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jeremiah horrocks

Born between Jan – July 1618 and died in his 23rd year on Jan 3rd 1641

The Horrocks family home was at Toxteth Park, a former deer park, now a suburb of Liverpool but then a hamlet of some two dozen houses in an area called Otterspool. His father James, a watch maker, married Mary Aspinwall on January 17th 1615 and is thought to have lived at “Lower Lodge” but this evidence is inconclusive. Lower Lodge was demolished in 1862 to make way for a railway station and all trace of  the Horrocks family home has disappeared.

Jeremiah’s uncle, Edward Aspinwall 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 as he set off for a new life at Cambridge University to be registered as a Sizar at the tender age of fourteen on May 11th 1632.

There is no 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 borrowed from the library.

Upon leaving 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.

In 1639 Jeremiah Horrocks came to Hoole where he took up the post of tutor to the children of the Stones family, prosperous farmers and merchants, of Carr House, Bretherton and became a reader at the church of St. Michael’s, Hoole. Whilst at Hoole, Jeremiah realised that although Kepler had predicted that a transit would occur in 1631, no one had seen it happen. But Jeremiah calculated that another transit would take place on November 24th 1639 which was in just a few weeks. Horrocks wrote to his younger brother and to William Crabtree asking them to observe the transit on this day. Unfortunately they did not oblige, but Jeremiah made observations at 3.15, 3.35 and 3.45pm.. The rest is history.

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, possibly from “the ague” on January 3rd 1641, the day before the visit. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the old Toxteth chapel.

Allan Chapman says: “What shines through Jeremiah’s writings is a sense of awe and praise for the Deity who could make a universe that was so intricate and so beautiful. One also perceives his sense of privilege at being the first human creature to learn of certain things – such as the shape of the Moon’s orbit – or to see the transit of Venus.”

A Prayer by Jeremiah Horrocks

“And may He, who is the great and good God of Astronomy and the Conservator of all useful Arts, bless my unworthy efforts for his mercy’s sake, and cause them to redound to the eternal of His name and the advantage of mankind.”

More information on Jeremiah Horrocks can be gained by a visit to St. Michael’s church in Hoole.