Britain was sweltering on Thursday in its first prolonged heatwave in seven years after experiencing its hottest day of the year on Wednesday at 32.2°Celsius in southwest London.

The hottest temperature ever recorded in the country was the 38.5°C reached in Faversham, southeast of London, in 2003.

The Met Office put the southwest of England and the west Midlands on the level 3 — one grade below the “national emergency” top level — joining London and the wider southeast on heatwave alert. “This stage requires social and healthcare services to target specific actions at high-risk groups,” it said.

Research conducted for The Times newspaper by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the death toll for the first nine days of the current hot spell at between 540 and 760 people.

Public Health England (PHE) warned that pregnant women may experience discomfort.

At Reading Crown Court, west of London, where the metal roof contributed to temperatures of 30°C, judge Peter Ross ditched his robes and wig and sat in judgement in a linen jacket instead, The Times said. — AFP