Astronomers Royal at Greenwich – a potted biography

1675–1719: John Flamsteed
Noted for:Bringing astronomical observation to a new level of precision. His star catalogue and atlas. Falling out with Newton. Often complaining & difficult to get on with.
Buried at:The eastern end of the runway at Gatwick Airport in St. Bartholomew's Church at Burstow.

1720–1742: Edmond Halley
Noted for:The comet that carries his name (discovered before he came to Greenwich). Not publishing the observations made at Greenwich or organising the manuscript version in a way that could be easily comprehended by others.
Buried in:The old churchyard at St Margaret’s at Lee, London.

1742–1762: James Bradley
Noted for:Two great discoveries: ‘aberration of light’ – the first real evidence that the Earth goes round the Sun (and discovered before he came to Greenwich), and ‘nutation’ – the wobbling of the Earth on its axis. Introducing corrections for refraction that took into account temperature and pressure. Not publishing the observations made at Greenwich – an ownership dispute after his death delayed the publication of the first volume until 1798.
Buried in:The churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire.

1762–1764: Nathaniel Bliss
Noted for:Dying soon after taking up post.
Buried in:An unmarked grave in the old churchyard at St Margaret’s at Lee, London.

1765–1811: Nevil Maskelyne
Noted for:‘Weighing the World’. Creating the Nautical Almanac. Being portrayed as the villain by Dava Sobel in her book Longitude.
Buried in:The churchyard of St Mary the Virgin at Purton Wiltshire.

1811–1835: John Pond
Noted for:His brilliant analysis of instrumental errors. Introducing the Greenwich time-ball. Bringing the Nautical Almanac into disrepute. Failing to leave even a single picture of himself – the image that often appears is of another John Pond.
Buried in:Halley’s grave in the old churchyard at St Margaret’s at Lee, London.

1835–1881: George Airy
Noted for:A meticulous attention to detail & documentation. The Airy Transit Circle that defines the Prime Meridian. Said by some to be autocratic.
Buried in:The churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Playford, Suffolk.
Obituary:Click here for obituary

1881–1910: William Christie
Noted for:Increasing the number of large telescopes at Greenwich. Being the first AR to retire at 65. Lacking the vision to erect the new telescopes on a new site away from the pollution of Greenwich.
Buried at:Sea.
Obituary:Click here for obituary

1910–1933: Frank Dyson
Noted for:Introducing the ‘six pips’ time signals on the radio. The 1919 eclipse expedition that confirmed Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.
Buried at:Sea.
Obituary:Click here for obituary

1935–1955: Harold Spencer Jones
Noted for:Orchestrating the move away from light & smoke polluted Greenwich to Herstmonceux in Sussex. Measuring ‘variation of latitude’ – a phenomenon caused by a slight shifting of the Earth’s Poles.
Obituary:Click here for obituary