South Kesteven in the Stars

In 18th Century Frieston there was a house surrounded by sundials and other scientific instruments. The resident was Edmund Weaver (1683-1748), who lived in the village and is buried at Caythorpe Church.
Weaver was an entirely self-taught astronomer and mathematician, who, according to the inscription on his memorial, was ‘by his own industry from a low education… justly esteemed as one of the best Astronomers of Ye Age’.

Weaver was close friends with William Stukeley, who described him in an account to the Royal Society, later published in Philosophical Transactions[1] as a ‘very uncommon genius… scarcely to be accounted the second in the Kingdom… an instance of great merit in obscurity.’
He was well renowned during his lifetime, producing a famous almanac – ‘The British Telescope’ which charted the positions of stars and the phases of the moon – which were used to determine everything from navigation at sea, to when to plant crops, and described and predicted various celestial events such as the transit of Venus and lunar eclipses.
Noted for its accuracy, the almanac was published annually between 1715 and 1749, with the final edition being published the year after his death.
Alongside the astronomy the almanac also contained astrology, even predicting the weather through the movements of the stars within the zodiac. They also contained useful information, as well as items of interest such as the ‘Large Chronology of Remarkable Things’, and accounts of important events of the day, such as the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden.
Examples of Weavers almanac have been digitised and are available here.

The tradition of South Kesteven Almanac makers continued when Robert White, a teacher of Mathematics in Grantham, began producing ‘White’s Ephemera’ in 1750.  An account by Henry Andrews[2], a family friend of White, and a fellow astronomer, describes him as ‘a lame man, about middling size’ who ‘continued to write Almanacks [sic] until the day of his death’.  While his almanacs were not quite as well regarded as Edmund Weaver’s they were still considered to be among the best available at the time.

Henry Andrews’ opinion on almanacs was one to be trusted. Born in Freiston in 1744, a neighbour to Edmund Weaver, Andrews began to show a talent for mathematics and astronomy from an early age.

Like Weaver he was largely self-taught, and he did not let his humble upbringing limit his achievements.  His parents were agricultural labourers, and the little education he did receive was provided while he was in service as a child.  He is known to have begun his study of the stars as a young boy, making his own telescope at the age of 10, and stargazing on the village green.

He went on to contribute to and edit some of the most famous almanacs of the day, including Old Moore’s Almanac and the Nautical Ephemeris. He was also employed as a calculator for the Board of Longitude, a government body which existed to promote and encourage scientific investigation into solving the critical problem of finding longitude at sea.

Almanacs were the 18th century equivalent of popular science books, and although many of the almanacs which Henry Andrews worked on contained as much superstition as science, he is credited for introducing a more rigorous logic to the works, and introducing scientific principles to a much wider audience, which included not only gentlemen and scholars, but also working people[3].

 

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[1] Stukeley, W. (1753)  ‘ An Account of the Eclipse predicted by Thales’  Philosophical Transactions, Volume 48 Part i

[2] The Monthly Magazine, No. 320,  Volume 46,  January 1, 1819

[3]  Mori, J.C. (2016) ‘Popular science in Eighteenth Century Almanacs: The Editorial Career of Henry Andrews of Royston, 1780-1820’  History of Science, Vol. 54 (1), pg 19-44