Childrey, Joshua

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Childrey, Joshua

(b. Rochester, England, 1623; d. Upwey, Dorsetshire, England, 26 August 1670),

meteorology, natural history

Joshua Chidrey was educated at Rochester Grammar School and Magdalen college, Oxford, where his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the civil war in 1642. He returned to take his B.A. in 1646, but was expelled by the Parliamentary Visitors in 1648. He then became a schoolmaster in Faversham, Kent. After becoming a doctor of divinity in 1661. He was appointed chaplain to Lord Herbert and held ecclesiastical appointments in the West Country. In 1664 he was made rector of Upwey, a position he held until his death. He married in 1665.

Childrey’s first work was an astrological tract of sixteen pages, Indago astrologica; or A Brief and Modest Enqiry into Some Principal Points of Astrology (1652). He followed it with an ephemeris, Syzygiasticon instauratum (1653). The purpose of both was to prove that heliocentric astrology is more effective than geocentric. In the latter, which is not altogether untypical of the almanacs of the time, this effectivness was claimed especially as regards the meteologicl consequences of planetary aspects. Childrey apologized profusely for having omitted in his former work to calculate planetary latitudes as well as longitudes, and now rectified his fault. His ambition was to extend the Baconian method to astrology. One result of his “experimental astrology” was to confirm an old idea that there is a thirty-five-year cycle in the weather. He was assisted in this by his friend Richard Fitz-smith, who did many of the calculations.

Better known in his own day was his Britannia Baconia: or, The Natural Rarities of England, Scotland and Wales, According as They Are to be Found in Every Shire. Historically Related, According to the Precepts of Lord Bacon (1660). This is largely a compilation of previous writers, but has some original observations. As its title hints, it is drawn from notebooks kept with the classification used by Francis Bacon for his “Histories” at the end of Novum organum In character, although much shorter than either, it resembles Plot’ Natural History of Oxfordshire, which is said by Anthony Wood to have been inspired by it.

Childrey made numerous observations on the weather and tides when living in Weymouth. The manuscripts are lost, but his controversy with John Wallis on the matter of tides resulted in a letter o Seth ward, at one time bishop of his diocese, which contains many interesting observations, historical and otherwise (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal society, no. 64, pp. 2061–2068). Wallis’s original paper and reply, in the same volume, show a much kener analytical approach to the difficult problem, but childrey presented information of whose significance neither Wallis nor any of their contemporaries was aware, such as the meteorological dependence of tides whose periods are multiples or submultiples of a tropical year; the tidal inequality due to the inclination of the moon’s orbit and its varying distance, and so on. The discussion was bedeviled by the fact that the examples cited were all narrow channels, where certain atypical tidal patterns prevail.

Childrey was not a man of great scientific originality—he was not even abreast of the scientific movement of his century but he stimulated discussion of meteorological and related topics which were in his day often neglected.


1.Original Works. Childrey’s chief writings are mentioned in the text. The Britannia Baconia was also published in a French traslation (Paris, 1662, 1667). A number of letters to and from Childry are in A. R. and M. B. Hall, The correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, vol. v (Madison, Wis., 1968); see esp. pp. 384–386 and 454–456.

II. Secondary Literature. There is no biography of Childrey. Details of his career may be found in the article in the Dictionary of National Biography which is based on Anthony Wood’s Athenae Oxoonienses 2ne enl, ed. (London, 1721), p.467. There is some supplementary information in the Oldenburg letters cited (see, for instance, an editor’s not in vol. 1, on Chidrey as a maker and improver of telescopes).

J. D. North

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