Time Lords and party animals on the Sherborne estate
The handsome estate of Sherborne, just off the A40, tells the tale of two very different figures who, if they had been contemporaries (and not merely connected by geography) the stuff of a thrilling melodrama
– the rakish lord of the manor, the scholarly man of the cloth. In short, a Cotswoldian Ferrars and Willoughby, straight out of the pages of Sense and Sensibility.
Born in Sherborne, James Bradley (1693-1762), scraped his schoolboy knees in Northleach. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, displaying a brilliant mind. He was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1718. He took the cloth during a brief career in the clergy, with a parish in Bridstow on the Welsh Borders, but his star drew him back to the dreaming spires of academe. In 1721 he was appointed the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at his old Alma Mater. In 1742 he succeeded Edmond Halley (of comet fame), becoming the third Astronomer Royal. He discovered the ‘aberration of light’ and the ‘nutation of the Earth’s axis’ – complex astronomical phenomena which I will not even attempt to describe – but his best known legacy, which effects us all, was the creation of Greenwich Mean Time (the clock time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich), originally set-up to aid naval navigation when travel around the globe started to open up with the discovery of the New World (America) in the 15th century. GMT was not forced on to land-lubbers until the introduction of the railways (railroads) in the mid-19th century. The developing railway network meant that Britain needed a national time system to replace the local time adopted by major towns and cities. As Greenwich, due to the presence of the Royal Observatory, was the national centre for time and had been since 1675, the choice was obvious. Nevertheless, GMT was not adopted officially by Parliament until August 2, 1880. GMT was then adopted by the United States on November 18, 1883. The chosen moment was at noon, when the telegraph lines transmitted time signals to all major cities. Prior to that there were over 300 local times in the USA! On November 1, 1884, GMT was adopted universally at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC, USA. As a result, the International Date Line was drawn up and 24 time zones were created.
The first printed chart or map known to have used Greenwich as its Prime Meridian was published in 1738. The Bradley Meridian, as discovered by our local hero, not only defined the Zero of longitude for the first Ordnance Survey map published in 1801, but also remains the Zero Meridian used by the Ordnance Survey today. And it is the Bradley Meridian which is used to define GMT. So whenever you get on an international flight or cruise, remember Bradley of Sherborne when you cross
those time zones.
Bradley retired in ill-health to Chalford, on the edge of Stroud, where he departed this world, aged 69, on 13th July, 1762 and he is buried in Minchinhampton churchyard, but it is Sherborne he is best remembered – for there, as a child, he first gazed up at the Heavens in wonder.
Sherborne Estate, covering 1663 acres, which includes five farms, three deer parks and woodland, was generously left to the National Trust by Charles Dutton, the 7th Lord Sherborne, on the condition that it was kept as a working estate.
Linked to the Sherborne Estate by a splendid tree-lined drive (which unfortunately now crosses the busy A40) the impressive 17th Century grandstand of Lodge Park was built by John ‘Crump’ Dutton (1594-1657), MP and the owner of Sherborne, in 1634 to entertain and impress his friends. Crump, so-called because of his humped back, would ride out with his guests to his folly where he would indulge them in a day’s racing, gambling and feasting. Basically, it was the ultimate man cave. After a decadelong restoration project, the National Trust opened the grandstand to the public in 1999.
Spend a leisurely half-day wandering the estate and Lodge Park and imagine Crump and Bradley pursuing their interests – the Heavens or Earthly pleasures: which one appeals the most? GMT or G ‘n’ T? At Sherborne and Lodge Park there’s time for both!
The Big House, Sherborne Park
Kevan Manwaring is a Stroud-based writer and storyteller. He is the author of Oxfordshire Folk Tales and Northamptonshire Folk Tales, a contributor to English Folk Tales and editor of Ballad Tales, all from The History Press. He teaches creative writing for the Open University and in the Stroud area.
Follow Kevan on Twitter @bardicacademic
Collapsed entrance dolmen, Long Barrow, Lodge Park
St Mary Magadelene