This month, to coincide with the anniversary of his birth 372 years-ago, RH History Uncovered looks back on the life of astronomer John Flamsteed who lived in Burstow. During a long and distinguished career, Flamsteed’s achievements include the first recorded observations of Uranus, star cataloguing, and he was also responsible for laying the foundation stone of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
Astronomer John Flamsteed was born in Derbyshire in 1646, he was educated at Derby School before he progressed to Jesus College, Cambridge, recommended by the Master of Derby School. However, despite entering his name as an undergraduate at Jesus College he did not take up full-residence and was only at the university two months, but during this time he heard Isaac Newton’s Lucasian Lectures.
Flamsteed would go on to be ordained as a deacon, he planned to follow this career path before he was invited to London by Jonas Moore, Surveyor-General of the Ordnance. Arriving in London in February 1675, he stayed with Jonas Moore at the Tower of London. Flamsteed was appointed as an assistant to the Royal Commission, supplying observations and commenting proposals for a royal observatory.
It was argued that King Charles II should consider establishing an observatory and appointing an observer to better map the stars and the motions of the moon to underpin the successful development of the lunar-distance method of finding longitude. In March 1675, Flamsteed was appointed by royal warrant, the king’s astronomical observator and
he was given an annual allowance of £100-a-year.
In June 1675, another royal warrant provided for the founding of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, with Flamsteed given the honour of laying the foundation stone. He would go on to live at the observatory until 1684 when he moved to Burstow following his appointment as rector in the village and he would go on to hold that role alongside that of astronomer royal until his death on New Years Eve, 1719.
Flamsteed is buried beneath the chancel at St Bartholomew Church in Burstow, with the east window of the Grade I listed church dedicated in his memorial. Flamsteed’s science legacy lives on to this day his achievements include him accurately calculating the solar eclipses of 1666 and 20 years later, in 1668, he was also responsible for the first-recorded sighting of Uranus by an astronomer in 1690.
By Jacob White