Victorian Snowflakes

Philip Jeffs continues his Rylands family history blog, this time looking at Thomas Glazebrook Rylands’s obsession with the weather…

Whilst sorting through the records of the various members of the Rylands family, one subject jumped out at me time and again. The weather. Now, you might think it only natural that in their letters and diaries, people would mention the weather, it is after all a national pastime even today.

What makes the Rylands family records somewhat different is that a passing comment on the weather is not enough. Consistent observations and measurements are taken over entire lifetimes. However, none of the family pursues these observations with the same level of obsession as Thomas Glazebrook Rylands.

Thomas Glazebrook Rylands – 1818 – 1900 (of Highfields, Thelwall)

Thomas’s primary interest lies in measuring rainfall and cloud conditions, but all aspects of weather call his attention. The item I have chosen to show you today, illustrates not only Thomas’s scientific know-how and meticulous approach to recording his studies, but also his great skill as an artist. Thomas’s son, John Paul Rylands, recorded that his father had shown great skill as an artist from a very early age, but his passion lying in science, the only evidence of that artistry was in his observational recordings.

Below is an original drawing from Thomas’s manuscript copy of a pamphlet he published in 1855, Observations on the Snow and Snow Crystals of Winter 1854/5. Forty three distinct types of snowflake are illustrated in his final work.

We have all seen the beauty in a snow fall, but how many of us would have thought to collect, observe and record as many varieties of snowflake as possible and to publish those findings? The Victorian longing to collect, categorize and understand everything around them led to wonderful discoveries and massive increases in knowledge. Bound with these original drawings was a wonderful piece of Victoriana, which I couldn’t resist adding to this entry. The image below shows a sample of wallpaper designed by William Fell of Springfield, Warrington, based on the snowflakes observed by Thomas Glazebrook Rylands. A note on the back of the sample states that Mr. Fell received a prize for his design.

It’s a beautiful geometric design, in a rich arsenic green, but I have to say I won’t be rushing to print off a few rolls (not just because of the arsenic in the green paint), but because looking at it for more than a few moments gives the feeling of staring at a magic eye puzzle.


This article was originally published on May 23rd 2014.