Chosen by Alison McCann, former member of staff
Wednesday 20 July sees the 47th anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the moon. However, West Sussex Record Office has connections to lunar exploration centuries before Neil Armstrong took his famous steps, with a map drawn by a British astronomer in the seventeenth century.
Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) was an astronomer, mathematician and ethnographer, and the first person to make a drawing of the moon through a telescope on 26 July 1609, over four months before Galileo. This similar sketch and accompanying notes, dating 11 September 1610, show Harriot’s further observations through his telescope. He ends his description: ‘The appearance was notable, ragged in many places of the verge with some islands and promontories. … I could not set down the figure of all … but by memory, because I was troubled with the rhume.’ These comments somehow make the leading English scientist of his day much more human, knowing that he couldn’t draw his observations properly because he had watery eyes (or possibly a runny nose!).
Harriot’s accomplishments remain relatively obscure to this day, primarily due to the fact that he did not publish any of his results during his lifetime, but also because many of his manuscripts have been lost. A selection of those that have survived are held in the British Museum, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, and in the archives of the Percy family at Petworth House.
The Petworth House Archives currently form the largest private collection under the care of West Sussex Record Office. The house and the estate have been in continuous ownership for 800 years, belonging to the Percy Earls of Northumberland, from whom it descended to the Wyndham family.
The estate archives are extensive, with particularly fine maps and surveys made in the early seventeenth and late 18th and 19th centuries, and acts as a brilliant example of manorial records in West Sussex. The family were also the major employers in the local area, with many records, including wage books surviving from the late 16th to mid-20th centuries. The archives also contain a fine series of tradesmen’s bills from the late 18th and 19th centuries, which include bills from leading London suppliers.
Note on access: Since the archives are kept at Petworth House, all documents must be ordered at least 4 weeks in advance via email so that they can be brought back to the Record Office for consultation.