On a journey of discovery to find the tombs of John Harrison and John Constable.

Do you remember last week I was off exploring in another graveyard and had a Dracula flashback?  Well I was actually in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead to look for two tombs in particular.

I only picked them as they of particular interest to me for there are many such notable persons buried in this deliciously wild little cemetery.  I’m normally very good at finding graves.  My pigeon brain sense of direction is all important especially when in one of the large Magnificent Seven cemeteries.  Not everything stands out as much as The West Brompton Time Machine in the heart of London!

I think the hardest to find grave was actually young Marigold Churchill who is buried in a very unprepossessing plot about 20 minutes away from the entrance and not even in a very accessible or open area.  To say I stumbled upon her wasn’t too far from the truth but that I found her at all was amazing considering I had no notes or maps and 72 acres and over 250,000 burials.

I’m not good for much but not getting lost is something I good for!

This cemetery though is rather small though there is an extension over the road and I found both tombs first time round and exactly where I expected I would.  Sometimes due to their nature, old cemeteries can be disorientating or overgrowth and decay can mean things aren’t quite as how they once were.

The first of the toms I found was that of John Harrison.  He died in 1776 and no-one knows why he was buried here given that he had no known connection with the church or area. John Harrison is popularly known as the man who discovered Longitude.

Given how important Longitude obviously was, it’s hard to overstate what a great man John Harrison was.   You can find out much more about him at Greenwich.   His tomb is almost next to the church and if you happened to watch the new BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol, you might recognise the area as a spot just a few feet away from his tomb was used for filming.

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The tomb of John Harrison – the man who discovered Longitude

The inscription on his tomb reads….

“In Memory Of MR. JOHN HARRISON, late of Red-Lion Square, London.

       Inventor of the TIME-KEEPER for ascertaining the LONGITUDE at Sea.  He was born at Foulby, in the County of York, and was the Son of a Builder at that Place, who brought him up to the same Profession.

       Before he attained the Age of 21, He without any Instruction, employed himself in cleaning & repairing Clocks & Watches & made a few of the former, chiefly of Wood. At the Age of 25 He employed his Whole Time in Chronometrical Improvements.  He was the Inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and the Method of preventing the Effect of Heat and Cold upon Time keepers by Two Bars of different Metals fixed together*.  He introduced the Secondary Spring to keep them going while winding up; and was the Inventor of most (or all) of the Improvements in Clocks & Watches during his Time.

       In the Year 1735, his first Time keeper was sent to Lisbon, and in 1764 his then much Improved fourth Time keeper having been sent to Barbadoes, the Commissioners of Longitude certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time.

       After near fifty years close Application to the above Pursuits, he departed this Life on the 24th Day of March 1776, Aged 83.

MRS. ELIZABETH HARRISON, Wife of the above MR. JOHN HARRISON departed this Life March 5th 1777, Aged 72

At almost precisely the opposite corner of the churchyard one can find the tomb of another famous John, this time John Constable.   John Constable was one of the finest ever English painters and likely in the top few around the world.

He had something of a rivalry with that other great 19th Century painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner who you can read about in my old post Mr Turner, the movie and the man.

Perhaps the most famous and arguably finest art of John Constable is The Hay Wain which he painted in 1821 on the river Stour which is on the border of the counties of Essex and Suffolk.

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It’s easy to see how it has become such a popular piece of art with its wonderfully romantic scene in rural South East England and it has long been a tourist destination in its own right.

I’ve never been there but I was glad to find the tomb of John Constable who died on the 31st March 1837.   He can be found in what one might call one of the more eerie areas of the churchyard though he no doubt would have delighted to find the wonderful sunbeams shining on his tomb in a rare spot that wasn’t tree covered.

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I know they have both been dead for centuries but I still found it energising to be in the presence of great figures even if in totally different areas of life.  It’s nice to hang-out with some of the best of people and I often wonder what we would talk about if given the chance.  I’d like to think I could have a civilised dinner with them without coming over as an absolute oaf!

 

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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10 Responses to On a journey of discovery to find the tombs of John Harrison and John Constable.

  1. simonjkyte says:

    I am interested to talk about Harrison with you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Francis says:

    Constable in Greenwich? Thought he was in Hampstead but you have corrected me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • His house or at least the one on my new tour is only 10 minutes walk from the church in Hampstead. Harrison though you’d think might be at Greenwich and has no connection at all with Hampstead but is here. People assume there was some really mundane administrative reason why he ended up here. It’s a very interesting cemetery though Francis with plenty of other interesting figures; I just picked those two as there is more of a chance my tourists will appreciate their significance!

      Like

  3. Another beautiful lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

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