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Towneley, Richard

1. Dates
Born: Towneley Hall, near Burnley, Lancashire, 1629
Died: York, 22 Jan. 1707
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 78
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
Charles Towneley, of a celebrated Catholic family.
Obviously wealthy.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Unknown
Probably at one of the English colleges in the Low countries. His younger brothers both studied at Douai. I assume a B.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
The family was one of those which stoutly refused to conform to the established Protestant church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy, Physics, Astronomy
Subordinate: Meteorology, Instrumentation
In addition to his general interest in Cartesian philosophy, of which he was a thoroughgoing follower, his role in Boyle's law (an investigation carried out with Henry Power), and his astronomical observations, Towneley carried out extended meteorological measurements and improved the micrometer (for use in astronomical observations). He introduced Flamsteed to the micrometer. As an astronomer he perpetuated the tradition of observation established in that region earlier by Horrocks, Crabtree, and Gascoigne. He also investigated capillary phenomena and the use of the barometer to measure altitudes.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Per Inherited Wealth--The Family Estate.
8. Patronage
Type: None
He was himself a patron. As a Catholic he was excluded from any public preferment, and he had no need of other patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Mechanical Devices
Towneley constructed a carriage that passed smoothly over rough roads.
He improved on Gascoigne's crude micrometer.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal connections: Influenced and encouraged by his uncle, Christopher Towneley, and like his uncle earlier, he gathered a circle around him which included Henry Power and his brothers. Close friendship with René Francoise Sluse. He corresponded with the Royal Society, and with Boyle and Flamsteed.
The Towneley scientific group.
  1. Not in DNB.
  2. A. Wolf, History of Science and Technology in the 16th and 17th centuries, (London, 1935).
  3. C. Webster:"Richard Towneley and Boyle's Law," Nature, 197 (1963), 226-8.
  4. C. Webster, "Henry Power's Experimental philosophy," Ambix, 14 (1967), 150-78, esp. 158.
  5. C. Webster, "Richard Towneley, the Towneley Group, and Seventeenth Century Science," Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 118 (1966), 51-76. This is easily the best source that I found.
  6. C. Webster, "The Discovery of Boyle's Law, and the Concept of the Elasticity of Air in the Seventeenth Century," Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 2 (1965), 441-502.
  7. Robert McKeon, "Les débuts de l'astronomie de precision," Physis, 13 (1971), 225-88; 14 (1972), 221-42; especially 13, 256-69.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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