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William Derham

william-derham.jpg (9496 bytes)

1657 - 1735

DERHAM, William. Royal Chaplain, scholar and Rector of Upminster. Born Stoughton, Worcs., November 26, 1657. At the early age of 18 years, graduated BA, Oxford 1675 (Trinity College). Ordained deacon 1681, priest 1682. Vicar, Wargrave, Berks., 1682-1689. Rector of Upminster 1689-1735. Resident at Upminster 1689-1716, also being the village physician. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1702.

His research papers range include observations of beetles and sunspots, studies of bird migrations, and the behaviour of mercury barometers (including one experiment conducted at the base and the top of the newly-erected Monument in London). He published daily records of Upminster weather 1697-1699, 1704-1705 and concluded that Upminster received 19" of rain a year, about the same as Paris, and about 10% less than the average for Essex. His report of the famous, massive storm on his birthday November 26-27, 1703 was also based on observations at Upminster. He reported a heat wave on July 8, 1707, when one of his servants died of exhaustion while working on the glebe, and several horses died in their exertions, hauling carts up Upminster Hill. Telescopes and astronomy were the subject of yet further papers. he was fascinated by the movements of the moons of Jupiter. September 1708 was an astronomically spectacular month at Upminster, when Derham published accounts of both a lunar and a solar eclipse observed from his rectory roof. For studies of the speed of sound (published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society), Derham used a pair of synchronised pocket watches, had his friends fire shotguns at distant visible locations (often neighbouring churches), and observed the interval between the flash and the arrival of the sound with his telescopes and a half-second pendulum up the tower of St.Laurence's (the doors that he inserted on the south side of the church tower are still visible). Also in 1708, Derham located a mineral spring in the north east corner of Tyler’s common, finding iron sulphate dissolved in the water. In 1712, a well was dug to a depth of 178 feet at Upminster; the water rose to within 72 feet of the top once a black rock stratum had been broken through at the bottom, and Dr. Derham observed that the density of the various strata increased with their depth, weighing them both in air and water. In 1713, Dr. Derham published what is probably the first description of congenital small pox. At his rectory (High House, then across the road from the church) he created a large museum of insects and birds, and he was a friend of John Ray, botanist. Elected Canon of Windsor in 1716, he then employed a curate to serve at Upminster, although he still visited the parish regularly. Awarded Doctor of Divinity (Oxford Univ., 1730). On an unknown date, Derham married Anne, daughter of George Scott, another Fellow of the Royal Society, of Woolston Hall (somewhere in Essex), and had at least seven children. Their eldest son William also achieved a Doctor of Divinity, and was later elected President of St.John’s College, Oxford. This is the earliest of a series of connexions between that college and our area, culminating in St.John’s acquiring the advowson (right to nominate the rector) of Cranham in the 1820s. T.L.Wilson, Upminster’s 19th century historian, thought that Derham died April 5, 1735 at High House, left all his papers and instruments to George Scott, and was buried at the centre of the chancel of St. Laurence's (although he admitted that there was no memorial in the church to that effect). The Victoria County History suggests that Derham may actually be buried at Windsor. If anybody has access to the burial registers, this question could easily be settled; the year, at least, seems firm. It ought to be possible, too, to locate his will.

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