The Laki eruption occurred on the 8th June 1783 and lasted for eight months. It had profound effects on the population of Europe, its effect on Langham can be clearly seen from the Parish Record data. 1783/4 has been recognised as a mortality “crisis year” in the population history of England. The summer (July) of 1783 was very hot and the following winter (January) was exceptionally cold. It is considered that these natural events may have contributed to the higher than normal mortality rate at this time. However, it has been suggested that the extremes in the weather, particularly the hot summer, where by themselves insufficient to account for the increased mortality. It is believed that a portion of the increase mortality that occurred in August/September 1783 was a result of the haze (toxic gases) from the eruption that extended over Europe and eastern England. The 1780/88 burial records for Langham are in part illegible and burials can not be subdivided into monthly rates for the key years 1783/4. Nevertheless, it is evident from those that can be read that each burial is reported on a separate line of text. On the basis of this assumption the number of burials has been assessed by counting the number of lines of text entered against each year. This gave the following statistics:
For the years to either side of 1783 and 1784, the annual number of burials was relatively consistent in the mid to high teens. However, the number of burials recorded for 1783, the year of the eruption, and 1784 are significantly differed from those reported in the preceding and following years. A closer look at the records for 1783 shows that 7 burials where recorded up to the 11 June. On a pro-rata basis this equates to about 15 burials over the full year, which is consistent with the annual number of burials during the years to either side of 1783 and 1784. The remaining 19 burials reported for 1783 occurred in the half year following 11 June. The 9 burials reported for 1784 was the lowest annual number for the period 1780 to 1788. However, taken together with the 26 burials in 1783, the average annual number of burials for the two years is 17.5. This is again consistent with the annual number of burials during the years to either side of 1783 and 1784. These observations lead to the following conclusions: 1783 was a mortality “crisis year” for the population of Langham, which may in part be associated with the Laki eruption. The reduced mortality rate in 1784 could be interpreted as indicating that the eruption and hot summer did not cause any additional deaths in the Langham population but it did result in the early death of those members of the population that would otherwise have died within the following 6 to 18 months. LAKI was a non-explosive volcano and as a result of its eruption July 1783 was the hottest on record, June and August were also extra warm. The winter of 1783/4 was exceptionally severe. This is the normal non-explosive pattern. The eruption of an explosive volcano results in a warm winter followed by a cool summer.
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 1780 1781 1782 1783 1784 1785 1786 1787 1788 Deaths 17 20 14 26 9 16 15 12 15 Actual deaths recorded in the Langham parish registers
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Laki Eruption 1783/84
Langham Village History Group