The burial place of George Airy the seventh Astronomer Royal


Dates in office: 1835–1881

Born: 1801, July 27 (Alnwick)

Died: 1892, January 2 (The White House, Greenwich)

Buried at: St Marys, Church Lane, Playford, Suffolk, IP6 9DS
Date interred: 1893, January 7

Tomb location: In churchyard, immediately to the south of the chancel in a railed off enclosure. Headstone and footstone shared with wife Richarda

Memorial plaques etc: Marble plaque with bust of Airy on north wall of nave. A virtually identical Marble plaque with bust is mounted on the south wall of the tower near the entrance to St Alphege's, Greenwich
Church website: https://www.achurchnearyou.com/playford-st-mary

Playford village website:
http://www.playford.org.uk
Autobiography: Autobiography of George Biddell Airy, edited by Wilfred Airy. Cambridge University Press (1896)

 

George Airy. Woodburytype by Lock & Whitfield. From Men of Mark, Volume 2, London (1877)

Born in Alnwick, Northumberland, in 1801, George Airy moved with his parents first to Hereford and then to Colchester in Essex (on 5 April 1810) on account of his father’s job as a collector of excise. From around the winter of 1812–13, he spent time each year at Playford (a village about 20 miles away as the crow flies) with his uncle Arthur Biddell who was a prosperous farmer and valuer.

He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1819, graduating in 1823 as senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman. Elected a fellow of his college in October 1824, he became Lucasian Professor of mathematics in 1826. His father died in 1827 and in 1828 he succeeded Robert Woodhouse as Plumian Professor of astronomy and Director of the newly established Cambridge University Observatory where he moved with his mother and sister. When in 1830 Airy married his wife Richarda Smith, his mother and sister moved to Playford. Appointed Astronomer Royal in 1835, he moved to Greenwich where he lived for the rest of his life.

In about 1843, Airy bought a small cottage close to the church in Playford and from 1846 normally stayed there once or twice a year. His wife Richarda died in 1875 and was buried in the churchyard at Playford alongside three of her children who had predeceased her (Arthur and George both of whom died in 1839 and Elizabeth, who died in 1852).

Following his retirement in 1881, Airy moved to the White House, a large house on Crooms Hill on the edge of Greenwich Park from where he was able to see the Observatory. It was there that he died on 2 January 1893. He was interred with his wife at Playford on 7 January and shares a headstone with her.

A marble plaque with a bust of him was subsequently erected as a memorial on the north wall of nave of the Church, a similar one being erected at St Alphage’s in Greenwich at the same time. Both were carved by FJ Williamson of Esher. The church contains several other memorials including ones to his wife, and some of his children and grandchildren while the family plot in the churchyard also contains the grave of Cristobel who died at the White House in 1917.

In 1813 or 1814 the farm of Playford Hall was rented by Thomas Clarkson, the slave-trade abolitionist with whom Airy began a lifelong acquaintance through his uncle. Clarkson lived for around thirty years at Playford Hall, and died there in 1846. He is, interred at Playford with his wife, son, and grandson. Following his death, Airy and several friends erected the granite obelisk to his memory in the churchyard in 1858.

Airy's cottage with Playford Church in the background. 23 February 2011

The entrance to the church. Airy's gravestone is bounded by the railings close to the chancel (on the right). 23 February 2011

The railings enclose the graves of several members of Airy's family as well as Airy himself. The headstone on the left marks the joint grave of Airy and his wife Richarda. 23 February 2011

A closer view of the Airy family graves. Airy's is on the right. 23 February 2011

Airy's gravestone has inscriptions dedicated to both him and his wife. Image courtesy of John Cooper, 23 February 2011

Airy's footstone. 23 February 2011

The memorial to Airy inside the church. 23 February 2011

The memorial to Airy in Playford Church. 23 February 2011

The virtually identical memorial in St Alphage's, Greenwich. 2 November 2010