‘When’s a Gale a Gale?’ Understanding Wind as an Energetic Force in Mid-Twentieth Century Britain

Marianna R Dudley*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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After the Second World War, the British state became interested in the potential of wind as an energy source. Over a period of twenty years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, scientific and non-scientific communities surveyed airspaces and landscapes to produce the first national wind survey of Britain. This work informed the development and siting of the first wind turbine connected to public electricity supply, in Orkney, Scotland, in 1951. Meteorologists, physicists, and engineers developed ways of “reading” the wind that used highly localized geographies and topographies, and the skills of local people, to accrue data and map the wind regime. Though conducted at a national scale, the research emphasized that the nature of wind—how it behaved, how it was experienced, and how it could be harnessed—was best understood at a local scale. While science focused on wind’s productive potential, Orkney islanders remained attentive to wind’s destructive powers and used turbine-generated wind data to support place-based identities forged, in part, through weather experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671–695
Number of pages25
JournalEnvironmental History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society.

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Environmental Humanities


  • Environmental History
  • Modern British History
  • Renewable energy
  • Science and Technology
  • Meteorology
  • Historical Geography


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