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Jeremiah Horrocks

Ask anyone in Liverpool if they have heard of Horrocks Avenue and a large number of people will answer yes, ask them who Jeremiah Horrocks, the man it was named after is, and I doubt many will know.

Horrocks Avenue  is named after Jeremiah Horrocks and there is a plaque dedicated to his memory, which hangs on the chapel wall in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, each of its four corners decorated with a five pointed star.  St Michaels In The Hamlet also features a memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks and at Westminster Abbey, London. there is a memorial tablet to Horrocks, (erected c.1874 after a petition by the Royal Astronomical Society.

Jeremiah Horrocks family home was at Toxteth Park, a former deer park, which later became a suburb of Liverpool but was then a hamlet of some two dozen houses in an area called Otterspool. Jeremiah’s  father James, was a watch maker, married Mary Aspinwall on January 17th 1615.
Jeremiah had an uncle, Edward Aspinwall, who was also a watchmaker, was probably the first person to interest Jeremiah at an early age in astronomy, and being surrounded by mathematicians, school teachers and instrument makers it is little wonder that Jeremiah became so serious minded at such an early age.  In fact at the age of 14, Jeremiah went to Cambridge University to be registered as a Sizar.
A a sizar, is a student who receives some form of assistance such as meals, lower fees or lodging during his or her period of study, in some cases in return for doing a defined job.

We do not have a record of Jeremiah’s career as an undergraduate but we do know that astronomy would not be a part of it. A few lectures on classical astronomy along with geometry may have been included in the general arts course but the “new” astronomy of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would have to be self taught  in his free time from books which he would have been able to borrow from the library. Jeremiah left Cambridge in 1635 he returned to Toxteth where an undergraduate contemporary by the name of John Worthington of Manchester introduced him to William Crabtree of Salford who also had an interest in astronomy and they exchanged many letters of a scientific nature over the coming years.
It was in 1639 that Jeremiah Horrocks came to Hoole , near Preston. It is likely he was a tutor to the children of the Stones family, prosperous farmers and merchants, of Carr House, Bretherton, and that this is how he earned his living.

Horrocks was convinced that Lansberg's tables were inaccurate when Kepler predicted that a near-miss of a transit of Venus would occur in 1639. Horrocks believed that the transit would indeed occur, having made his own observations of Venus for years. Horrocks made himself a simple helioscope by focusing the image of the Sun through a telescope onto a piece of paper, where the image could be safely observed. From his location in Much Hoole, he calculated that the transit was to begin at approximately 3:00 pm on 24 November 1639 (Julian calendar, or 4 December in the Gregorian calendar). The weather was cloudy, but he first observed the tiny black shadow of Venus crossing the Sun on the paper at about 3:15 pm, and observed for half an hour until sunset. The 1639 transit was also observed by his friend and correspondent, William Crabtree, from his home in Broughton, near Manchester.

Horrocks' observations allowed him to make a well-informed guess as to the size of Venus (previously thought to be larger and closer to Earth), as well as to make an estimate of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, now known as the astronomical unit (AU).

Horrocks continued to write to Crabtree from Hoole until April 12th 1640 after which he returned to his family in Toxteth. He continued to write to Crabtree and arranged to visit him in Salford but died suddenly, on January 3rd 1641, the day before the visit. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the old Toxteth chapel.

It is wrong to hold the most noble Science of the Stars guilty of uncertainty on account of some people's uncertain observations. Through no fault of its own it suffers these complaints which arise from the uncertainty and error not of the celestial motions but of human observations...I do not consider that any imperfections in the motions of the stars have so far been detected, nor do I believe that they are ever to be found. Far be it from me to allow that God has created the heavenly bodies more imperfectly than man has observed them. - Jeremiah Horrocks

In 1927, the Jeremiah Horrocks Observatory was built at Moor Park, Preston. Our most recent memorial to Jeremiah Horrocks was erected at the Pier Head, This monument, by Andy Plant, is in the form of a telescope pointing to the Sun and Venus

Heaven and Earth
By Andy Plant


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