Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis and the etchings of Francis Place –  a comparative study

 

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Jonas Moore after an unknown artist. Line engraving, published 1660. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence (see below)

The foundation stone of the Royal Observatory was laid on 10 August 1675 and in July 1676, the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, took up residence. Around that time, or soon after, Robert Thacker, an employee of the Board of Ordnance, was commissioned to make a series of drawings of the Observatory and its instruments.

Although the drawings are now thought lost, contemporary etchings made from them by Francis Place survive in small numbers. In the preface to the 1725 edition of his Historia Coelestis (Vol 3, p.102), Flamsteed records that the etchings were prepared at the expense of Sir Jonas Moore and ‘kindly bestowed’ on him. Moore, who died in 1679, was Surveyor General of the Ordnance, a fellow of the Royal Society and one of the chief instigators for Flamsteed’s appointment as Astronomer Royal. Having already given Flamsteed a micrometer by Towneley in 1670, Moore commissioned and personally paid for the all the new instruments constructed for use at Greenwich. Donated to Flamsteed personally, rather than to the Observatory, they included a 10-foot Mural Quadrant, a 7-foot Equatorial Sextant and clocks by Thomas Thompion, all of which appear in the etchings.

Of the twelve known etchings, only one (the Title Plate) bears the names of Thacker and Place. None are dated. Together, they form a hugely important visual record not only of the Observatory in its earliest days, but also of Greenwich Park following its relandscaping in the 1660s. None of the printing plates are known to survive and most of the etchings survive only in very small numbers.

Five of the plates are annotated with letters for use with a key, suggesting that they were originally prepared, at least in part, to illustrate the results of Flamsteed’s work in some future volume or to send to other astronomers with whom he was corresponding. Interestingly, Flamsteed did not specifially mention them in his ‘An estimate of the number of folio pages that the Historia Britannica Coelestis, may contain when printed’ which he prepared in 1704 (an annotated printed copy is pasted into the Royal Society’s copy of the 1712 Historia). This may however have been because he intended to include them as part of the preface whose size he was unable to estimate at that time. As things turned out, none of the etchings were included in the Historia published in 1712 under the revised title of Historiae Coelestis Libri Duo and only one, (Plate 11 in the list below) was included in his Historia(e) Coelestis Britannica which was published posthumously in three volumes in 1725.

Frontispiece to the 1712 Historia, Engraved by George Vertue after Giovanni Battista Catenaro. Disbound and trimmed (325x208mm). Portrait of Prince George of Denmark, in oval flanked by allegorical figures and supported by an eagle; in the upper part, some putti unfurling a banner bearing the title; below, at right, a bowing Neptune, at left a river god. Later inscription of 'George Prince of Denmark' at bottom centre

The story of how the Historiae Coelestis Libri Duo came to be published is complex and acrimonious and resulted in Flamsteed having a lifelong feud with both Halley and Newton after they cut him out of the production processs. Funded initially by George Prince of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, its production was funded by the Queen herself following his death in 1708. Following the death of both the Queen in 1714 and Newton’s patron, the Earl of Halifax, in 1715, Flamsteed was able to acquire 300 of the 400 copies that had been printed. After extracting, for reuse, those pages of which he approved, Flamsteed burnt the rest (which included the whole of the second volume and the catalogue of fixed stars, Stellarum Fixarum Catologus Britannicus, from the first). Writing to his former Assistant Abraham Sharp on 29 March 1716 before he did so, Flamsteed explained he was destroying them so

‘that I may hinder any more false Catalogues from going abroad of his [Halley’s] very sorry abstracts which I intend to Sacrifice to TRUTH as soone as I can get leasur saveing some few that I intend to bestow on you and such freinds as you that are herty lovers of truth that you may keep them by you as Evidences of the malice of Godless persons and of the Candor and sincerity of the freind that writes to you, and conveys them into [your] hands.’ (Flamsteed Correspondence, Vol 3, p.785 also in Baily’s An Account of John Flamsteed p.321)

Writing to Sharp on 8 May 1716, Flamsteed informed him:

‘I shall take up [to London] with me copys of the corrupte[d] Catalogue etc to be stitcht up for you and some few freinds and I hope the week after to leave one with the Carrier for you directed as you order. I Committed them to the fire about a fortninght agone If Sir I.N. would be sensible of it I have done both him and Dr Hally a great kindnesse’. (Correspondence Volume 3, p.789 and Baily p.322)

The volume, 'bound in calves leathe rough’ was sent to Sharp at the end of May, Flamsteed informing him later that

‘all the faults are marked in it with lines under them the stars that are false placed are marked in the Margent whe[n] you compare them with my own catalogue ... you may perhaps find more errors than I have noted, if you doe pray keep a list of them and let me have a copy of it in good time' (Correspondence Volume 3, p.795 and Baily p.322)

Several of these corrupted or ‘imperfect’ copies, as they were later described by Baily, still exist. Two copies are known that had nine of the twelve etchings bound into them before they were sent to their recipients. Whether they were put together in 1716 like the one for Sharp, or whether they were put together during the following decade is not known. Details of the two volumes containing the sets of etchings are given below.

Although none of the etchings were distributed via the Historia until at least 40 years after the Observatory had been founded, sets had been given away as presents by Flamsteed (and possibly Moore) starting at a date no later than January 1680. In a letter to Towneley, dated 14 January 1679/80, Flamsteed wrote ‘I have procured two setts of prospects of the Observatory for him [Towneley’s brother]’. These, as we learn from a later letter to Towneley,  dated 13 February, were destined not for Towneley’s brother, (who was living in Paris at the time), but for him to pass on to Roemer and Cassini (Flamsteed Correspondence, Volume 1, p.724 & 733). The implication from the letters is that the drawings and etched plates must have been executed at some point following the Observatory’s completion in the summer of 1676 and January 1680.

Another set was sent to Hevelius in 1682. In a letter dated 19 September, Flamsteed wrote (translation from the Latin):

‘Along with these [some calculated distances made with the sextant] I have sent you various views of the Observatory with the illustrations of the instruments which in your letter to Mr Halley you have previously asked him to procure for you: later indeed than I would have wished, because I have not had them in my control until very recently.’ (Flamsteed Correspondence, Volume 2, p.40)

This, together with the earlier letter Flamsteed sent ot Towneley, implies that possession of the printing plates was retained first by Moore (who died intestate) and then his son (also called Jonas) who died in 1682. It seems at this point the printing plates, passed into Flamsteed’s hands.

On the same day that Flamsteed wrote to Helvelius, he also wrote to Johann Zimmerman (also in Latin) enclosing a ‘picture’ of the sextant ‘together with several views of the Observatory’ (Flamsteed Correspondence, Volume 2, p.42).  In the surviving correspondence there are relatively few references to sets of the etchings being given away by Flamsteed. Apart from the four sets mentioned above, the only other reference comes in a letter sent to Flamsteed dated 22 December 1685 (Flamsteed Correspondence, Volume 2, p.268).

Nowhere in the published Correspondence is there any indication of the number of images Flamsteed sent on each occasion. The wording used at different times does howevers suggest that different recipients received different selections.

 

List of plates

The etchings do not themselves carry any form of numbering. For convenience, the plate numbers used here are the same as those used by Derek Howse in his 1975 book, Francis Place and the Early History of the Greenwich Observatory. A similar arrangement was used by both the British Museum and the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives when cataloguing the etchings in their collections. Plates 10, 11 and 12 each contain two different images which Howse labelled (a) and (b).

No.
Title
Translation
1 Vivarium Grenovicianum ...
Greenwich Park
2        [none given]
[Map of Greenwich Park]
3 Ichnographia Speculae Regiae ...
Plan of the Royal Observatory Greenwich
4 Prospectus versus Londinium Prospect towards London
5 Prospectus Septentrionalis
North prospect
6 Facies Speculae Septen
North face of the Observatory
7 Prospectus Orientalis
East Prospect [from the Observatory]
8 Prospectus Australis
South Prospect [from the Observatory]
9 Prospectus intra Cameram Stellatam
Prospect within the Star Chamber [Octagon Room]
10
a Domus Obscurata ...
Darkened House [Summerhouse interior]

b Quadrans Muralis Merid: ... Meridian mural quadrant [Hooke’s]
11 a Facies Sextantis Anterior ...
Front aspect of the sextant

b Fanis Sextantis Posterior ... Rear aspect of the sextant
12 a Petus 100 pedum ...
Well of 100 feet [Flamsteed’s Well Telescope]

b Partes Instrumentorium ... Parts of instruments

At least six organisations hold significant numbers of the etchings. They are listed below.

Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge (twelve images)
Royal Society of London (nine images)
Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives (nine images in RGO116/1 and five in RGO116/2)
Greenwich Heritage Centre (ten images of which nine are from the same source)
British Museum (eight images)
Society of Antiquaries of London (three (plus? images))

The Francis Place etchings reproduced in whole and in part on this page have been digitised from copies held in the collections of: the British Museum, Greenwich Heritage Centre, Lyon Public Library, the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives and the British Library. The digital images from the British Museum are © The Trustees of the British Museum and are reproduced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license, full details of which are given at the bottom of the page.

The dimensions given by Howse are ‘generally of the plate itself, [but] sometimes of the boarders’.

 

Vivarium Grenovicianum, Greenwich Park (Howse Plate 1)

Vivarium Grenovicianum. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.946

Dimensions: Howse: 101x440 mm (Boarders). British Museum: 112x446 mm.

The English translation of the text that follows is taken from Howse, Francis Place (1975):

‘Greenwich Park, Three miles from the city. Charles II by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, as the Patron of Astronomy built the Observatory to observe the movements of the heavens: and to enrich the beauty of the place, he planted various rows of elm and chestnut trees. Sir Jonas Moore, Fellow of the Royal Society, equipped this observatory with quadrants, sextants, clocks and other astronomical instruments. He humbly donated and dedicated this tablet to the Honourable D.D. Henry, Earl of Arlingcourt, Royal Chamberlain. Drawn by Robert Thacker, engraved by Francis Place.’ 

Although the image as reproduced both here and on the British Museum website has been clipped on the left hand edge, the etching itself is known to have margins that extend into the plate mark if not beyond.

Reproduced in:

  1. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.31.

 

Map of Greenwich Park (Howse Plate 2)

Only two copies of this etching are known. Neither can be reproduced for copyright or other reasons. One is held by the Pepys Library. The other was discovered by Howse in the collections of the Greenwich Local History Library (which was later merged with the Borough Museum to form the Greenwich Heritage Centre). In the past, there appears to have been some doubt as to whether this map was actually part of the set. The reasons for believing it to be so are set out below:

Writing to Abraham Sharp on 21 April 1721, Joseph Crossthwaite asked

‘I should be glad to know whether you had ever the map of Greenwich Park, the plan of the Observatory, with the different prospects of it, sent: if you have not, I will send them, as soon as some few alterations are made in the plate of the Park.’ (Baily p.343)

This, together with the fact that a copy is present in the Pepys set suggests not only that the map is genuinely part of the same set etched by Place, but may also explain why the scale on the map at the Greenwich Heritage Centre has been corrected (by hand) from Scale of ‘Feet’ to Scale of ‘Yards’.

Howse has pointed out that the main wording on the Title Plate is ‘Greenwich Park’, making it not unreasonable for the set to have a map showing the location of the Observatory within it. Howse also speculated that the Title Plate and the map may have been etched on the same physical plate because of their very similar widths. If they were, it might also explain why there are so few known copies of the Title Plate. It would also explain why the map itself does not have a title inscribed on it. Howse was also of the view that there is a similarity of styles between the map, the plan and the views. There are definite similarities between the fonts used on both the map and some of those used on the Title Plate as well as with the font used Plates 10–12.

Dimensions: Howse: 523x453 mm. No information is currently available as to the degree of trimming which either of the two known copies might have undergone.

Pepys Library copy reproduced in:

  1. John Bold, Greenwich (2000), Fig.14, p.10. Uncropped? – the top third is slightly narrower than the rest
  2. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975). The wider section has been cropped to give a regular rectangular profile

Greenwich Heritage Centre copy reproduced in:

  1. D Jacques and A J van der Horst, The Gardens of William and Mary (1988), p.22. Credited as Land Use Consultants. Uncropped? – Trimmed to edge of the map

Copy of uncertain origin reproduced in:

  1. The Royal Parks, Greenwich Park Conservation Plan 2019–2019, p.39. Trimmed to the Park Boundary, which is irregular in shape. Image not credited. Download as pdf.

 

Ichnographia Speculae Regiae, Plan of the Royal Observatory Greenwich (Howse Plate 3)

Iconographia Speculae Regiae Grenovici Exquisitè facta. Reproduced by kind permission of Greenwich Heritage Centre from their 'imperfect' copy of Historiae Coelestis Libri Duo

Dimensions: Howse: 225x360 mm.

The plan shows the ground floor (left) and the upper floor (right). The basement floor is not shown. On the plan, the upper floor, the Camera Stellata (Octagon Room) is shown in a different orientation to the ground floor (it has been rotated 90 degrees in an anticlockwise direction). The Well Telescope is also shown in the wrong location. For more information on this, see Flamsteed’s Well Telescope.

Key: (A) Entrance, (B) Great stairs, (C) Small hall, (D) Astronomer Royal’s bedroom, (E) Study, (F & G) Astronomer’s rooms, (K) Stairs to Kitchen, (T) Star Chamber [Octagon Room], (Y) Covered area, (Z) Washplace, (X) Workshop, (I) Gate, (a) Small gate, (b & c) Summer houses, (H) Pump for Cistern, (S) Vegetable Garden, (O) Sextant House, (M) Meridian Quadrant House, (R) Flower Garden, (L) Large Sundial, (d & d) The Necessaries [toilets], (P) Mast 80 ft long, (Q) Tube 60 ft long, (W) Nursery [Potting Shed], (V) Position of optical tube, (T) Genoa Pan(portable heating stove). Although the Well Telescope (top right) is described on the plan as being 120 feet deep, its depth on Plate 12 is given as 100 feet.

The tablet (top centre) depicts the tablet that remains in place over the original front door to Flamsteed House ((A) on the plan). The text translates as 'Charles II, Gracious King, Greatest Patron of the Arts of Astronomy and Navigation built this observatory for the advantage of both these Arts in the year of our Lord 1676 In the 28th Year of his Reign Keeper, Jonas Moore, Knight, Surveyor General to the Ordnance

Reproduced in:

  1. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.35
  2. Philip Laurie, The Old Royal Observatory (1960), op. p.7. Reproduced in cropped form without the Camera Stellata. Click here to view.

 

Prospectus versus Londinium , Prospect towards London (Howse Plate 4)

Prospectus versus Londinium © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.947

Dimensions: Howse: 196x618 mm. British Museum: 198x610 mm. British Library: 175x599 mm (trimmed within plate mark)

Apart from the Observatory itself, the following should be noted. The Well Telescope (extreme right). The two mast telescopes, one in the garden, the other on the roof of the Octagon Room. St Alphage Church, Greenwich before it was rebuilt following its partial destruction during a storm in 1710 (centre). The building with the belvedere on top (extreme left), which was owned by a Mr Cottle and appears in several historic views.

Reproduced in:

  1. Clive Aslet, The Story of Greenwich (1999), p.118 & 190. Digitally cleaned and margins cropped
  2. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.36–37. Margins very slightly cropped
  3. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), Plate 5. Shows only the right half with the Royal Observatory
  4. Philip Laurie, The Old Royal Observatory (1960), cover illustration. Margins very slightly cropped.

 

Prospectus Septentrionalis, North Prospect (Howse Plate 5)

Prospectus Septentrionalis © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.948

Dimensions: Howse: 174x302 mm. British Museum: 172x302 mm. British Museum (Crace copy) 167x297 mm (trimmed)

The Queen’s House (extreme left) where Flamsteed resided during the construction of the Observatory is now in the care of the National Maritime Museum. Also visible are Crowley House (the first building on the banks of the Thames when coming from the right), whose construction began in 1647 and which was acquired in 1704 by Sir Ambrose Crowley. Demolished in 1855, the site was later used for a tramway depot and is now occupied by Greenwich Power Station. To its left are the buildings Trinity Hospital, which dates from 1613 and still survives. It was originally known as Norfolk College.

Reproduced in:

  1. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.41. Margins cropped
  2. Harold Spencer Jones, The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1943, 1944,1946, 1948), op, p.13. Margins cropped
  3. E.Walter Maunder, The Royal Observatory Greenwich (1900),op, p.45. Margins cropped. Click here to view.

 

Facies Speculae Septen, The north face of the Observatory (Howse Plate 6)

Facies Speculae Septen. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.949

Dimensions: Howse: 177x299 mm. British Museum: 174x301 mm

The 1660s were a hive of activity in and around Greenwich Park. In 1661, King Charles II ordered the demolition of the derelict Tudor Palace at Greenwich. John Webb was commissioned to design a new one and repair and enlarge the Queen’s House. Work started on the Queen’s House in August 1661 and on constructing the new Palace (now the Old Royal Naval College) in 1663. In 1661, work also began on re-landscaping the Park. The following year, Pepys recorded in his diary entry of 11 April:

‘At Woolwich, up and down to do the same business; and so back to Greenwich by water, and there while something is dressing for our dinner, Sir William and I walked into the Park, where the King hath planted trees and made steps in the hill up to the Castle [ruins], which is very magnificent.’

Likewise, William Schellinks recorded the arrival of the steps in his journal, recording in the entry for 25 October 1662:

‘On the hill in the park behind the [Queen’s] house two avenues of trees had been planted form the bottom to near the top of the hill, where it was too step to climb up, steps had been cut into the ground to walk up in comfort.’

The steps that both Pepys and Schellinks referred to were a series of grass terraces or ‘ascents’ which later became know as the ‘Giant Steps’. They can be seen on the left in the etching.

In May 1662, the Frenchman André Le Nôtre was asked to contribute to the designs for the Park and it was he who came up with the plan for the Parterre, which occupied the more level ground between the Queen’s House and the bottom of the Giant Steps. It was bordered on either side by banks and rows of newly planted trees, some of which can be also be seen (bottom right).

By the start of the twenty-first century, although much eroded, traces of the Giant Steps (possibly recut in the early eighteenth century) were still visible as was the outline of the Parterre; which was still demarked by rows of trees – albeit not those originally planted. In 2020, the Park secured a grant of £4,517,300 from the Heritage Lottery fund towards the cost of improving the Park and restoring some of the seventeenth century features, including the Giant Steps and aspects of the Parterre. This engraving, together with Plates 2 and 7 has been crucial in the formulation of those plans.

Reproduced in:

  1. John Bold, Greenwich (2000), Fig 15, p.10. Margins cropped
  2. Clive Aslet, The Story of Greenwich (1999), p.138. Margins cropped
  3. Francis Wilmoth, Sir Jonas Moore (1993), p181
  4. Allan Chapman, The Preface to John Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica (1982), Fig.12, p.114. Margins cropped
  5. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.43. Margins cropped
  6. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), fig 4. Margins cropped
  7. Harold Spencer Jones, The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1943, 1944,1946, 1948)
  8. Various guides to the Royal Observatory published on behalf of the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Herstmonceux. Of particular note is the guide The Royal Observatory, The Story of Astronomy & Time (c.1990), ISBN 0-948065-05-02, in which the etching is reproduced uncropped, with the whole of the plate mark visible. NMM Neg. No. 7228.

 

Prospectus Orientalis, East Prospect (Howse Plate 7)

Prospectus Orientalis. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.950

Dimensions: Howse: 218x316 mm. British Museum: 210x306 mm

In this view from the top of Flamsteed House, the Giant Steps (left), lead up to Blackheath Avenue with its recently planted double rows of trees on either side. To the right is the small building located outside the walled enclosure of the Observatory that housed Flamsteed’s Well Telescope.

Reproduced in:

  1. John Bold, Greenwich (2000), Fig.17, p.11. Margins cropped
  2. Clive Aslet, The Story of Greenwich (1999), p.113. Margins cropped
  3. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.45. Margins very slightly cropped.

 

Prospectus Australis, South Prospect (Howse Plate 8)

Prospectus Australis. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.951

Dimensions: Howse: 216x318 mm. British Museum: 215x310 mm

In this second view from the top of Flamsteed House, the thick vertical line near the centre is the mast used to support the 60-foot telescope. To its left, is the Quadrant House and to the right, the Necessary House (toilet). The figure immediately to the left of the mast is standing by a sundial.

Reproduced in:

  1. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.47.

 

Prospectus Intra Cameram Stellatam, Prospect within the Star Chamber (Howse Plate 9)

Prospectus Intra Cameram Stellatam. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.952

Dimensions: Howse: 220x302 mm. British Museum: 219x302 mm

In the early 1990s, the Cameram Stellatam (now known as the Octagon Room on account of its eight sides), was restored to give it much the same appearance as it has here. The left-hand window faces the north and the right-hand window the east. Over the years, the main alterations to the room were to the windows which were altered for Maskelyne in 1779 and again in the late 1700s when sash windows  were inserted. Of these, the North facing window was replaced by one of plate glass by Airy in the mid 1850s. The present windows, which are similar in design to the originals, were installed during renovation work in the early 1950s and originally had glass that was mainly opaque. After an outcry in the press, this was soon replaced by the clear glass that can be seen today.

Key: (A) & (B) The two year going Tompion Clocks presented to Flamsteed by Sir Jonas Moore. (C) A further clock about which little is known. (D) 3-foot moveable quadrant. (F) Stand for supporting the eye-end of a telescope tube with a screw mechanism for adjusting its height (S) Ladder for supporting the object-glass end of a telescope tube. (T) 8½-foot telescope tube. Of the various instruments and pieces of equipment, only the two Tompion Clocks still survive (though in an altered state).

The doorway in the centre, leads to the stairs down to the floor below. The portraits above the door are of King Charles II and James Duke of York (later James II).

Reproduced in:

  1. John Bold, Greenwich (2000), Fig.34, p.23. Margins cropped
  2. Clive Aslet, The Story of Greenwich (1999), p.136. Margins cropped
  3. Francis Wilmoth, Sir Jonas Moore (1993), p185
  4. Allan Chapman, The Preface to John Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica (1982), Fig.13, p.114. Margins cropped
  5. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.47. Margins cropped
  6. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), fig 2. Margins cropped
  7. Royal Greenwich Observatory official Christmas Card (1951)
  8. W. Douglas Caroe, Sir Christopher Wren and Tom Tower, Oxford (1923)
  9. E.Walter Maunder, The Royal Observatory Greenwich (1900) op, p.52. Margins cropped. Click here to view
  10. John Richard Green, A short history of the English people, Vol 3 (1894) p.1302
  11. Various guides to the Royal Observatory published on behalf of the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Herstmonceux (Margins both cropped and uncropped).

Other digitised copies of the etching:

  1. Royal Collection Trust

 

(A) Domus Obscurata ..., Darkened House. (B) Quadrans Muralis Merid: ...,  Meridian mural quadrant (Howse Plates 10a and 10b)

(A) Domus Obscurata, Ad Maculas, Eclipsesque Solares Excipiendas, Peropportuna, (B) Quadrans Muralis Merid: 10 Pedum Rad:. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 1865,0610.953

Dimensions: Howse: 200x310 mm. British Museum: 195x305 mm

The full text of the titles of the two images translates as: (Left) Darkened House, very comfortable for receiving sunspots and solar eclipses, (Right) Meridian mural quadrant: 10-foot Radius.

The left image (10a) shows the interior of the ground floor of the eastern summerhouse (labelled (b) in the plan depicted in Plate 3 above). The viewpoint is from the west. The telescope is pointing towards one of the two windows on the room’s southern wall.

Key: (A) Adjustable support for he telescope and screen. (B) 2-foot telescope for projecting the Sun’s image. (C) Screen onto which the image was projected. (D) Adjustable stand, similar in design to that in the Octagon Room in Plate 9 above.

The right image (10b) shows Hooke’s 10-foot Mural Quadrant, an instrument that proved unsuccessful and was abandoned by Flamsteed in 1677.

Key: (A) Moveable index containing crosswires. (B) Eyepiece. (C) Pivot at the centre of the circle of which the Quadrant formed a part to which the telescope was attached. (D) Subsidiary arc. The limb of the Quadrant was only marked at intervals of 5o. The purpose of the subsidiary arc, which was divided into smaller divisions was to allow smaller intervals to be measured by aligning it with the marks on the Quadrant. (E) A crank for moving (A).

A close up of the index of Hooke’s 10-foot Mural Quadrant was included in Plate 12.

Reproduced in:

  1. Francis Wilmoth, Sir Jonas Moore (1993), p189. Plate 10b only
  2. Allan Chapman, The Preface to John Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica (1982), Fig.18, p.119. Plate10b only
  3. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.51 & 53. 10a and 10b printed separately
  4. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), Fig.19 (10b only), Fig.102 (10a only).

 

Facies Sextantis, Apearance of the Sextant (Howse Plates 11a and 11 b)

(A) Facies Sextantis Anterior 7 Ped: Rad: (B) Fanis Sextantis Posterior 7 Ped: Rad:. From the copy of Volume 1 of Flamsteed's Historia Coelestis Britannica (1725) in Lyon Public Library. Digitised by Google

Dimensions: Howse: 198x309 mm. Note the irregular shape of the plate mark (bottom left).

This plate is the only one to have been included in Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica. An examination of the volumes held by different libraries and digitised by Google shows that there was no consistency as to which volume, or where exactly in the volumes the etching was inserted. It has been observed bound into both volumes one and three.

Reproduced in:

  1. Francis Wilmoth, Sir Jonas Moore (1993), p188. Plate 10a only
  2. Allan Chapman, The Preface to John Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica (1982), Fig.14, p.115
  3. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.56 & 57. Plates 10a and 10b printed separately)
  4. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), Fig.68.

 

(A) Petus 100 pedum ... , Well of 100 feet. (B) Partes Instrumentorium, Parts of instruments (Howse Plate 12)

The titles of the two images on this plate are: (A) Puteus 100 Pedum Ad Parallaxes Terrae Observandus Pr Paratus, (B) Partes Instrumentorum Pertinentium Ad Speculam Astronomicum. This translates as: (A) Well of 100 feet equipped for observing the parallaxes of the Earth, (B) Parts of the instruments pertaining to the astronomical observatory.

Only two copies of the etching are known. The first, which remains as printed, is held in the Observatory Archives at Cambridge (RGO116/1/10). The second is in the Pepys Library and is in an altered state, the two halves having been separated and then mounted by Pepys in the reverse order.

For copyright reasons, only a low resolution copy of the left side of the etching can be reproduced here. Published in Webster’s, Greenwich Park its History and Associations (1902), it was reproduced without the title (which was engraved at the bottom) and was made from the copy held at the Observatory (since catalogued as RGO116/1/10).

Dimensions: Howse: 645x159 mm.

RGO116/10 copy reproduced in:

  1. Allan Chapman, The Preface to John Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica (1982), Figs.11, 16 & 17, p.112 & 117. Showing some, but not all of Plate 12b only (the Parts of Instruments), but including the Towneley Micrometer
  2. Derek Howse, Francis Place (1975), p.60 & 61
  3. Derek Howse, Greenwich Observatory (1975), Fig.52 (Plate 12a – which for the purposes of reproduction has been divided into two halves horizontally, which have then been printed side by side), Fig.53 (part of Plate 12a – detailed view of eye end of Well Telescope), Fig.101 (part of Plate 12b  – The Towneley Micrometer)
  4. A.D. Webster, Greenwich Park its History and Associations (1902). Well telescope (Plate 12a) only.

Pepys copy reproduced in:

  1. Francis Wilmoth, Sir Jonas Moore (1993), p191.

 

Copies made before the inscriptions were added – the so called ‘proof copies’

The number of plates from which prints were made before the inscriptions were added is unknown. Copies are rare and only prints made from Plates 4 and 9 are currently known of.

Plate 4 before the inscription was added. Digitised by the British Library and released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Mark (No Known Copyright). King George III collection, British Library shelfmark: Maps K.Top.17.1-3.a.1

Link to image as released on Flickr

The National Maritime Museum has a ‘proof print’ from Plate 9 (Object ID ZBA1808)  – Prospectus Intra Cameram Stellatam (the Octagon Room), which was transferred to the Museum on the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1998. According to the 1926 Inventory (RGO39/5/271) it was acquired in June 1924 along with various other pictures including Plates 8, 10 and 11. It can be viewed on the Museum's website via the link below:

Prospectus Intra Cameram Stellatam (digitised image) on the National Maritime Museum website

The Society of Antiquaries copy also has a proof copy of Plate 9. Stamped on the front with the Society’s mark, it is reproduced in the National Maritime Museum guide book (now obsolete) titled The Old Royal Observatory, The Story of Astronomy & Time (c.1990), ISBN 0-948065-05-02 (NMM Neg. No. 8972).

 

Typographical and other errors on the plates

The following errors have been identified. Whose fault they were is a matter of speculation.

  1. Plate 2 (Map of Greenwich Park): the text reads ‘Scale of Feet’ when it should have said ‘Scale of Yards’
  2. Plate 3 (Plan): the Well Telescope is shown in the wrong location
  3. Plates 3 & 12a (Plan and Well Telescope): the well is described as being 120 feet deep on Plate 3, but 120 feet deep on Plate 12a
  4. Plate 11b (Equatrial Sextant): the inscription states ‘Fanis’ rather than ‘Facies’.

Measurements made on the object glass of the Well Telescope in 1955 indicated that its focal length was about 87 feet. (87 feet 5 inches ±0.7 inches in sodium light, 86 feet 11.2 inches at λ5270 and 87 feet 7.7 inches at λ6220). See The Observatory, Vol. 76, pp. 25–26 (1956) for more details. Additionally, measurements made with a barometer on 20 February 1679 lead Laurie (1956) to infer a depth of 130 feet.

 

Plates held in different collections

The six organisations and archives mentioned above that are known to hold significant numbers of the etchings are:

Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge (twelve images)
Royal Society of London (nine images)
Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives (nine images in RGO116/1 and RGO116/2)
Greenwich Heritage Centre (ten images)
British Museum (eight images)
Society of Antiquaries of London (three (plus?) images)

The table below shows the number of copies held in each collection and includes duplicate copies and additional copies with a different provenance which are both shown as (+1):


Plate
Pepys
RGO116/1
GHC
Royal Soc.
BM
Soc. Antiq.
RGO116/2

1 1 1 ?

2 1 (+1)

3 1 1 1 1 ? 1

4 1 1 1 1 1(+1) ?

5 1 1 1 1 1(+1) 1 1

6 1 1 1 1 1 ? 1

7 1 1 1 1 1 ? 1

8 1 1 1 1 1

9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

10 1 1 1 1 1 ?

11 1 1(+1) 1 1 ?

12 1 1 ?

Total 12 9
9 (+1)
9 8 3+ 5

 

The Pepys Library

Once owned by Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), this is the only known set of all twelve etchings. Originally mounted by Pepys as a set in an album that he entitled My collection of prints & drawings (as farr as extant and recoverable) relating to the citys of London & Westminster and their environs. Put together Anno Domini 1700, they are understood to have been disbound for conservation reasons.

When Pepys obtained the prints is not known, but he did know Moore and as Secretary to the Navy and a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was well connected with many of the other key players of the time of the Observatory’s founding. This included Lord Brouncker who was both President of the Society and a colleague on the Navy Board and who was a guest at the Observatory with Jonas Moore on 1 June 1676, when a partial solar eclipse took place and the King was expected to attend (though in the event, he didn’t).

Plates 6, 9, 10b, 11a and 12 from the Pepys Library were reproduced by Francis Wilmoth in her book Sir Jonas Moore (1993).

 

The Royal Society

The Royal Society’s collection contains nine of the twelve etchings. They are bound together under the title Ichnographia Speculae Regiae Grenovici exquisite facta curante Jona MOORE, in a larger volume of tracts (Catalogue Reference: Tracts X32/4). The title is taken from the words etched on Plate 2, the first part coming from the Plate’s title and the second (curante Jona MOORE) from the penultimate line of the inscription on the tablet included on the plate.

The collection appears under the same title and author in the 1839 catalogue (Click here to view). The earlier provenance is under investigation. It is not clear if the collection is catalogued under Moore’s name because he donated them, because he commissioned them of simply because his name appears on Plate 2.

All the etchings are folded and have been attached to the volume via a strip pasted immediately to the right of the fold. As a result, it is not possible to open them flat. Plates 3 and 4, which are larger, each have an additional fold. All have good margins beyond the plate mark except Plate 3 (Plan of the Observatory), which has been trimmed on the left and right edges into the print. This has resulted in the loss of the line surrounding the plan (but not the plan itself).

The cataloguer has counted each of the two images on Plates 10 and 11 as separate plates and recorded the number of plates as eleven rather than nine.

Low resolution watermarked copies can be viewed at the Royal Society Picture Library.


No.
Title

3 Ichnographia Speculae Regiae ...

4 Prospectus versus Londinium

5 Prospectus Septentrionalis

6 Facies Speculae Septen

7 Prospectus Orientalis

8 Prospectus Australis

9 Prospectus intra Cameram Stellatam

10a Domus Obscurata ...

10b Quadrans Muralis Merid: ...

11a Facies Sextantis Anterior ...

11b Fanis Sextantis Posterior ...

 

The British Museum

The British Museum has two sets of etchings, each of which has a different provenance. The most important set consists of eight etchings bought from Edward Daniell in 1865. They had previously been owned by John Towneley (1731–1813), who appears to be a direct heir of Richard Towneley, a friend and correspondent of Flamsteed and the man who designed the so-called Towneley micrometer mentioned above.

In 1676, while the Observatory was still under construction Flamsteed sent Towneley a letter, dated 22 January in which he had drawn a sketch plan (with accompanying key) of the Observatory (RS MS/243/19). Given that in 1680 Flamsteed informed Towneley that he had sent sets to his (Towneley’s) brother in Paris for Roemer and Cassini, it seems highly likely that Towneley himself was also an early recipient of a set. Given the rarity of the prints, it would seem likely that the British Museum set consists of some or all of those given by Flamsteed to Towneley.  

In addition to the Towneley set, the British Museum holds two further copies of the etchings (Plates 4 & 5). These were bought from John Gregory Crace in 1880. Previously owned by Frederick Crace, their earlier provenance is unknown. They can be viewed via the links below:

Plate 4, Museum Number: 1880,1113.5511
Plate 5, Museum Number: 1880,1113.5512

Click here to read more about the Towneley family.

 

The Royal Observatory Archives

The Royal Observatory owned at least three sets of etchings. Two of these are now preserved in the archives at Cambridge. Their class-marks are RGO116/1 and RGO116/2 respectively.

The first to be acquired were the nine etchings in RGO116/1, which were donated to the Observatory in 1838. Airy mentioned their arrival in his 1838 Report to the Board of Visitors:

‘Several valuable presents have been received, among which I may specify two made by one of the members of the Board of Visitors, Mr. Baily. These are, the edition of Flamsteed’s Historia Coelestis, published by Halley [The 1712 edition], and a set of engraved views of the Observatory apparently made by Flamsteed. As works of general astronomical literature these are extremely valuable, but more particularly so when considered in reference to the archaeology of the Observatory. With a view of handing down from the present time what may in future be considered as valuable representations of the Observatory, I have been desirous of con­tributing drawings of its present state: and I have the pleasure of calling the attention of the Board to two drawings made by a person in my family. These I propose to add to the same collection; and a series of interesting pictures will in time, I hope, be gradually formed.’

A note dated 5 March 1838 in Baily’s hand (RGO116/1/11) that accompanied the plates records that

‘The accompanying plates (nine in number) were found by me in an imperfect copy of Dr Halley’s edition (1712) of Flamsteed’s observations...’

Howse came to the conclusion that they had been extracted by Baily from a copy of the Historia that he gave to William Stratton, the Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, in 1835, which was subsequently donated to the Royal Astronomical Society. It is hoped to make a post Covid inspection of this volume in the near future.

A stray copy of Plate 11 (the Equatorial Sextant) has managed to find its way into the set and it is no longer known which of the two copies RGO116/1/8 or RGO116/9 is the one that was part of the original 1838 set. All the etchings in RGO116/1 are in card mounts ready for display. Although the plate margins are visible, it is now impossible to tell how much the margins around the plate mark might have been trimmed without dismounting them.

So keen was Airy to extend his collection of images of the Observatory, that on Wednesday 17 November 1847 he ‘went to the Library of the Society of Antiquaries to see some prints relating to Greenwich’ (RGO6/2/24) and appears to have arranged for three of them to be copied for him, including one by Francis Place that was not included amongst those given to him by Baily (Plate 8, Prospectus Australis). For reasons unknown, a copy of Plate 5 was made, even though he already had an original copy of it. These two drawings together with the copy of the other print are preserved in RGO116. They all carry the additional words ‘Copied in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries 1848’. The copy of Plate 5 is catalogued as RGO116/2/6 and Plate 7 as RGO116/2/7.

Of the five original Francis Place etchings in RGO116/2, four have been trimmed to the edge of and into the print. The fifth (Plate 3) has good margins. Their date of acquisition is currently uncertain, but is presumably post 1838. What is also clear, is that they have come from a number of different sources and were not all printed at the same time (more on this below).

According to the 1926 inventory (RGO39/5/271), copies of Plates 8, 9, 10 and 11 were acquired (from an unspecified source) in June 1924 and at the time of the inventory were in the Astronomer Royal's Room, which is where the 1933 inventory (RGO39/6/257–60) also places them. Plate 9 was the unlettered 'proof copy' of the Octagon Room that was transferred to the National Maritime Museum in its frame in 1998 when the Royal Greenwich Observatory was closed. The 1926 and 1933 inventories do not state if the etchings were framed or unframed, but given the nature of the list and the absence of the Baily set in the inventory (they were regarded as part of the Library and Manuscript Collection), it seems likely that they were hanging on the wall. It is possible, but by no means certain that Plates 9 and 10 are the ones that are now in RGO116/2. The whereabouts of Plate 8 is most definitely unknown. This is a great pity, as the RGO archive does not knowingly hold an original copy.

 

Greenwich Heritiage Centre

The nine etchings held by the Greenwich Heritage Centre are all bound into what appears to be one of the ‘imperfect’ copies of the 1712 Historia prepared by Flamsteed for his friends ‘as Evidences of the malice of Godless persons’.

All the plates have good margins. Plate 4, which is oversize for the volume, has been folded in with the margins cut back slightly on the top right-hand end to allow this to happen. One image (Plate 9?) was detached by cutting (in the 1970s for display?), but has since been re-attached.

Although the volume might have been expected either to lack the frontispiece or retain the 1712 original, rather disconcertingly, it contains instead the 1721 engraving of Flamsteed by George Vertue that was used for the 1725 Historia. Since this was engraved after Flamsteed had died, it implies either that the volume was assembled after Flamsteed’s death perhaps by Joseph Crossthwaite or Abraham Sharp who helped Margaret Flamsteed produce the 1725 Historia, or that the engraving of Flamsteed was added later. A closer inspection of the binding may or may not shed light on the matter. If it was the former scenario, the volume may once have been owned by Crossthwaite, since Flamsteed sent Sharp a copy in 1716.

In addition to the Historia, the Centre also holds separately, a copy of Plate 2 (the map of Greenwich Park), which as noted above has had the scale corrected (by hand) from Scale of ‘Feet’ to Scale of ‘Yards’.

Four of the nine etchings (all cropped and some digitally altered) were reproduced in Clive Aslet’s The Story of Greenwich (1999): Plates 4, 6, 7 and 9,

Greenwich Heritage Centre was formed was established in October 2003, combining the collections from the Greenwich Borough Museum and the Greenwich Local history Library. In 2014 a new charity, the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (RGHT), was formed to ‘to look after’ the assets of the Greenwich Heritage Centre as well as Charlton House and certain other heritage assets in the Borough. Although details are hard to come by, it is known that the copy of Flamsteed’s Historia was owned by Greenwich Public Library in 1975.

 

Sociey of Antiquaries of London

The Society of Antiquaries holds copies of at least three of the etchings in their collections. At the time of writing, it was not been possible to discover more about these plates or others that may be in the collection because of Covid restrictions. Two of the plates were copied for Airy in 1848.

 

Damage and alterations to the plates

Plate 6 (detail). © The Trustees of the British Museum. The vertical scratch (top right) and the two white spots (top left and centre) are present on all seven of the images studied. So too is the spattering of marks present across much of the this part of the print. As no copy has been discovered without this damage, there is a real possibility that it occurred before any prints had been struck off

An examination of the extant copies of the etchings together with the known contemporary references seems to suggest that prints were struck from the plates on at least three and perhaps four separate occasions.

  1. Before 1680 as evidenced by Flamsteed’s letter of 14 January 1679/80 to Towneley (see above)
  2. 1682 as evidenced by Flamsteed’s letter to Hevelius of 19 September 1682 (see above)
  3. Around 1716 or perhaps as late as the early 1720s as evidenced by a comparison of the prints bound into the 1712 Historia and those in other sets (see below for details). The early 1720s seems the most likely date for the copies from Plate 11 to have been printed for inclusion in the 1725 Historia

The following four sets of etchings are all of reasonably well known provenance. Each has the appearance of having been put together from a single source at one specific point in time and not added to since.

  1. The nine plates at the Royal Society (RS)
  2. The eight plates in the British Museum Towneley set (BMT)
  3. The nine plates in the RGO archive extracted from the ‘imperfect’ 1712 Historia (RGO116/1)
  4. The nine plates bound into the ‘imperfect’ 1712 Historia at the Greenwich Heritage Centre (GHC)

Damage to Plate 5 (see below) implies that the first two sets of images (RS and BMT) were not in the first wave to be printed and are likely to have been struck off in 1682 or soon after. What is known for sure, is that the second two sets RGO116/1 and GHC) were not put together until 1716 at the earliest as they are or were both bound into the much altered editions of the 1712 Historia assembled by Flamsteed for his close friends following his removal of the pages which he wished to reuse in a revised edition.

The four sets of etchings have six plates in common. Of these, two (Plates 9 and 10) are interior views with a key. Their printing plates appear to have been well looked after. The remaining four (Plates 4, 5, 6 & 7) have large areas of open sky with varying amounts of cloud cover. An examination of the different copies of these four etchings shows that those in the British Museum and Royal Society are similar to each other. So too, are those in the Observatory archives (RGO116/1) and Greenwich Heritage Centre. However, there are differences between the two pairs which are the result of either new damage to the printing plates, or old damage which an attempt has been made to eradicate. It would seem therefore, that Plates 4, 5, 6 & 7 in the last two sets were printed at a different time to those in the first two sets.

Mention is also made below of one of the plates in the British Museum Crace set (BMC).

*****

In the following sets, the images are arranged in the order in which they are thought to have been printed, with the earliest at the top.

 

Plate 4

Top: BMT (RS is similar). Bottom: GHC (RGO116/1 is similar)

The splattering of marks above the river to the immediate left of the boundary wall of the Observatory (on either side of the fold) is present in the GHC and RGO sets, but not in the RS and BM sets. The etching was too large to be bound into the Historia without folding, which is why there is a fold mark on the second copy.

 

Plate 5

Top: BMC. Middle: BMT (RS is similar). Bottom: GHC (RGO116/1 is similar)

In the top image (BMC), apart from the foxing, there is a splodge about halfway between the top of the telescope and the top of the telescope mast. There is also a fairly feint near vertical scratch on the plate that starts near the  right-hand side of the roof of Flamsteed House and ends more-or-less at the bottom of the telescope. In the second image (BMT) there is also a highly visible horizontal scratch that runs across the centre of the image. The scratches and the splodge are present in both the RS and BMT sets. In the bottom image (GHC), an attempt has been made to rectify the damage by polishing out both scratches and the splodge. In the process, the hatching on some of the clouds has been reduced in intensity as has the definition of the lower right hand edge of Flamsteed House and more importantly the top end of the mast telescope. The RGO116/1 image is similar.

 

Plate 6

Top: BMT (RS is similar). Bottom: GHC (RGO116/1 is similar)

Two things are particularly noticeable. In the lower image (GHC), part of the left hand row of trees has been entirely scrubbed out. The definition of the Giants Steps is also much reduced as is the definition of some of the clouds. As no copy has been found that captures the etching between the two states shown here, one can only speculate as to nature of the damage that necessitated such a drastic and damaging clean up of the printing plate.

 

Plate 7

Top: BMT (RS is similar). Bottom: GHC (RGO116/1 is similar)

In the lower image, there is a vertical splattering of marks which extends horizontally towards the left at its lower end. It is located just below and to the right of the group of birds in the centre. It is present in the GHC and RGO116/1 copies, but not in the RS and BMT copies.

 

Plate 9

There are no discernable differences between the different copies printed from Plate 9.

 

Plate 10

Top: BMT (RS is similar). Bottom: GHC (RGO116/1 is similar)

Differences between the RS/BMT copies and the GHC/RGO116/1 copies are present, but minimal. The key difference is the line running across the length of the bottom step and two small marks, one of which is on the bottom step just above the letter d. The second is to its left on the step above.

*****

An analysis of Plates 5, 6 and 7 in RGO116/2 indicates that Plates 6 and 7 are similar to those held by the Royal Society and British Museum and that Plate 5 is similar to that in RGO116/1 and at the Greenwich Heritage Centre.

 

The decision to omit most of the plates from the 1725 Historia

Plate 11 (the sextant) was the only etching to have been included in the 1725 Historia. This section explores possible reasons why the other plates were not included.

We know from Crossthwaite’s letter to Sharp (21 April 1721), that it was proposed to make alterations to Plate 2 (the map of the Park) and print more copies from it. Since there are only two known copies, both of which have the incorrect scale printed on them, it seems that the alterations were not in fact made and perhaps no further copies were printed after about 1680.

Crossthwaite’s letter could be taken to imply that at this point in time, Margaret Flamsteed may have been planning to include all the Place etchings in the 1725 Historia. Cost issues around the engraving of plates for Flamsteed’s Atlas Coelestis, which was eventually published in 1729 and which was also being prepared at the same time, may have caused Margaret Flamsteed to have had second thoughts about the Place etchings. Assuming that 300 copies of the 1725 Historia were to be produced, printing all the Place Plates would have required well in excess of 3,000 extra sheets to be printed which would have involved considerable extra cost.

Another and perhaps more important consideration was the state of the printing plates themselves. As was observed above, all the plates showing the external views had become damaged leading to a significant degradation of the image. Whilst the plates showing the internal views and views of the instruments, were seemingly in good condition, two of the instruments they portrayed (the Mural Quadrant and the Well Telescope) had been a failure from the start. Publishing beaten up etchings of the buildings and the useless instruments was hardly likely to be conducive to projecting Greenwich as a world class Observatory with a world class astronomer as its head!

That the etching of the sextant was included is perhaps not surprising as it was Flamsteed included a detailed description of it in his preface to the Historia and it was his main observing instrument until 1689 when it was superseded by his Mural Arc. Only one other plate might perhaps have been sensibly included. This was the view of the Camera Stellata (the Octagon Room), which contained the clocks with which Flamsteed was able to establish that the Earth was isochronous (spinning on its axis at a steady rate) as well as the so called ‘equation of time’.

 

Things that Howse omitted to mention in his book about the Francis Place etchings

In his otherwise excellent book, Francis Place and the early history of the Greenwich Observatory, there are several important things that Howse failed to mention:

  1. That some of the images had been cropped (and by differing amounts)
  2. The extent to which any of the photographic images were cleaned up in a pre digital age (if at all) to remove some of the blemishes. Plate 4 looks suspiciously clean.
  3. That the National Maritime Museum, which was credited with many of the images, did not in fact own any of the Francis Place etchings in 1975. The National Maritime Museum Picture Library holds negatives of photographs taken of the Place etchings from several different collections. These would have been taken at Howse’s request. The table below has been compiled by comparing the defects (marks, scratches etc.) on the images published by Howse with the originals in different collections
  4. That existence of ‘proof’ copies
  5. That the underlying quality of the etchings varied hugely from one collection to another. Not only has this created the impression that all the existant copies are similar, it has also helped obscure one of the main reasons why most of the etchings were excluded from the 1725 Historia

No.
Title
Image source (*=acknowledged by Howse)

1 Vivarium Grenovicianum ...
British Museum* 

2 [Map of Greenwich Park]
Pepys Library*

3 Ichnographia Speculae Regiae ...
RGO116/1/1 

4 Prospectus versus Londinium Original source unidentified. NMM neg no. A395

5 Prospectus Septentrionalis
RGO116/2/2 

6 Facies Speculae Septen
RGO116/2/3 

7 Prospectus Orientalis
RGO116/2/4

8 Prospectus Australis
Society of Antiquaries* 

9 Prospectus intra Cameram Stellatam
Original source unidentified. Possibly Greenwich Heritage Centre.  NMM neg no. 8972

10a&b Domus Obscurata ...& Quadrans Muralis Merid: ... RGO116/1/7 

11a&b Facies Sextantis Anterior ... & Fanis Sextantis Posterior ... Probabally RGO116/1/8 or RGO116/1/9 

12a&b Petus 100 pedum ... & Partes Instrumentorium RGO116/1/10
 
 
The images and plates included in the 1712 Historia

The 1712 Historia contains the following illustrations: frontispiece, dedication plate, five headpieces (each of which was used twice in sequence) and four pages of diagrams. The diagrams were engraved by I. Senex (John Senex) from drawings that were presumably made by Flamsteed or one of his assistants. The artists of the other illustrations were Giovanni Battista Catenaro (five), Jacobus Gibs (James Gibb(s)) (one) and Louis Du Guernier (one). The engravers were Du Guernier (six illustrations) and George Vertue (one). Unlike the Place etchings, the name of the artist and engraver was included on every plate except those containing the diagrams, where the artist's name was omitted).

Plate
Artist
Engraver
Frontispiece Catenaro Vertue
Dedication plate Gibs Du Guernier
Headpiece 1 Catenaro Du Guernier
Headpiece 2 (sextant)
Du Guernier Du Guernier
Headpiece 3
Catenaro Du Guernier
Headpiece 4* Catenaro* Du Guernier*
Headpiece 5 Catenaro Du Guernier
Figs.77–94** Flamsteed? Senex
Figs.95–112 Flamsteed? Senex
Figs.103–136 Flamsteed? Senex
Figs. Comitum jovialium (eclipses of Jupiter)
Flamsteed? Senex
*    Names of Thacker and Place removed on first appearance in the volume to reduce the height of the engraving
**  The figures with numbers lower than 77 were omitted from the 1712 Historia, but included in the 1725 edition

Of the five headpieces, the Sextant stands out as the only one not to be full of astronomical iconography and symbolism. How much Flamsteed approved or disapproved of it has to be a matter of some debate. Had he allowed copies of the Place etching to be printed, the Sextant headpiece may not have been commissioned. Although one suspects Flamsteed was less than happy with Du Guernier's rendering, the economics of having the two sheets on which it had been used reset and reprinted for the 1725 Historia may well have been the reason that he put his objections (if any) to one side and retained the pages for reuse.

 

The Louis Du Guernier image of the Sextant

The Francis Place etching of Flamsteed's Equatorial Sextant

The Sextant as redrawn and engraved by Louis Du Guernier. It was commissioned as a headpiece for page 1 in the 1712 Historia. This particular copy was on one of many pages extracted by Flamsteed for reuse in the 1725 Historia. Both images of the Sextant are from the copy of Volume 1 of the 1725 Historia in Lyon Public Library. Digitised by Google with later sharpening of the Du Guernier image

Copying other artists’ images was fairly commonplace in the early eighteenth century and Du Guernier seems to have followed the practice of accurately replicating the important elements whilst altering the less important ones. The following points are worthy of notice:

  1. The Equatorial Sextant is shown reversed on its mounting
  2. The Sextant has been copied with a reasonably degree of accuracy
  3. No attempt has been made to accurately replicate the interior of the Sextant House
  4. Du Guernier has concocted a new setting for the Sextant House and has included an alien building in place of Flamsteed House
  5. The Clock that Du Guernier has drawn is in a different case to that shown by Thacker

The clock is a troubling change, for it raises an important question. Is the difference due to artistic licence on the part of Du Guernier, or did Flamsteed change the Sextant House clock for a different one after the Place etchings had been made? Although one suspects the former, further research is required to definitively rule out the second.

 

The sections of the 1712 Historia

The 1712 Historia consists of two volumes bound as one. Some sets have a small number of duplicate pages. Following the preliminaries, the first volume is divided into seven numbered parts, each of which begins with a headpiece (HP) at the top of the page. The second volume is shorter, containing just three numbered parts and an eratis. Different copies have slight typographical changes on a small number of pages. Those that have been noticed to date are included in the comment column of the table below. The preface, which was written by Halley explained the history of the book's production going on to say (translated from the Latin by Mrs EM Barker):

‘You have therefore, diligent watcher of the stars, a truly royal treasury of observations obtained at royal expense and beautifully shared with you, a favour unusual in princes. ... Yet in view of the great bounty of the gift, the odd blemish should not cause offence nor the fact that so many printing errors are found in the first book, hardly excused by the haste of the toiling press; or of the order of the figures in the lunar observations p.194 begins from Fig.77, from which one would suspect that some tables are missing in the preceding ones, which is not so. Flamsteed well understood the reasons for both. ... ’

Unlike the 1712 edition, the 1725 edition contains the observations made by Flamsteed at Derby before he became Astronomer Royal. Included with them are two pages of figures numbered 1–73.

Section title
Part no.
HP
Comment
1725 Historia
1 Frontispiece n/a unnumbered and blank on recto
no
2 Title page n/a unnumbered and blank on verso no
3 Dedication page n/a unnumbered and blank on verso no
4 Praefatio ad lectorem n/a p.i–vi no
5 Fixarum Catalogus i 1 p.1–60 no
6 Observationes fixarum (Sextant) ii 2 p.1–102
p.1: spacing between the words Historiae and Coelestis in the heading is wider in some copies than others
p.34 numbered as 43 in some copies
p.102 blank and unnumbered
yes

7 Observationes cometarum & planetarum (sextant)
iii 3 p.103–192
p.162–163 numbered as 154 & 155
p.192 blank and unnumbered
yes
8 Observationes Lunae (sextant & others) iv 4 p.193–350
p.193, names omitted on headpiece
diagrams op p.205, 223 & 350
p.211 misnumbered as 208
p.235 misnumbered as 253
p.326 misnumbered as 322
p.327 misnumbered as 323
yes
9 Observationes Eclipsum Comitum Jovialium (1676–1689)
v 5 p.351–360
Plate of figures op p.360
p.357 & 358, heading at the top of the first column in some copies of includes the extra words ‘Mense Die’ [day of the month]
yes
10 Observationes Macularum Solarium
vi 1 Two pages unnumbered, p362, one page unnumbered, p.363–368

yes except pages 367–368
11 Observationes Refractionum
vii 2 p.369–88
p.388 blank and unnumbered
yes
 

Liber Secundus (Book 2)

12 Title Page unnumbered and blank on verso no
13 Observationes Planetarium Selectas (Mural arc)
i 3 p.1–32 no
14 Observationes Solis & Lunae (Mural arc) ii 4 p.33–112 [114]
p.100–114 misnumbered as p.98–112
no
15 Observationes Eclipsum Comitum Jovialium (1689–1705)
iii 5 p.113–120 no
16 Erratis n/a Two pages unnumbered no

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Headpieces of the 1712 and 1725 Historias

As mentioned above, the 1712 Historia contained five headpieces each of which was used twice. Of the ten pages containing the headpiece images, six were recycled into Volume 1 of the 1725 edition (see table above). Flamsteed must have gained possession of all or some of the printing plates as headpiece 3 was used in Volume 2 of the 1725 Historia and headpiece 1 in Volume 3. Headpieces 1 and 3 were also used in the Atlas Coelestis (1729) .

The five images below are taken from Volume 1 of the copy of the 1725 Historia in Lyon Public Library (digitised by Google)

Headpiece 1. Used at the start of parts 1 and 6 in volume 1 of the 1712 Historia. Part 1 (the catalogue of stars) was the section that Flamsteed objected to the most. The headpiece must have been admired as it was later used at the start of the Catalogus Britannicus section of volume 3 of the 1725 Historia

Headpiece 2. Used at the start of parts 2 and 7 in volume 1 of the 1712 Historia

Headpiece 3. Used at the start of part 3 of the first volume and part 1 of the second volume of the 1712 Historia

Headpiece 4. Used at the start of part 4 of the first volume and part 2 of the second volume of the 1712 Historia. Although the copy printed in part 2 of the second volume contained the names of Catenaro and Du Guernier, they were cut from the plate before being printed at the start of part 4 of the first volume, as the printer had left too small a gap for the illustration

Headpiece 5. Used at the start of part 5 of the first volume and part 3 of the second volume of the 1712 Historia

 

The sections of the 1725 Historia

The 1725 Historia Coelestis Britannica consists of three separate volumes. Volume 1 contains pages recycled from the 1712 Historia. These sections are indicated in the last column. Some sets have a small number of duplicate pages. Some sets have some pages missing.


Section title

Part no.
HP
Comment
1712 Historia
Plate 11, Francis Place, Sextant
Plate, Mural Arc
Sometimes bound in Volume 1, sometimes in Volume 3, sometimes one in each. Position within volumes also varies no
 
Volumen Primum (Vol 1)
1 Half-title page
unnumbered and blank on verso no
2
Frontispiece


unnumbered and blank on recto
no
3
Title page


unnumbered and blank on verso no
4 Dedication 4 pages unnumbered, last page blank. Headpiece on first page
no
5 Ad lectorem unnumbered, 2 pages
Order of Dedication and Ad Lectorem reversed in some copies
no
6
Observations of William Gascoine (1638–1643)



p.1–6, page 6 blank
no
7 Observations of Flamsteed at Derby (1668–1674), the Tower of London (1675), Queen's House Greenwich, plus Tables
p.7–40
2 plates of figures op p.20 & 35 (73 figs. in total (mispositioned in some copies)
no
8 Observationes fixarum (Sextant)
ii 2 p.1–102
p.1: spacing between the words Historiae and Coelestis in heading is wider in some copies than others
p.34 numbered as 43 in some copies
p.102 blank and unnumbered
yes

9 Observationes cometarum & planetarum (sextant)

iii 3 p.103–192
p.162–163 numbered as 154 & 155
p.192 blank and unnumbered
yes
10 Observationes Lunae (sextant & others)
iv 4 p.193–350
p.193, names omitted on headpiece
diagrams op p.205, 223 & 350
p.211 misnumbered as 208
p.235 misnumbered as 253
p.326 misnumbered as 322
p.327 misnumbered as 323
yes
11 Observationes Eclipsum Comitum Jovialium (1676–1689)

v 5 p.351–360
Plate of figures op p.360
p.357 & 358, heading at the top of the first column in some copies of includes the extra words ‘Mense Die’ [day of the month]
yes
12 Observationes Macularum Solarium

vi 1 Two pages unnumbered, p362, one page unnumbered, p.363–368

yes except pages 367–368
13 Observationes Refractionum

vii 2 p.369–388
p.388 blank and unnumbered
yes
14
Table



p.389–396 no
15 Planetarium Loca supputata (sextant) p.389–412 no
16 Errata volume 1 2 pages unnumbered no
 

Volumen Secundum (Vol 2)





1 Half-title page unnumbered and blank on verso no
2 Title page unnumbered and blank on verso no
3 Observationes Fixarum & Planetarum (Mural Arc)
3 p.1–573 no
4 Pixidis vel Acus p.574 (unnumbered)
5
Appendix Tables



p.1–38
no
6 Planetarum Observationibus Deducta p.39–70
7 Errata volume 2 1 page unnumbered, blank on verso no
 

Volumen Tertium (Vol 3)





1 Half-title page unnumbered and blank on verso no
2 Title page unnumbered and blank on verso no
3 Ad lectorem & Praefatio p.1–164 no
4 Fixarum Catalogus p.1–76 no
5 Stellarum Inerratium, Catalogus Britannicus 1 p.1–66 no
6 Fixarium in Zodiaco Longitudines ... p.67–76
p.76 blank
no
7 Abrahamus Sharpus, Catalogus Fixarum Australium ad Annum 1726 p.77–84
p.84 blank
no
8 Tabulae Astronomicae constructae ab Abrahamo Sharpio p.1–72 no
9 Tabulae constructae ab Abrahamo Sharpio p.73–104 no
10 Errata volume 3 1 page unnumbered, blank on verso
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following sets of volumes can be viewed online:

From Lyon Public Library (digitised 3 Feb 2012)

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3

From Ghent University (digitised 9 July 2010)

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3

From the Bavarian State Library (digitised 14 January 2011)

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3

From the National Library of the Netherlands (3 volumes bound as 2, digitised 23 April 2014)

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1 and part Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2 cont. and Volume 3

From National Library Naples (Vol 1 in library catalogue, but seemingly not digitised. Vols 2 & 3 digitised 4 November 2013)

Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 1
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 2
Historia Coelestis Britannica Volume 3


Further reading

Derek Howse, Francis Place and the early history of the Greenwich Observatory (1975)
John Bold, Greenwich (2000)
D Jacques and A J van der Horst, The Gardens of William and Mary (1988)
The Royal Parks, Greenwich Park Conservation Plan 2019–2029
William Schellinks, The Journal of William Schellinks’ Travels in England 1661–1663

 

Acknowledgements and Image licensing

Portrait of Sir Jonas Moore after unknown artist. Line engraving, published 1660. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence. National Portrait Gallery Object ID: NPG D42258.

The seven images from the British Museum are reproduced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license, courtesy of the The Trustees of the British Museum. All have been cropped and recompressed for this website. In addition Plates 5 and 10 have been rotated

Towneley set

Plate 1: Museum number: 1865,0610.946.
Plate 4: Museum number: 1865,0610.947.
Plate 5: Museum number: 1865,0610.948.
Plate 6: Museum number: 1865,0610.949.
Plate 7: Museum number: 1865,0610.950.
Plate 8: Museum number: 1865,0610.951.
Plate 9: Museum number: 1865,0610.952.
Plate 10: Museum number: 1865,0610.953.

Crace set

Plate 5: Museum number: 1880,1113.5512. (Detail)

 


 

 

Catalogue of the valuable library removed from the Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford, and sold by order of the Radcliffe trustees, which will be sold ... the 7th of May, 1935

There are two copies of the 1712 edition in the catalogue. The second one sounds as though it might be the one at the Whipple.