By Nicola Lisle

It is nearly 80 years since the last weather report was made from Benson Observatory, which was made redundant in 1939 by the establishment of a weather station at RAF Benson.

The name of the man who set up the observatory, William Henry Dines, has recently been honoured with a blue plaque.

Dines was an amateur meteorologist, whose pioneering research and invention of meteorological instruments helped increase the accuracy of weather reporting. His pressure tube anemometer, which he patented in 1892, “revolutionised anemometry” according to fellow meteorologist Ernest Gold.

He was born on 5th August 1855 at 74 Charlwood Street, Pimlico, the youngest of three children born to George Dines, a builder, and Louisa Sara Coke. The young William inherited his interest in the weather from his father, whose own research into rainfall, wind force and humidity earned him a fellowship of the British Meteorological Society in 1864. Dines senior’s Rainfall of the London District (1813-1872) was published by Maltby & Co, Oxford, in 1873.

William was educated at Woodcote House School, Surrey, where he excelled at mathematics and became Head Boy at the age of 14. A four-year engineering apprenticeship with the London and South Western Railway Company followed in 1873, and he acquired technical drawing skills that later proved invaluable when designing new meteorological instruments.

In 1877 he went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to read mathematics, was awarded a Mawson Scholarship in 1880 and graduated the following year with a distinction.

By this time he was already working on his most famous invention, the pressure tube anemometer (PTA), which arose out of a tragedy.

On 28th December 1879, just 18 months after its opening, the Tay Bridge collapsed during a violent storm, sending a Dundee-bound passenger train plunging into the river with the loss of all on board.

A major contributory factor to the disaster was engineer Sir Thomas Bouch’s failure to allow for the pressure exerted on the bridge by the wind.

This prompted Dines to develop a new type of anemometer that would measure wind speed and pressure with greater accuracy than the various anemometers being used by the Meteorological Office at the time.

He became a prominent member of the Royal Meteorological Society’s Wind Force Committee, set up in June 1885 to establish the relationship “between Beaufort’s Notation of Wind Force and the equivalent velocity in miles per hour, as well as the corresponding pressure in pounds per square foot for each grade of the scale”.

His pressure tube anemometer was the result of many years of research and experimentation, and was still in use over a century later.

Dines’ work quickly earned him official recognition. He served as President of the Royal Meteorological Society from 1901-2 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1905.

In the same year he was appointed Director of Experiments on the Upper Air by the Meteorological Office, and designed several new instruments for measuring atmospheric temperature and pressure, including a meteorograph for use with balloons.

He became a member of the International Commission for Scientific Aeronautics, and wrote numerous papers on the meteorology of the upper atmosphere.

In 1914 he was awarded the Symons Gold Medal, presented by the Royal Meteorological Society for distinguished work in the field of meteorological science.

He moved to Colne House, Benson, in 1913, with his wife, clergyman’s daughter Catharine Emma Tugwell, and sons Lewen Henry George Dines (1883-1965) and John Somers Dines (1888-1980).

His main preoccupation in Benson was sending daily weather reports to the Meteorological Office at Kew from the observatory that he set up in the village.

He later developed Parkinson’s disease, and died at Colne House on Christmas Eve 1927, aged 72. His elder son had already taken over the running of the observatory, and both followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming meteorologists.

In his obituary of Dines in 1928, Ernest Gold declared that Dines “taught us nearly all we know about the structure of the wind”.

Colne House, sadly, was demolished in 1971 to make way for new housing, so the blue plaque, unveiled on 9th June, has been placed on a barn near the site of the house. Its prominent position will hopefully ensure a wider recognition of Dines’ ground-breaking achievements.

The Blue plaque was unveiled at The Old Barn, Brook Street, Benson, on June 9.

Speakers were former BBC weatherman Bill Giles, Frank Law of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Steve Poole, Dines’ great-grandson.