They called it “the Queen’s weather”: the celebration, on 22 June 1897, of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, marking 60 years since she ascended the throne. And it was indeed a fine, sunny and very warm day by June standards, the temperature reaching 27C across much of the southern half of Britain.
The good weather was especially welcome in London, where the septuagenarian monarch led a six-mile royal procession through the city’s streets, surrounded by adoring crowds, who had, after years of scepticism, finally taken her to their hearts.
Yet as the fine weather continued, and the temperature rose even higher – into the 90s, in the old Fahrenheit measure (more than 32.2C) – conditions began to turn more humid. Two days later, on 24 June, thunderstorms broke over south-east England. These were caused by a bulge of very warm air moving rapidly northwards from the Mediterranean, which then met a depression over northern France.
At first, a few showers were reported around midday. But within an hour, there were violent hailstorms to the west of London, including hailstones measuring almost 40mm across and weighing over an ounce (28 grams).
As the storms grew in intensity, major destruction occurred over a wide swathe of London and the home counties, though fortunately no one was killed.