William Henry DINES (1855–1927)

Pioneering meteorologist

The Old Barn (near site of Colne House), Brook Street, Benson

William Henry Dines

W. H. Dines was born in Pimlico to George Dines, a builder with a keen interest in meteorology who had invented a new type of hygrometer, and his wife Louisa. George Dines had been apprenticed to Thomas Cubitt and was foreman of the building works at Osborne House for Queen Victoria. William Henry was educated at Woodcote House School in Surrey and articled as an engineer to South Western Railway. He then went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, passing the mathematical tripos with distinction in 1881.

He was a man of private means and began to devote himself to experimental meteorology. He was an active member of the committee set up by the Royal Meteorological Society after the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 to investigate the impact of maximum wind pressure on structures. In 1892 Dines developed the pressure tube anemometer which could measure wind velocity and direction with much greater accuracy, an instrument widely used for almost a century after its invention.

He was elected President of the Royal Meteorological Society 1901–02 and although an amateur, he held an official position as Director of Experiments on the Upper Air 1905–1922 and was elected FRS in 1905. While living at Pyrton Hill House near Watlington from 1906 to 1913, he perfected ingenious instruments for use with large box kites to measure atmospheric temperature and pressure and designed a meteorograph for use with balloons.

Colne House

In 1913 he moved to Colne House at Benson (above) and set up a new observatory from which he sent daily reports to the Meteorological Office at Kew. Areas of research included cyclonic and anti-cyclonic movement in the upper atmosphere, solar radiation and radiative heating rates from the ground to a height of 16 kilometres, and night-time radiation. One of Dines’ associates at Benson from 1919 was Lewis Fry Richardson, the father of analytical weather forecasting.

In 1886 he had married Catharine Emma Tugwell, a clergyman’s daughter, who bore him two sons, Lewen Henry George Dines (1883–1965) and John Somers Dines (1888–1980). They both became meteorologists and Lewen took over the running of the Benson Observatory when his father was incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease. Dines died at Colne House in 1927. His observatory remained active until 1939 when RAF Benson was established with its own weather station. The Met Office had become part of the Air Ministry in 1919 and many of its observation and data collection points were located on RAF airfields. Colne House was sold and eventually demolished in 1971 to make way for a housing development.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Jane Insley.

For greater details of Dines' life and work, see William Pike,
William Henry Dines (1855–1927)” in Weather, November 2005 (Vol. 60, No. 11)

The Barn, with blue plaque

The plaque was inaugurated on 9 June 2018 at the Old Barn, Brook Street, Benson (above). Speakers were Frank Law of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bill Giles, former BBC weatherman, and Steve Poole, great-grandson of W. H. Dines. Among those attending were John Howell MP, Cllr Gill Sanders (Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council), Cllr Lorraine Hillier (Chairman of South Oxfordshire District Council), Cllr Maxine Crossland (Chairman of West Oxfordshire District Council), and a meteorologist from the Met Office weather station at Larkhill in Wiltshire. The Bensington Society had arranged a supporting exhibition Weather and Water for ‘Dines Day’ at the Parish Hall.

Photographs taken at the inauguration ceremony:

Oxford Mail, 13 June 2018: “Benson meteorologist William Henry Dines honoured by blue plaque

Henley Standard, 18 June 2018: “Blue plaque unveiled for Victorian weather man

Dines plaque

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

Pioneering Meteorologist
created the Benson Observatory
near here at Colne House
(now demolished)
where he lived and worked

Bensington Society

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com