The Original Westminster Palace, with Westminster Abbey in the background
This was not the same complex of buildings that today holds Britain’s Houses of Parliament. Edward the Confessor built a palace on the site (then known as Thorney Island) at the same time as commissioning Westminster Abbey. The Palace was at various times the primary royal residence until Henry VIII moved to the Palace of Whitehall, establishing the Parliament at Westminster. Most of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1834, with only the Hall, the Jewel Tower, the cloisters and the crypt of St Stephen’s chapel surviving.
Edmond Halley (1656-1742) was the English astronomer who gave his name to Halley’s Comet. He was a captain in the Royal Navy, and designed a diving bell. He demonstrated the link between barometric pressure and altitude, and contributed to the development of actuarial science.
Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was an English physicist and the author of The Principia, the basis of classical mechanics, including his theory of gravity and the laws of motion. He is considered among the most important scientists of all time.
The Astronomer Royal is a member of the Royal Household; the position was first created to address the Longitude challenge. The Royal Society was also established under the reign of Charles II, 15 years before, and is the oldest existing scientific society in the world. Interestingly, both these positions are currently held by the same man, Professor Martin Rees.
The First Lord of the Admiralty, a civilian (usually a courtier) rather than a practising naval officer, headed a board of Lords Commissioners who together occupied the office of Lord High Admiral; the position, twice held by Winston Churchill, was abolished in 1964 (the office of Lord High Admiral is now held by the monarch). The First Commissioner was the professional head of the Navy, more recently known as the First Sea Lord.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the “First Commoner of the Land”, is the impartial presiding officer, responsible for selecting who will speak and maintaining order during debates.
The Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge was also established under Charles II, and has been held by Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. The Savilian Chair at Oxford and the Plumian Chair at Cambridge are in fact for Astronomy.
The term “chronometer” is still used to denote a clock on board a boat. Away from the sea, the word denotes particularly accurate clocks, and in Switzerland only those watches that meet a particular high standard may be labelled “Chronometer”. Thus a made-up fancy word for a clock has come to have either maritime or precision connotations – or both.
Flamsteed himself sent the Royal Society
the star records under strong pressure from Newton and Halley, on condition that they publish only his accompanying observations, not the catalogue itself.
Newton presumably felt justified in betraying Flamsteed’s trust, if the catalogue could help save lives at sea.
After the event, the injured Flamsteed
wrote to Abraham Sharp:
I have had another contest with the President (
Sir Isaac Newton)
of the Royal Society, who had formed a plot to make my instruments theirs…
I complained then of my catalogue being printed by Raymer, without my knowledge, and that I was robbed of the fruit of my labours. At this he fired, and called me all the ill names, puppy, etc., that he could think of. All I returned was, I put him in mind of his passion, desired him to govern it, and keep his temper: this made him rage worse, and he told me how much I had received from the Government in thirty-six years I had served. I asked what he had done for the 500
per annum that he had received ever since he had settled in London.
This made him calmer; but finding him going to burst out again, I only told him my catalogue, half finished, was delivered into his hands, on his own request, sealed up. He could not deny it, but said Dr Arbuthnot had procured the Queen's order for opening it. This, I am persuaded, was false; or it was got after it had been opened.
Now owned by the National Trust and open to the public, Nostell Priory was built by Sir Rowland Winn on the site of a medieval priory near Wakefield. The house contains one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture in the world. The grounds consist of 121 hectares of parkland, complete with a lake.
Also known as Viola da Gamba, the viol was a very popular stringed instrument of the Baroque and Renaissance periods. It comes in various sizes, and the larger instruments are played like a cello, resting on the floor. Unlike the violin family, it is strung with gut to produce a softer tone, and tuned in fourths like a modern guitar.
A blind mathematician and scientist, Nicholas Saunderson had an unusual academic career. Denied admission to Cambridge University, he was nevertheless permitted to teach there by William Whiston, whom he then succeeded as Lucasian professor. Ironically for a blind man, he lectured on optics. He invented a type of abacus on which he could perform complex calculations by touch alone. He avoided the Church, so that Edmund Halley was quoted as saying: "Whiston was dismissed for having too much religion, and Saunderson preferred for having none."
The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a City of London Livery Company, is the oldest surviving horological institution in the world. Theoretically, no one could make or sell clocks in the City unless they were a freeman of the Company. The Company awards the Harrison Gold Medal for exceptional achievement in Horology. The museum at the Guildhall Library (Aldermanbury, London EC2) was refurbished in 2002 and is free to visit.
The peculiarities of solar time include variable day lengths and a day that begins at noon. Solar time is purely local, as it varies continuously by longitude unlike our modern system of discrete time zones.
The city of Kingston upon Hull lies on the little River Hull where it meets the much larger Humber estuary. An old market town and fishing/whaling centre, its port grew rich on the trade of Yorkshire. Today it is the main import point for timber into the UK.
Lignum Vitae Sole of a Wood Plane - Credit: Disputantum, Wikipedia
Also known as Guayacan, lignum vitae literally means “wood of life” in Latin, a name that derived from its supposed medicinal uses in treating afflictions such as arthritis. It is a hard and durable wood once prized for any structure requiring particular strength. Due to its weight, it was used for cricket bails, croquet mallets, pestles and police truncheons. All species of the genus Guaiacum are now listed as endangered by CITES.
Longcase, or “grandfather”, clocks were more accurate than contemporary equivalents because the longer pendulums had a slower beat (usually one per second) which caused less friction and required less power. Such clocks only became technically possible with an innovation called the anchor escapement mechanism, around 1670. Earlier pendulums swung to angles of up to 100º, which was too wide for a long pendulum to be accommodated within a case. The new mechanism reduced that angle to 5º, easily fitting within the clock case.
The grasshopper is an enhancement of the conventional anchor escapement. It is distinguished by the hinged arms which mean that one is released from the clock’s gears only by the engagement of the other, ensuring an absolutely regularity of pulse. The very small movements involved resulted in far less wear, and the escapement needed no lubrication. Despite its advantages the grasshopper escapement had a number of limitations which prevented it from being widely adopted. Harrison himself did not use the name “grasshopper”, which only appeared in the late 19 th century.
In 1697, Peter sent a diplomatic mission – the Grand Embassy – to Western Europe, which he led incognito under the assumed name of Peter Mikhailov. The mission spent three months in Britain, during which time Peter met the sociable Halley. It is said that the two men got riotously drunk before taking to the wheelbarrow and assaulting an unlucky hedge.