Category Archives: Richard Towneley (1629-1707)

Richard Towneley “the virtuoso” was a keen amateur astronomer and the first person to make systematic records of the rainfall in England.

Towneley, standing in for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich – 1676

Towneley sundialIn the 1660s, Richard Towneley (1629-1707) was one of the leading amateur astronomers in England. John Flamsteed (1646-1719) visited him at Towneley in 1672 and continued to write regularly to Towneley after Flamsteed became the first Astronomer Royal in 1675. The Royal Observatory at Greenwich was completed in June 1676, in anticipation of a solar eclipse on June 1st. On the day it was very cloudy in Greenwich and Flamsteed saw nothing of the eclipse. In contrast, at Towneley the weather was better and Richard was able to provide Flamsteed with the information needed for the first report from the Royal Observatory. [Flamsteed, John (1676), Philosophical Transactions Vol. 11 No. 127, p. 662-64].

Around this time Richard also started to record how much rain fell at Towneley. His systematic record of rainfall, covering 15 years from January 1677 was published in 1694 and are the earliest systematic records of the English weather. He wrote that at Towneley there was twice the quantity of rain that fell in Paris. He further claimed that the Eastern parts of Lancashire were subject to more rain than Yorkshire due to clouds driven by South West winds falling as rain on the high ground that divides the two counties. [Towneley R. (1694), Philosophical Transactions Vol. 18 p. 52]

In 2000, the Towneley Hall Society commissioned Alan Smith to create a sundial in Towneley Park to commemorate Richard Towneley and it was set-up on the south buttress of Towneley Hall in September 2001.  [Smith, A (March 2002), British Sundial Society Bulletin Vol. 14 (i) p.20-23]