How the hottest day ever in the UK felt

The swimming ponds of Hampstead Heath in north London are attracting city dwellers on Tuesday during Britain's historic heat wave.  (James Forde for The Washington Post)
The swimming ponds of Hampstead Heath in north London are attracting city dwellers on Tuesday during Britain’s historic heat wave. (James Forde for The Washington Post)


LONDON – On Britain’s hottest day on record, with temperatures reaching over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, we found Earthlings huddled next to the refrigerated section at the Marks & Spencer supermarket at Marylebone train station.

“I’ve been standing here for about 10 minutes,” said Andy Martin, 28, a video engineer. “Do not tell anyone.”

This is not normal here. This kind of heat. This heat wave.

The Meteorological Bureau, the country’s weather service, reported that in any case: 34 locations in Britain exceeded the previous high temperature, with a wide swath of southeastern and central England exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. That’s a hellish 104 Fahrenheit.

A fire spread in Dagenham, east London, when temperatures rose above 40 degrees Celsius or 104 Fahrenheit on July 19. (Video: Storyful)

Britain was not made for this. The country’s houses and shops, train stations and subway cars, the schools and offices – very, very few of them have air conditioning.

Has it ever, in human history, been this hot in the British Isles? Maybe not.

There was a kind of trembling, an anxious feeling in the capital on this signal day. It was windy, but that dry sirocco-like wind, common in the Mediterranean, in Sicily and not in Southhampton, with the summer leaves crackling and people stumbling from one patch of shade to another, while paramedics peeled off of sunstroke victims off the sidewalks.

Stepping into some of Britain’s hottest houses on the hottest day was like entering steam rooms.

When reporters from The Washington Post entered some flats of Chalcots Estate, a public housing project in central north London, they were faced with a thick fog of heat.

“Can you feel it? It’s so hot,” said Mandy Ryan, who works as a representative for the residents’ association.

She walked into her living room and pointed to a ceiling fan, the blades of which were spinning slowly, and accused the device of being useless.

“That doesn’t do anything,” she said.

Like many residents of the high-rise building just north of Regents Park, she has spectacular views of the London skyline.

Visualizing Europe’s heat wave with melting popsicles

She also has a nice collection of cuckoo clocks and ceramic dog decorations. But in her house on Tuesday, the most striking thing was the soft air.

Bonnie, her Labradoodle, was panting heavily at her feet.

“We’re not having a leg of lamb tonight,” she joked, nodding at her unused oven.

John Szymanska, a handyman originally from Poland, was plastering and painting a flat in Hampstead in north London.

“It’s a misery,” he said, soaked with sweat. “But what can you do?” he asked. “It’s getting warmer everywhere.”

Why this European heat wave is so terrifying

Unlike some immigrants, who may say they find the English weak in this heat, Szymanska expressed sympathy. “I sympathize with them. They’re not used to that.”

Back at Chalcots Estate, Paul Rafis, 38, a butcher and hip-hop artist, was having a hard time.

His sofa bed was covered in fur. He explained that his dog, Wise, sheds a lot. Not that Rafis sleeps much.

“When it’s hot, you’ll have trouble in these blocks,” he said.

In his 15th-floor studio, Rafis feared his refrigerator might catch fire – so he turned it off for four hours and shoved the food into his freezer.

Some experts have said the fire that engulfed nearby Grenfell Tower in 2017, killing 72 people, may have been caused by overheated wiring in a fridge-freezer.

“Nothing in the house is used to this weather,” Rafis said, tapping his refrigerator, which was warm to the touch quickly after plugging it back in.

Europe hisses in record heat wave as thousands of wildfires flee

The London Underground, the Tube, can be notoriously hot – and no line has a worse reputation than the Bakerloo.

“Anyone who enjoys paddling on rivers of molten lava should head to the Bakerloo line, where they will feel very much at home,” Labor Party legislator Karen Buck tweeted.

With some trepidation we entered Charing Cross station. There were industrial-sized fans that forced air into the narrow passages, but like a cave deep underground, there were pockets of cool air on the platforms.

Inside the carriages it was quite ripe.

For Angel Rodriquez, a kitchen worker of Spanish descent on his way to his afternoon prep shift, the ride wasn’t as bad as he’d imagined.

However, he was not philosophical. “This is all of us,” he noted, saying that climate change would only intensify and make things worse. He nodded as he recalled the headlines from home, where massive wildfires have devastated parts of Spain.

Spain devastated by wildfires amid record-breaking heatwave

The streets of London were not empty, but they were certainly quiet, with the city windows shrouded in curtains to block out the sun. The royal parks and their long lawns were mostly empty, with only a few hardened souls spreading blankets in the shade of trees.

At the Lido, a public swimming pool on Parliament Hill, there was a long line of people waiting to enter. Children splashed happily in the water while lifeguards blew their whistles.

Back on Chalcots Estate, the playgrounds were childless. Authorities had even urged healthy youths and their parents to stay indoors.

Some residents told The Post they had installed air conditioning – only 3 percent of UK homes have it – or bought simple fans. However, most simply drank cold liquids and avoided the sun.

A few, albeit a minority, said they embraced the heat.

“I sweat, but I love it,” Chantal Peters, 43 and mother of six, radiated.

She said things felt even worse two years ago when temperatures soared during a pandemic lockdown. “It was 34C, we were locked in. Now That was hot. That was disgusting.”

Sean Walsh, who works in sales, was visiting his 71-year-old mother who lives in a top-floor flat. His daughter got a day off from school because of the heat.

He called it “cruel” again.

“It’s uncomfortable and hot, and this country is not made for this heat,” he said. “The environment changes and people forget that. All this concrete, in every major city, is a heat sink. You’d be blind Freddy if you didn’t read the research and see that this is going ahead and that we need to adapt. ”

Especially in tall buildings, which radiate heat. “It multiplies,” Walsh said.