Some twenty year ago Dava Sobel wrote her book Longitude about John Harrison.1 Its publication and the later television play rekindled great interest in him and the chronometer he developed to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea during the mid-eighteenth century. It was Larcum Kendall’s copy of Harrison’s timekeeper that was tried and tested on Captain Cook’s Second and Third Voyages, gaining Cook’s approval.2
Born in Yorkshire, Harrison moved with his parents when five years old to the little village of Barrow-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire. The Humber estuary has been a major route for trade and exploration for centuries, and Barrow sits in northern Lincolnshire, not far from where the Humber Bridge now spans the estuary across the Yorkshire/Lincolnshire border.
The residents of Barrow are proud of their village, and its heritage, and in 2012 formed the Better Barrow Community Project to improve and enhance the environment of the village, and raise awareness of its heritage. The villagers were consulted on their views as to what they would like the Project to work towards, to enhance Barrow.
On entering the village from the west, a new colourful village name sign depicts John Harrison, his H4 chronometer, and the village church of Holy Trinity.
The Project launched the ‘Longitude Project’ in which the pupils of the village’s John Harrison School are now involved in researching and recording the life of John Harrison.
High on the list of ideas originally put forward by the residents was a statue of John Harrison.
On 1 July, 2017, three maquettes of Harrison were presented for viewing at the Village Hall. They were the work of three sculptors: Andrew Edwards, Sean Hedges-Quinn and Marcus Cornish.
The maquettes were diverse in design. From Andrew Edwards came a depiction of Harrison striding out homewards, focussed and determined, and mulling over the challenges he faced to produce the ultimate chronometer for accuracy at sea. Sean Hedges-Quinn produced an older, seated Harrison, a classical pose, with his chronometer H4 in his left hand, contemplating this masterpiece. The entry from Marcus Cornish showed Harrison standing on a section of globe, symbolising the need to find a way of determining longitude accurately—his unsteady stance highlights the technical problems he experienced time and again throughout his work.
After hearing the comments of the villagers the Church, the Council, and many other interested parties, the Better Barrow Committee declared the winner to be the entry by Marcus Cornish.
A full-size version3 of the winning entry will be cast in bronze, and sited either at Holy Trinity Church, or in the Market Place.
The church is relevant as the Harrison family had strong links with it for many years. The market place is appropriate as it is near the site of Harrison’s workshop, a wall of which is still evident in the car park of the nearby Royal Oak public house.
My thanks to members of the Better Barrow Committee for their help with information, and generously allowing me to photograph the maquettes.
1.Sobel, Dava. Longitude: The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time. Fourth Estate. 1998.
2.Cook’s Log, page 4, vol. 40, no. 2 (2017).
3.The sculpture will be 1¼ times life-size.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 34, volume 40, number 4 (2017).
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