfert CBE MA FInstP    1930-31             September 1996 
Sydney Chapman MA DSc FRS       1932-33             October 1994 
Ernest Gold DSO MA FRS          1934-35             - 
Francis J W Whipple MA ScD      1936-37             September 1993 
Sir Bernard A Keen DSc FRS      1938-39             November 1993 
Sir George C Simpson KCB FRS    1940-41             October 1995 
Sir David Brunt MA ScD FRS      1942-44             September 1992 
Gordon Manley MA DSc            1945-46             August 1993 
G M B Dobson CBE DSc FRS        1947-48             - 
Sir Robert Watson-Watt CB FRS   1949-51             November 1992 
Sir Charles Normand CIE ScD     1951-53             January 1993 
Sir Graham Sutton CBE DSc FRS   1953-55             - 
R C Sutcliffe OBE PhD FRS       1955-57             - 
P A Sheppard BSc FInstP FRS     1957-59             - 
J M Stagg CB OBE MA DSc         1959-61             May 1994 
H L Penman OBE PhD FInstP FRS   1961-63             December 1994 
J S Sawyer MA FRS               1963-65             -
G D Robinson PhD FInstP         1965-67             February 1999 
F K Hare PhD LLD FRSC           1967-68             - 
Sir John Mason CB DSc FRS       1968-70             * 
Frank Pasquill DSc FRS          1970-72             April 2000
Robert P Pearce PhD FRSE        1972-74             * 
Raymond Hide ScD FRS            1974-76             * 
Sir John Houghton DPhil FRS     1976-78             * 
John L Monteith PhD FRS         1978-80             * 
Philip Goldsmith MA             1980-82             * 
Henry Charnock CBE FRS          1982-84             - 
Andrew Gilchrist MA             1984-86             * 
Richard S Scorer PhD            1986-88             * 
Keith A Browning PhD FRS        1988-90             * 
Stephen A Thorpe PhD FRS        1990-92             * 
Paul Mason PhD FRS              1992-94             * 
John E Harries PhD              1994-96             * 
David J Carson PhD              1996-98             * 
Brian J Hoskins PhD FRS         1998-2000           * 
David M Burridge CBE PhD        2000-02             * 
Howard Cattle PhD               2002-04             * 
Chris Collier CMet FRMetS CEnv  2004-06			  *
Geraint Vaughan PhD             2006-present             * 

Pen portraits of the Presidents of the Meteorological Societies of London have also been published in Weather, as follows:

 
George Birkbeck MD              1823-39             December 1993 
Lord Robert Grosvenor           1839-50             March 1994 
Richard J Morrison (Zadkiel)    1848-50             February 1994 

An article about the Meteorological Societies of London was published by J M Walker in Weather in November 1993 (Volume 48, pp.364-372). A brief history of the Royal Meteorological Society was published by R A S Ratcliffe in Weather in July 1978 (Volume 33, pp.261-268).

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In conjunction with the History Group of the Society, Weather is publishing a series of profiles of meteorologists who were notable but never served as President of the Society or gained election to Fellowship of the Royal Society.


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