An 18th Century naval disaster in which more than 1,400 British sailors perished led to the Longitude Act of 1714, the establishment of the Board of Longitude and a hotly disputed competition chaired by Purton’s most famous son, Rev Dr Nevil Maskelyne DD MA FRS, writes Frances Bevan.
A reliable method to calculate the position of a ship at sea took over 100 years to find, but when in 1759 John Harrison came up with his H4 chronometer, accurate to 39.2 seconds in a trial voyage of 47 days, the Board of Longitude was strangely reluctant to acknowledge his achievement. As chairman, Nevil Maskelyne came in for some long lasting criticism in the board’s treatment of Harrison.
But Purton Historical Society considers it is about time the mathematician and astronomer was remembered more for his own accomplishments. Maskelyne’s family were land owners in the Purton area for over three hundred years and his holidays from Greenwich were spent at The Ponds, Purton Stoke, which he later inherited.
With the aid of a Heritage Lottery Grant the society has organised a series of events to celebrate the bicentennial year of the death of the Purton lad who rose to the exalted position of Astronomer Royal and is buried at St Mary’s Church, Purton.
A mobile planetarium and an interactive magic planet are among the attractions on offer during the celebrations to be held over the weekend of 21 and 22 May, along with moon rocks and meteorites on loan from the Swindon based Science Technology Facilities Council.
Dr Richard Dunn, Curator of the History of Navigation at Greenwich National Maritime Museum will be presenting a lecture "High Astronomer of the Kingdom: Nevil Maskelyne and the pursuit of science in the age of reason" at Bradon Forest School, and Purton Museum will stage an exhibition of 18th Century scientific equipment from 4 May to 22 September.
Find out more about the Maskelyne Memorial event at www.purtonmuseum.com
For tickets at £4 to the Dunn lecture on Saturday 21 May, 6.45pm, call David Sweet 770491 or mail: email@example.com