Whilst compiling a list of those who had held the title of Lords of the Manor of Thorley Hall, I was fascinated by the idea that our tiny village of Thorley had had such a distinguished personality as a Fellow of the Royal Society in its midst. Matthew Raper F.R.S. held the title of Lord of Thorley Manor from 1748 until 1778. Little did I realise where this trail would lead.
I started my researches in the library of The Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace, London. Here, amongst the grandeur of its resplendent ceilings and portraits of learned past presidents, I found many references to our illustrious resident. Matthew F.R.S. inherited Thorley Hall from his father also Matthew, who in 1748 had inherited it from his brother Moses.
It transpires that Matthew was a multi-talented scientist who published research papers on such diverse topics such as the inequalities of the motion of the Earth as effected by Jupiter and Saturn (1756), the relative values of Greek and Roman money (1771) and meteorological records for Canton, China (1771 - 1774). This last reference invited me to ask "why Canton?" Upon further investigation, I found out that the Raper family were silk merchants who had connections with the East India Trading Company.
My next line of enquiry was promoted by Clive and Marcia who lent me 'Memoires of a Highland Lady' written by Elizabeth Grant. In this book Elizabeth recalls her early childhood at Twyford House in Thorley 1804 - 1806 and mentions that Great Grandfather Matthew had an observatory at Thorley Hall. Returning to The Royal Society, I tracked down the actual plans for the observatory by one John Smeaton F.R.S. drawn up in 1753 and set in a formal, geometrically set-out garden. John Smeaton was amongst the foremost engineers of the 1700s being responsible for docks, bridges and the Eddystone lighthouse. His four drawings of Thorley observatory are amongst his earliest commissions. Matthew's brother, John Raper, also had a smaller observatory built into Twyford House for Matthew to use when he came to stay.
My next piece of the Raper jigsaw came by courtesy of Doreen Wright at the Bishop's Stortford Museum. She, knowing of my interest in Matthew Raper, had come across an article in a V&A Bulletin about an ivory carving artist David Le Marchand. In 1720 he had carved a portrait of Matthew Raper aged 15. He was described as a 'sound scholar and as able a mathematician'. Our subject must have had high connections with this artist because in 1765 he donated to the British Museum ivory busts of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren carved by the same person.
There are two monuments at St. James church that bear witness to the generous character of our distinguished Lord of the Manor. May I invite you to track down for yourself a reference to a colleague on a monument in the chancel and then a most generous testimonial to his tenant on a gravestone to the east of the south porch. His uncle Moses had made a similar gesture a generation earlier.