Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Did you know...

...John “Longitude” Harrison is buried in the graveyard of Saint-John-at-Hampstead?

“The most distinguished non-Hampstead person to be buried here in the 1770s was John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer, and popularly known as ‘the Man who discovered Longitude’.  Harrison, who died in 1776, lived long in Red Lion Square, but no adjacent churchyard was evidently available to accommodate him.  Extended researches in 1976, at the time of his bicentenary celebrations, revealed nothing to connect him with Hampstead, so he or his family must have chosen his final resting place at random, though obviously affected by the charm of this particular churchyard.”

(Extracted with thanks from Buried in Hampstead by the Camden History Society.  Reported by Christopher Wade & photographed by Terence Nunn.  Camden History Society 1986)

Picture courtesy London Borough of Camden

John Harrison 1693-1776

Picture NMM

“John Harrison... has a Portland chest tomb, decorated with piliasters and rosettes in Adam style.  The lengthy inscriptions are on marble plaques on the sides.  According to further inscriptions the tomb was ‘reconstructed at the expense of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers of the City of London 1879: William Parker, Master.  Renewed and railings removed 1934’ “


Click here for Plan of Graveyard

“In Memory Of MR. JOHN HARRISON, late of Red-Lion Square, London.

       Inventor of the TIME-KEEPER for ascertaining the LONGITUDE at Sea.  He was born at Foulby, in the County of York, and was the Son of a Builder at that Place, who brought him up to the same Profession.

       Before he attained the Age of 21, He without any Instruction, employed himself in cleaning & repairing Clocks & Watches & made a few of the former, chiefly of Wood. At the Age of 25 He employed his Whole Time in Chronometrical Improvements.  He was the Inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and the Method of preventing the Effect of Heat and Cold upon Time keepers by Two Bars of different Metals fixed together*.  He introduced the Secondary Spring to keep them going while winding up; and was the Inventor of most (or all) of the Improvements in Clocks & Watches during his Time.

       In the Year 1735, his first Time keeper was sent to Lisbon, and in 1764 his then much Improved fourth Time keeper having been sent to Barbadoes, the Commissioners of Longitude certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time.

       After near fifty years close Application to the above Pursuits, he departed this Life on the 24th Day of March 1776, Aged 83.


MRS. ELIZABETH HARRISON, Wife of the above MR. JOHN HARRISON departed this Life March 5th 1777, Aged 72”


* now called the bi-metallic strip

South Side: “And to his Son, WILLIAM HARRISON, FRS, born 1728 at Barrow-on-Humber, died 1815.  He was the custodian of his father’s prize-winning watch H4 during the vital official trials at sea to Jamaica in 1761, and to Barbados in 1764.  He also actively helped his father in the long and difficult negotiations with the Board of Longitude and Parliament when claiming the £20,000 prize.  For many years he was a Prominent Governor of the Foundling Hospital, teaching music to the children, and was appointed High Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1791.”

Harrison’s first four marine time-keepers are, of course, beautifully displayed at the ROG.  ( See the ROG’s on-line Harrison exhibit here)  The story of Harrison and the search for Longitude is superbly told by Dava Sobel in Longitude published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate Limited and Penguin Books