Luke Howard

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Luke Howard
Luke Howard.jpg
Born28 November 1772
Died (aged 91)
London, England
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Known forNaming the clouds
Scientific career
FieldsMeteorology, Chemistry, Pharmaceuticals

Luke Howard, FRS (28 November 1772 – 21 March 1864) was a British manufacturing chemist and an amateur meteorologist with broad interests in science.[1] His lasting contribution to science is a nomenclature system for clouds, which he proposed in an 1802 presentation to the Askesian Society.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Luke Howard was born on 28th November, 1772 in London to tin-plate manufacturer Robert Howard (1738-1812) and Elizabeth née Leatham (1742-1816). Howard attended a Quaker grammar school in Burford, Oxfordshire where the headteacher was renowned for his flogging of slow-to-learn pupils.[3] In 1796 Howard married Mariabella Eliot. They had two sons, Robert Howard and John Eliot Howard, who were ultimately to take over their father's chemical manufacturing business. Although a Quaker, he broke with the Society in 1825 following a dispute over apocryphal texts. A larger rift in the Society, the members being known as Beaconites being followers of Isaac Crewdson's A Beacon to the Society of Friends, led to Howard's final resignation from the Society in 1836. Howard was subsequently baptized into the Plymouth Brethren in 1837 by Crewdson. Howard died on 21 March 1864 at Bruce Grove, Tottenham and is buried at Winchmore Hill in Enfield, north London.


He was born in London, the son of Robert Howard, a lamp manufacturer, and educated at the Quaker school in Burford, Oxfordshire. He was a Quaker, later converting to the Plymouth Brethren, and became a pharmacist by profession. After serving an apprenticeship with a pharmacist in Stockport, Cheshire he worked at a druggists in Bishopsgate before setting up his own pharmacy in Fleet Street. In 1798, he entered into partnership with William Allen to form the pharmaceutical company of Allen and Howard. Howard operated the partnership's factory built on the marshes at Plaistow, to the east of London. The partnership was dissolved in 1807 and Howard moved his operations to Stratford East London. This factory soon became the successful industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals company later, 1856, known as Howards and Sons.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1821.[4] He spent the years 1824 to 1852 in Ackworth, Yorkshire.

He died in Tottenham, London. He had married Mariabella Eliott (1769–1852); they had several children including John Eliot Howard, FRS, chemist and botanist.

Scientific work[edit]

English Heritage Blue plaque – 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham, London

Luke Howard has been called "the father of meteorology" because of his comprehensive recordings of weather in the London area from 1801 to 1841 and his writings, which transformed the science of meteorology.[5] Howard had an earlier interest in botany, presenting a paper 'Account of a Microscopical Investigation of several Species of Pollen, ...' that was published in the Linnean Society's Transactions for 1802,[6] but wrote to Goethe that his passion was for meteorology.[7] In his late twenties, he wrote the Essay on the Modification of Clouds, which was published in 1803.[8] He named the three principal categories of clouds – cumulus, stratus, and cirrus, as well as a series of intermediate and compound modifications, such as cirrostratus and cirrocumulus, in order to accommodate the transitions occurring between the forms. He identified the importance of clouds in meteorology:

Clouds are subject to certain distinct modifications, produced by the general causes which affect all the variations of the atmosphere; they are commonly as good visible indicators of the operation of these causes, as is the countenance of the state of a person's mind or body.[9]

Howard was not the first to attempt a classification of clouds—Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) had earlier proposed a list of descriptive terms in French—but the success of Howard's system was due to his use of universal Latin, as well as to his emphasis on the mutability of clouds. By applying Linnean principles of natural history classification to phenomena as short-lived as clouds, Howard arrived at an elegant solution to the problem of naming transitional forms in nature.

In addition to his seminal work on clouds, Howard contributed numerous papers on other meteorological topics, although with less success. He was also a pioneer in urban climate studies, publishing The Climate of London in 1818–20, which contained continuous daily observations of wind direction, atmospheric pressure, maximum temperature, and rainfall;[10] it also demolished James Hutton's theory of rain, though without suggesting a definitive alternative.[11] In it, he was first to note the heat island effect, showing that temperatures in London, compared to those simultaneously measured in the surrounding countryside, were 3.7 °F (2.1 °C) warmer at night, and cooler during the day, and to attribute the concentration of smog (which he called 'city fog') to this phenomenon.[12] For Rees's Cyclopædia he contributed articles on meteorology, but the titles are not known.


Howard's cloud classification had a major influence on the arts as well as on science. His classification of clouds was later adopted by Ralph Abercromby and Hugo Hildebrand Hildebrandsson, who developed and popularised the system laid out by Howard.[13] Abercromby noted in a paper on the naming of clouds that to the Quaker Howard "any name connected with heathen mythology was specially distasteful".[14] Howard corresponded with Goethe, who wrote a series of poems in gratitude to him, including the lines:

But Howard gives us with his clear mind
The gain of lessons new to all mankind;
That which no hand can reach, no hand can clasp
He first has gained, first held with mental grasp.[11]

Howard also inspired Shelley's poem "The Cloud" and informed John Constable's paintings and studies of skies[15] and the writings and art of John Ruskin, who used Howard's cloud classification in his criticisms of landscape paintings in Modern Painters.[16]

Howard appears in a novel by French writer Stéphane Audeguy titled, La théorie des nuages, winner of the 2005 Prix de l'Académie. Published in the US by Harcourt in 2007 as The Theory of Clouds.[17]

An English Heritage blue plaque[18] dedicated to Howard at 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham (the house in which he died, aged 91), states simply his fame as "Namer of Clouds". Howard was actively involved in the development of a Tottenham religious meeting house with his son, John Eliot Howard. Originally known as Brook Street Meeting House, it is now the Brook Street Chapel found on Tottenham High Road.

Whilst Howard's factory was located in Plaistow, he resided at The River House, 3, Blaker Road, Stratford. Howard's observations of the changing skyscape as he travelled between his home and factory facilitated his recording and categorization of clouds and his other observations of nature. Town Planning consent for this property's redevelopment was submitted in 2015. [19]

His daughter Rachel founded a school in Ackworth, West Yorkshire, which also contains a Plymouth Brethren burial ground.

In 2018 Tottenham Hotspur FC club, located nearby to his house in Bruce Grove, named viewing areas in honour of his cloud names at the top of its east and west stands of its new stadium. These, with panoramic views of the pitch and across London, were named 'Stratus East' and 'Stratus West' in recognition of Howard's classifications of cloud formations.


  1. ^ "Luke Howard, English chemist and meteoroligist, early 19th century". Retrieved 23 September 2008.
  2. ^ Hamblyn, Richard (28 February 2011). The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies. Pan Macmillan. p. 62. ISBN 9780330537308.
  3. ^ "Howard, Luke (1772–1864), manufacturing chemist and meteorologist | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13928, retrieved 28 September 2018
  4. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  5. ^ Thornes, John. E., John Constable's Skies, The University of Birmingham Press, 1999, ISBN 1-902459-02-4, page 189.
  6. ^ "Account of a microscopical investigation of several species of pollen, with remarks and questions on the structure and use of that part of vegetables" Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. Volume 6
  7. ^ Hodgkin, Thomas (1891). "Howard, Luke (1772-1864)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 28. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  8. ^ Thornes 1999: 189.
  9. ^ Thornes 1999: 36.
  10. ^ Thornes 1999: 203.
  11. ^ a b Thornes 1999: 190.
  12. ^ Landsberg, Helmut Erich (1981). The urban climate. Academic Press, New York, p.3.
  13. ^ telegraphic codes and message practice, 1870–1945: telegraphy in meteorology citing Richard Hamblyn's The Invention of Clouds : How an amateur meteorologist forged the language of the skies (New York 2001)
  14. ^ Abercromby, Ralph (1888). Cloud-Land in Folk-Lore and in Science. 6. The Folk-Lore Journal. p. 96.
  15. ^ Thornes 1999: 52.
  16. ^ Thornes 1999: 187.
  17. ^ Adudeguy, S, The Theory of Clouds, Harcourt Books 2007, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 July 2008. Retrieved 4 July 2008.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Plaque #190 on Open Plaques.
  19. ^ "Web APAS". Retrieved 4 June 2018.


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