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Collection Level Description: Bradley Papers

Reference: MSS. Bradley 1-48
Title: Bradley Papers
Dates of Creation: 1705-66
Extent: 48 shelfmarks

Language of Material: English, Latin, and French

Administrative/Biographical History

James Bradley was born in 1693 at Sherbourn in Gloucestershire, and educated at the Northleach Grammar School. On 15 March 1711 he matriculated as a commoner of Balliol College, Oxford (BA 1714, MA 1717, DD by diploma 1742). From about 1715 his uncle, the Rev. James Pound (d 1724), himself a considerable astronomer, fostered Bradley's scientific tastes at Wanstead in Essex, where his earliest observations were made. He became an FRS in 1718, was ordained in 1719, and was elected Savilian Professor of Astronomy in 1721, a post which he held until his death, combining with it the Readership of Experimental Philosophy from 1729 to 1760. In 1732 he came to live at Oxford, but in 1742 being made Astronomer Royal he removed to Greenwich, still keeping up constant communication with Oxford, Wanstead and the Earl of Macclesfield's observatory at Shirburn Castle. In 1744 he married Miss Susannah Peach, by whom he had a daughter. He died on 13 July 1762.

His two chief discoveries, Aberration and Nutation, were made, after long preliminary experiments, at the end of 1728 and in 1747 respectively; and throughout his life he was an assiduous observer and calculator. Further details are given in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Scope and Content

Bradley's papers relating to astronomy, including:

Administrative Information

Custodial History

Dr Bradley's papers passed to his executors, from whom all that were concerned with Greenwich were claimed in 1765 by the Board of Longitude, but after a tedious lawsuit the claim was abandoned in 1776, after Dr Bradley's son-in-law, Samuel Peach, had presented them to Lord North, Chancellor of the University of Oxford; who in turn presented them in that year to the University on condition that the Greenwich observations should be printed and published - a condition fulfilled in 1798 and 1805.

On 2 May 1861 the University restored thirteen volumes of Bradley's observations to Greenwich, it having been represented that they were the only gap in the line of registers at the Royal Observatory.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

It is not clear when the Bodleian actually received the papers, but in 1804 the Board of Longitude presented some Greenwich papers of N. Bliss and C. Green, and in about 1829 several miscellaneous bundles came after the death of Dr Hornsby, who had edited the printed volumes.

Access Conditions

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Further Information

Finding Aids

Falconer Madan, et al., A summary catalogue of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the Quarto series (7 vols. in 8 [vol. II in 2 parts], Oxford, 1895-1953; reprinted, with corrections in vols. I and VII, Munich, 1980), vol. III, nos. 16404-16454.

Publication Note

Volumes of Astronomical Observations were published in 1798, 1805 and 1838. In 1832 Professor S.P. Rigaud edited the Miscellaneous works and correspondence of Dr Bradley (Oxford: University press, 1832). In this latter volume are printed a large part of the present collection, and many notes in red ink on the papers refer to the place where they will be found in print.

Access Points


Lectures and lecturing

Bradley | James | 1693-1762 | Chaplain to Bishop of Hereford, astronomer

University of Oxford

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09 June 2011