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Introduction

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich was a working observatory from 1675 to the 1950s, when it moved to Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex and then to Cambridge. It closed down in 1998.  Over those 300 years it was run by a succession of 15 Astronomers Royal, each of whom in one way or another earned a place in history.  Their work however would not have been possible without the gradually expanding team of assistants they had working for them.

In the beginning the Observatory was run by John Flamsteed whose main assistant, his wife, he had taught himself.  Their work was helped by a series of assistants, employed one at a time, each often staying for many years.  The most famous of these was Abraham Sharp, not only an assistant but also an instrument maker who made many of the Observatory’s first instruments.


Royal Observatory Greenwich. To the Revd Dr Maskelyne, this plate is inscribed by his obliged servant, J. Baker.

Royal Observatory Greenwich. To the Revd Dr Maskelyne, this plate is inscribed by his obliged servant, J. Baker.

Abraham Sharp.

Abraham Sharp.

This print shows the Royal Observatoy in Greenwich Park. The Royal Observatory was founded on 22 June 1675 by Charles II and was built specifically to aid work towards solving the problem of finding longitude while at sea.

Abraham Sharp started out as a merchant's apprentice, but gave up business in favour of mathematics. He came to work at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1676 as assistant and instrument maker to John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and stayed until 1690. After 1690 he taught mathematics in London. He was a skilled instrument maker though few examples have survived. In 1717 he published 'Geometry Improved'.
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