The historical surface temperature data set HadCRUT provides a record of surface temperature trends and variability since 1850. A new version of this data set, HadCRUT3, has been produced, benefiting from recent improvements to the sea surface temperature data set which forms its marine component, and from improvements to the station records which provide the land data. A comprehensive set of uncertainty estimates has been derived to accompany the data: Estimates of measurement and sampling error, temperature bias effects, and the effect of limited observational coverage on large-scale averages have all been made. Since the mid twentieth century the uncertainties in global and hemispheric mean temperatures are small, and the temperature increase greatly exceeds its uncertainty. In earlier periods the uncertainties are larger, but the temperature increase over the twentieth century is still significantly larger than its uncertainty.